For the average person happiness is a choice, yet numerous people are unhappy. There are many reasons, but it all boils down to one simple principle: They choose something else over happiness. Because it often takes less effort to be unhappy.
For example, instead of seeking happiness, they…
- Lazily follow the path of least resistance.
- Refuse to accept change.
- Aimlessly try to control the uncontrollable.
- Etc. etc. etc.
Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
- Abraham Lincoln
1. Lack of meaning in one’s day to day life.Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” With the modern 9 to 5 work schedule it’s so easy to trap yourself into doing what you don’t want to do for 40 hours every week and then mindlessly waste all your free time being lazy.
Sure you have responsibilities. And no, you won’t be able to do what you want to do every waking minute of your life. But you almost always have a choice to do more of what you really want to do – to work on something that matters to you – something that moves you and gives your life meaning.
You must leave time to follow your inner curiosity and passion. The Happiness Project is a great read on this topic.
2. Obsession with the past or future.Right now is life. If you dwell on things that happened in the past, or obsess yourself too much with the things that might happen in the future, you’ll miss everything.
Focus on the present, not yesterday or tomorrow. As Helen Keller once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”
Oftentimes we fixate our minds on the way things can be, should be, or will be someday. But life always takes place in the present. You never know what the future holds – whether or not you and your loved ones will still have good health or even be alive. The opportunity to enjoy life is now. Make time to do so.
3. Feeling out of shape and unhealthy.Remember, your health is your life, and your body is the greatest tool you’ll ever own.
If you are a little overweight, cut back on some of the fatty foods, get outside and take a two mile walk every day. Losing extra body fat decreases your health risks, makes you look and feel better, and generally increases your self-esteem and happiness.
Don’t go on binge diets and crash exercise regimens. Instead, gradually change the way you eat and live so you create new health habits that can be sustained for a lifetime. Read The 4-Hour Body for a solid, entertaining read on getting in shape.
4. Unfavorably comparing oneself to others.When you catch yourself comparing yourself to a colleague, neighbor, friend, or someone famous, stop! Realize that you are different, with different strengths – strengths these other people don’t possess. Take a moment to reflect on all the awesome abilities you have and to be grateful for all the good things in your life.
The problem with many of us is that we think we’ll be happy when we reach a certain level in life — a level we see others operating at – your boss with her corner office, that friend of a friend who owns a mansion on the beach, etc. Unfortunately, it takes awhile before you get there, and when you get there, you might have a new destination in mind.
Instead, appreciate where you are and what you have right now. Try comparing yourself to those who have less, those who are dealing with tragedy, and those who are struggling to survive. Hopefully it opens your eyes to all the things you should be grateful for. PS: Help people who have less if you’re able… you’ll see why.
5. Focusing on negatives.You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to things. Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects — whether you’re happy or not depends greatly on which aspects you focus on. For instance:
- Did you get catch a head cold? At least it’s only a temporary virus and nothing life-threatening.
- Did you lose a basketball game? Thankfully you got to spend the afternoon with friends doing something fun and healthy.
- Did your stock market savings go down? It’ll bounce back in the long-term. And besides, it’s great that you’ve been diligent and fortunate enough to save a nest egg of savings when many people are barely making ends meet.
6. Avoiding personal accountability.Either you take accountability for your life or someone else will. And when they do, you’ll become a slave to their ideas and dreams instead of a pioneer of your own.
You are the only one who can directly control the outcome of your life. And no, it won’t always be easy. Every person has a stack of obstacles in front of them. You must take accountability for your situation and overcome these obstacles. Choosing not to is choosing a lifetime of mere existence.
7. Perfectionism and fear of failure.If you work hard, do your best and then condemn yourself for not achieving perfection, you’re sabotaging your future. Likewise, if your fear of failure, or of not being perfect, has driven you to take the safe road of doing nothing, you have already failed.
Perfect is the enemy of good. Learn to accept the good – learn to love things when they are less than ‘perfect.’
