“He who depends on himself will attain the greatest happiness”
I was at a Women’s Leadership Conference about a year ago and had an “ah-ha moment”. We were all introducing ourselves and asked to share a few things to help with the process. One question left me baffled and ultimately changed my life; “What do you do to make yourself happy?”.
At the time I honestly didn’t know. I had a great job, friends, and family. I was independent, young, healthy, and yet I couldn’t figure out what made me happy. I vowed that day that I would be happy on purpose because I was tired of waiting for happiness to happen.
It’s not been an easy road, but it’s been the most fulfilling adventure I’ve ever been on and I feel that I should now share what I’ve learned with others.
1. Know Yourself
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is nobody else who is you-er than you.”
How many times have we heard “no one will love you until you learn to love yourself” or “nobody knows you the way you do”?
So get to know the right-now-real you, both the good and the bad, and own it. Write down your qualities, characteristics, values, strengths, and weaknesses. What makes you happy? What drives you crazy?
The good news is that if you don’t like certain aspects of yourself right now, you have it in your control to change that. But to change something you first have to know what you’re working with. So do some serious soul-searching and figure that out!
2. Discover who your idealized self is and start working towards that.
“Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”
The question we all got asked when we were little was “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Now the question is “WHO do you want to be when you grow up?” You’ve taken a good hard look at who you are in this moment, and now is the time to figure out what’s next.
Think of the “ideal you” and start doing the things that your idealized self would be doing. There was an article on Pick The Brain a while back entitled “How To Fake It Until You Make It” in which the author, David Wright, suggests that we imagine the qualities that your idealized self has (the work it takes) and start putting them into practice.
It’s time to stop playing make-believe and to start taking action! Let’s DO this!!!
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
3. Be Authentic
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
Always be true to yourself. When working towards becoming your idealized self it’s important not to lose sight of who you are in favour of who you think you should be. Don’t compromise your values, morals, or true personality. Your individuality is important! Some people live their lives trying to be more like somebody else. My question to you is this: If you’re trying to be somebody else, who’s going to be you?
There may be certain things about yourself that you’d like to change or improve upon, but be absolutely sure that you make these adjustments for yourself and for your best interest. If you change anything in your life for the sake of someone else, and it’s not really what you want, you will only become resentful and unhappy.
To be truly authentic, one must rise above the crowd and be a true individual. Find your truth; a reason for which to live and die.
“Few are those who can see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts”
4. Understand that you can only control yourself.
“When there are no enemies within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you”
As I started my journey to being happy on purpose, I realized very quickly how little in my life was within my control. I had no power over other people; others will do, think, and feel what they want and there’s little I can do to change or even influence that. I could only manipulate my environment and the things that happened to me to a certain degree.
I started to wonder if I could control anything in my life at all and I realized that I can only control myself. More specifically I had control over my attitude and my reactions to what the world throws at me.
For example, if you lose the life of a loved-one, you are going to have feelings of grief and even despair or anger. You need the grieving process as a human being and part of being authentic is being true to your emotions; otherwise you are in denial of what you truly feel and want. You can, however, choose the attitude of “moving on” or choose to dwell on it. You can choose to react by lashing out to those around you and hiding in your room with nothing but your grief and anger for company. OR you could choose to spend time with people who will make you feel better or immerse yourself in a project or work to keep your mind off things until you start to heal.
The idea that you have such little control over life might be scary for some, but you can also choose to look at it as freeing yourself from worry. If I have no control over something, there’s no point worrying about it because I can’t change it anyways. If I have control over it then I can take action, and again I no longer have to worry because something’s being done!
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
5. Achieve balance in all things.
“Before Enlightenment – chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment – chop wood, carry water.”
~ Zen Buddhist Proverb
There is a Yin and Yang; everything has its opposite, and the key is harmony between them. For example you must strike a balance between selfishness and selflessness. Chose either extreme you will quickly find yourself unhappy. If you always give to others you end up being useless to everyone because no one will take care of you for you, and a person who never gives to anyone will live a lonely and unfulfilling life.
The same can be said for striking a balance between your emotions and your logic. Are you being true to your emotions (giving them validation) or are you totally absorbed in them (giving them control)? Your logic and your emotions should work together to guide you in a balanced and healthy way of living.
6. Learn to let go.
Learn to let go of the things that are not within your control or that happened in the past. Instead embrace and work on your self-control and self-esteem. You will be more at peace with yourself and can then enjoy life despite what the world throws at you.
Ask yourself “How is this working for me?” Does it help you to feel sad or angry all the time? Is it productive and useful when you lash out when someone or something upsets you? Is it healthy to become obsessed about an issue, person, or event that you have no control over in the first place?
