I used to believe that happy people were just lying to themselves. Or, rather, happy people were lying to the world. There is so much wrong in the world (especially if you spend your life looking for it). We are blasted with bad news from social media and the news on a daily basis. We live in volatile times, and happiness seems like an illusion. So how could anybody truly be happy in such a crappy world?
Then I started believing that the best way to achieve happiness and to become a happy person is to change your perspective. The ability to see things from different perspectives is a supremely useful skill. It allows you to distance yourself from a situation emotionally so that you can get a feel for the truth behind it. Stephen Covey and Viktor Frankl describe it as a space, a pause you take mentally, that allows you just enough time to realize that you have a choice in how you perceive things. Great advice. Works well. But still not the entire picture.
Ancient wisdom touts that happiness is not an end in itself but a means to an end. It’s a path you follow. It’s the journey that defines happiness and not the destination. Happy people walk the path but do not seek the destination. This is also great wisdom and a wonderful mindset to keep in the back of your mind. But, despite how solid this piece of ancient wisdom is, it still doesn’t quite capture that essence on what it takes to be happy people.Happiness is more than just a perspective. It’s more than avoiding bad news. It’s more than just a realization that our truest happiness lies in the anticipation of the experience rather than the experience itself. Nope. Truly happy people all have one thing in common: they have happy habits. I call them happy mindsets, but perhaps a more down to earth way of saying it is that happy is as happy does (thank you Forrest Gump!). So, let’s talk about these habits of happy people.
1. Happy People Connect with Other People
I used to be a staunch individualist. From the moment I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, I put on my libertarian hat and went to town on being my own person. I hated being forced to work with other people because I felt like groups of people get caught up in group-think and great ideas rarely have an idea to shine because the leader of these groups are usually vapid people who like to talk just to hear themselves speak.
Don’t get me wrong…I still believe that people need to learn how to be their own person before they connect with groups. But I’ve softened my stance on that individualism a bit now that I’m older. I see the value in community. I see the value in connecting with friends and family. We crave connection at our deepest levels. In fact, the guy from those awesome Vsauce videos did a Mindfield episode about isolation. If you have a half hour, check out the following video. It’s awesome and fascinating.
The moral of the story: Happy people connect with others.
2. Happy People Have Hope
The darkest moments of my life have always been the most hopeless. It’s the moment you stop believing anything good can happen to you. Or the moment that you look around at life and see the pointlessness of it all. At one point in my life, I zoomed way out on the meaning of life. I saw the whole machine of life to be this pointless pursuit of just perpetuating more life. There seemed to be no overarching purpose to this. We were just a bunch of bugs on a planet that tries to sort through the chaos that is evolution. And if ever there was a raging bitch, it’s evolution.
This hopelessness led me to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. I didn’t actually want to die, but it seemed, at the time, that it wouldn’t matter if I did. It took me a while to realize that I was zoomed WAY out on life and that, when I zoomed in further, I could see that my actions have meaning to the people and to my present circumstances. We can’t focus on the end of everything, because we don’t even know if that IS the end of everything. Endings, after all, are usually the pathways to new beginnings.
You have to believe that something good can happen in your life. If you want to be a happy person, you have to come to terms with the idea that you have the power to create good things in your life. You have to have hope in the darkest times, and see your grief, sadness, or depression as the temporary fleeting things that they are. These emotions hit you like a storm, and a storm passes. I love the way they put it at the end of Justice League (sorry for the spoilers folks): if you believe that the light can never return to your life, then you will be living in the kind of darkness that can only be described as hell on earth. You have the power to change these shitty circumstances. It’s not an easy road. It may not happen overnight. But the only way out is to cling to the hope that better days are ahead.
3. Happy People Have Purpose
Happy people have a deep sense of meaning to their lives. Some people find this meaning in religion. Others create their own meaning. If you find yourself wallowing in unhappiness, the first place to look is at the work you do (or the lack thereof). Happy people do work that they enjoy. As much as we might love the idea of laying around all day eating Cheetos and watching Netflix, the truth is if we don’t use our minds to do something with our time, we will wander around life in a hazy fog believing that life is meaningless.
Happy people realize that having fulfilling work keeps us occupied. It helps us to focus our energy towards something beyond ourselves. Too much alone time and too much down time can actually be a seriously bad thing for us. It gets us inside our heads. It can create anxiety and depression. We need to use our minds to accomplish something.
4. Happy People do Happy Things
I know that sounds silly. What I mean is that happy people don’t focus all of their energy on their work. All work and no play…well, you get the picture. As much as we need work to give us a sense of purpose, we also need hobbies–things we enjoy doing that help us relax and unwind.
A good hobby is one that also engages your mind, but does so in a playful way. For example, when I get depressed I will often find a new game to play on my phone, put together a puzzle, or simply color. The hobby needs to present just enough challenge to make you focus your mind on the task at hand without making you too frustrated. Work on old cars. Build something out of wood. Take up sewing. Learn to cook. Join a sport. Happy people do fun things because it balances out the monotony that life can bring.
5. Happy People Embrace Change
I’m currently working on an e-book to complement this site. I’m taking the concepts I post here and adding much more depth to them because it’s hard to get to any real depth with a blog post and still keep people engaged. One of the things I talk about in the book is the ability to adapt to change. Adaptability is extremely necessary in life because things are constantly changing. No matter how much we might want to cling to the way things are right now, we must realize that this moment will never come again.
We must embrace our past, but we must also learn to move beyond it. You are not the person you were yesterday. You are not your past. You are the person who is living in this perpetual present moment. All we have is the present, but paradoxically this present moment is changing with every second. You must learn to accept the change. Adapt to the change. What makes you happy today may not make you happy tomorrow.
So, no, happy people are not lying to themselves. Yes, you must walk the path of happiness instead of seeing it as a destination. But remember to embrace these five habits. I use the word habits because you have to renew yourself daily to these things. You can’t just “set it and forget it.” You must make a conscious decision to be happy, to embrace change, to have undying hope in the good of the world, and connect and play with other people. This is the secret to being a happy person. This is our daily habit: to renew our happiness every day.