If you find yourself at a point of intense decision making where you’re caught in a spiral of over-analysis and you’re making no progress, take a deep breath, break the spiral, make an educated guess on the next logical step, and take it. Even if you get it wrong you’ve learned something, which is better than doing nothing. Your failures along the road to your goals are simply opportunities to learn and grow.
Remember, the real world doesn’t reward perfectionists; it rewards people who get things done.
8. A low self-esteem.Don’t belittle yourself and don’t put up with people who try to belittle you.
Marcus Aurelius once said, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” Boost your self-esteem by recognizing your accomplishments and celebrating them. Acknowledge your positive qualities, and when you come across a quality in yourself that you aren’t proud of, don’t sulk in your sorrows, proactively work on correcting it.
How you view yourself and your world are conscious choices and habits. The lens you choose to view everything through determines how you feel about yourself and everything that happens around you.
9. Financial debt.The only way to get out of debt is to understand why you’re in debt in the first place.
But the sad truth is, if you’re a spendthrift…
You will not save money when you get your next raise. You will not save money when your car is paid off. You will not save money when your kids are supporting themselves someday. And you wouldn’t even save a dime if I handed you $100,000 in cash right now.
How do I know this?
Because saving money has very little to do with the amount of money you have. In fact, you will only start to save money when saving becomes an emotional habit – when you start treating the money you handle everyday differently. The Millionaire Next Door is an excellent read on eliminating debt and building wealth.
In general, live a comfortable life, not a wasteful one. Do not spend to impress others. Do not live life trying to fool yourself into thinking wealth is measured in material objects. Manage your money wisely so your money does not manage you. Always live well below your means.
10. All work and no play.Fun is way underrated. With all of our responsibilities, fun seems like an indulgence. It shouldn’t be. It should be a requirement. Ponder what you did to have fun when you were younger and go do it again. Leave the house messy and the yard un-mowed for a weekend and get out on the town. When you’re older, you will remember the fun, not the clean house or yard.
Go to a carnival, play a card game, shoot darts with a friend, play catch with a kid, etc.
Make time for fun!
11. Neglecting personal relationships.The quality of our personal relationships correlates directly with our overall sense of worth and happiness. Sometimes in the midst of life’s chaos we forget to do the little things that remind us we’re part of something greater than ourselves. We need a certain amount of meaningful contact with other people to feel fully alive.
Make time for people, even if it’s just a quick meal at lunchtime. It’s worth sacrificing a few minutes here and there to experience life outside your own inner bubble.
And remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.
12. Procrastination.Nothing is so draining and stressful as the eternal presence of an unfinished task.
There are plenty of ways to sabotage your personal happiness, dreams and desires. Procrastination, however, is the number one killer. Procrastinators self-destruct. They hinder their own potential by placing colossal road-blocks along the path to happiness and success. In other words, they subconsciously choose to fail.
Do you put off doing things that would bring you closer to your desired goals? I know I do at times. But why are we so foolish?
It has something to do with how our daily responsibilities overwhelm us. In the midst of all the important things we know we need to do, we somehow convince ourselves that none of these things need to be done right now. In other words, we decide that some peace and relaxation in the short term is what’s most important.
So we take another break, read another blog post, watch another TV show and just kick back and relax. And life is blissfully dandy… for a little while. But then suddenly the inevitable deadline has arrived. Ahhh! It’s panic time!
By taking the time and initiative to understand your own reasons for procrastinating and devoting a little energy to take the necessary steps to move forward, you can beat procrastination. We all can. In fact, simply writing this article was a testament to this. I kept procrastinating on writing it because I lacked focus. So I locked myself in my bedroom, eliminated all distractions, kept the end in mind and started writing. And as usual, starting was the hardest part. Now I’m done.
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Today is a perfect day to make lasting memories – the kind you may someday share with your grandchildren. Here’s how:The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime.
- Pink Floyd
- Try something totally new. – Variety truly is the spice of life. You can see or do something a million times, but you can only see or do it for the first time once. As a result, first time experiences usually leave a reflective mark in our minds for the rest of our lives. So spice it up!