To let go is to fear less and love more. It means knowing that you can’t do it for someone else, that you have no control over another, and that the outcome is not in your hands. Letting go is making the most of yourself, not blaming another or trying to change them. It means caring about someone, not caring for them, and allowing another to make mistakes and be a human being. To let go is not to regret the past but to grow and live for the future.
“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew; just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”
7. Give your life meaning and actively seek your inspiration.
“Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”
So many of us go around searching for the meaning of life or waiting for inspiration when really it’s within ourselves and up to us – no one will do this for you!
While at the Woman’s Leadership Conference I had the privilege of listening to our guest speaker, Canadian Olympic Gold Medalist, Clara Hughes. She shared with us that she suffers from Clinical Depression and that sometimes she gets so down in the dumps that she forces herself to ACTIVELY seek her inspirations. Clara stated that inspiration hardly ever just falls on your lap and that if you need it you have to go and find it for yourself.
Don’t look for the meaning of life; instead give your life meaning! One way that I did this for myself was by becoming a “mother” to something – I got a dog. His name is Charlie, and he’s been such a blessing for me. We’ve worked really hard on establishing a good relationship and I’ve learnt a lot being a “Pack Leader” for him. In doing what was good for Charlie (teaching him commands, working on his walking habits, regular grooming, giving him lots of love and work for him to do) I also became a better person. I learned to be more patient, how to be more assertive, and have become more active.
So go out there and find your meaning! Get inspired! Join a not-for-profit group, volunteer, get a pet, become a Big Sister or Brother, and go to some self-improvement or awareness workshops. Invest in yourself and you’ll soon reap the rewards of being content and feeling productive in your life.
8. Focus on the positive.
“There are two ways to live; you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle”
The expression “everything happens for a reason” annoys and upsets some people because it suggests that your path is predetermined and that The Fates or God is in charge of your life. The idea that a child dying of cancer, for example, is meant-to-be is frustrating and unfair; but the reality of it is that you have no control over your outside world. So I choose to think “in everything I have to find my own reason”. Instead of asking “why did this happen to me?” I ask myself “What positive thing can I find in this?” By focusing on the positive of any situation (and trust me if you look hard enough you’ll find it) I help keep myself positive and happy.
The good wouldn’t be as sweet without the bitterness of the bad. You go through the tough times to strengthen you for the excruciating ones to come. It’s in experiencing these tough times where you will truly be able to live with gratitude for what you have that is good.
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
9. Surround yourself with like-minded people.
“A man should choose a friend who is better than himself. There are plenty of acquaintances in the world; but very few real friends”
Change is never easy. It’s even more difficult if the people you choose to spend time with aren’t the “right people”. Just ask someone who’s had to kick a bad habit (smoking, drinking, drugs, junk food, etc.) what it’s like being around people who haven’t quit or cut back yet. It’s easy to fall back into your old habits because they come with a certain comfort. It’s the same when you’re trying to be positive and happy and surrounding yourself with people who are negative and miserable. Misery loves company right?
So surround yourself, instead, with people in whose presence you feel optimistic, happy, and vibrant. If you can’t think of one person in your life that meets this standard it’s probably a good sign that you need to find new people!
I’ve had to “weed out” people who I thought were my friends – these were the people who always seem to be gossiping, talking about negative things, and focusing on the downside of every situation. I learned to be picky about the people I spend time with and limit the amount of time and energy I spend with those who tend to be toxic to my well-being. And no, it wasn’t fun or easy doing this, but it was worthwhile because they were just bringing me down.
Sit down and write out two lists for yourself – on one side write down the names of people who give you good energy and on the other side write down those who more often take your energy. Then try to steer clear of those who drain you and make an effort to spend more time with those who motivate you and are positive.
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter won’t mind.”
10. Keep going
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
I was watching Firefly (2002-2003 TV series) and there was a saying that a few soldiers shared that was an even better version (I think anyway) of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl you find someone to carry you”.
Sometimes you can’t do it on your own. But you can’t just stop either. I went and talked to my doctor about my depression when it got so bad that nothing I did seemed to make a difference. I talked to my friends and family about it and found support and love when I did. I got the help I needed when I could no longer do it on my own and it’s made all the difference in the world.
I’m proud to announce that I am doing much better now. I know what makes me happy and I do it for myself. I am purposely happy every day, even when it’s rainy and cold and everything seems to be going wrong.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving”
Melissa Morrison is a Job Developer with YesYouCan Employment Consulting in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Canada. She works with people who have disabilities in finding meaningful employment and facilitates motivational and job-ready workshops. Find out more about Melissa and YesYouCan here.
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How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.