- Entertain yourself with real-world experiences. – Great memories are the product of interesting life experiences. So turn off the television (or the computer) and get outdoors. Interact with the world, appreciate nature, take notice of the simple pleasures life has to offer, and just watch as life unfolds in front of you. (Read 1001 Things To Do If You Dare.)
- Work on something that’s meaningful to you. – Engage yourself in a meaningful personal project. Or pull the trigger on doing something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but haven’t yet had the resolve to do. Life is short. Today is the day to take action.
- Challenge your mind and body. – Learn a new skill. Be creative. Build something from the ground up, no matter how small. Run farther than you’ve ever run before. Push yourself to the limits!
- Concentrate on less, but give it your best. – Slow down. Pay close attention to what you’re doing. Don’t waste time juggling forgettable tasks. Instead, concentrate on a few things that really matter. Engage fully in this day.
- Say “yes” to a spontaneous opportunity. – Everything in life can’t be planned. Some of the greatest opportunities will knock on your door when you least expect them to. Be flexible, be spontaneous, and just say “yes.”
- Complete an important piece of unfinished business. – Today is a perfect day to finish what you started. Few feelings are more satisfying than the one you get after an old burden has been lifted off of your shoulders.
- Document your day. – Take lots of pictures. Keep a journal. Document your day so you can review it in the future. Many moons from now, these old photos and journal entries will ignite your recollection of great memories from the past.
- Smile and notice what’s right. – Everything that happens in life is neither good nor bad. It just depends on your perspective. And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should. Either you succeed or you learn something. So stay positive, appreciate the pleasant outcomes, and learn from the rest. (Read How Full Is Your Bucket?)
- Be authentic. Be true to yourself. – Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first rate version of yourself, instead of a second rate version of somebody else.” Live by this statement. There is no such thing as living a good day in someone else’s shoes. The only shoes you can occupy are your own. If you aren’t being yourself, you aren’t truly living… you’re merely existing. And no day spent in a phony state of mere existence will ever be memorable or worthwhile.
- Assist someone in need. – In life, you get what you put in. When you make a positive impact in someone else’s life, you also make a positive impact in your own life. Do something that’s greater than you, something that helps someone else to be happy or to suffer less. I promise, it will be an extremely rewarding experience. One you’ll likely remember forever.
- Take part in something you believe in. – This could be anything. Some people take an active role in their city council, some find refuge in religious faith, some join social clubs supporting causes they believe in and others find passion in their careers. In each case the psychological outcome is the same. They engage themselves in something they strongly believe in. This engagement brings happiness and meaning into their lives.
- Share time with a good friend and experience life together. – There are few things more satisfying than recounting the greatest moments of your life with your closest friends who lived these moments alongside you.
- Make a new friend. – People are interesting creatures, and no two people are exactly alike. So meet someone new today. Find out what makes them tick. They’ll likely open your eyes to fascinating ideas and perspectives. And you never know, they just might change your life.
- Do something fun and laugh it up. – Some of the most memorable moments in your life will be moments spent in laughter. (Read This Book Will Change Your Life.)
- Spend quality time with children. – Children live by their instincts openly and without hesitation. They are enthusiastic about life, eager to learn, and curious about everything. Watch how they play, how they live, how they create, how they ask questions. Play with them. If you have some of your own, great. If not, play with a child you care about. Lose yourself in the play. Be a dinosaur, or a gorilla, or a superhero. Make them squeal in delight, and feel free to do the same. If you don’t play with children often, I guarantee it will be a memorable experience.
- Forgive someone and reconnect with them. – Grudges are a perfect waste of happiness. If there’s someone in your life who deserves another chance, give it to them. If you need to apologize, do it. Give your story together a happy ending.
- Do something you’ve always wanted to do. – Take a small dream and make it a reality.
- Act like today is already an awesome day. – Do so, and it will be. Research shows that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. A great attitude always leads to great experiences.
- Be present. Be here now. – I purposely left this bullet for last because it perfectly encompasses all of my previous points. Don’t let your life slip by. Instead of dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, just practice being and living in the ‘now.’ Remember, right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. Don’t miss it.
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Being an introvert actually works out pretty well for me. I’m a writer, so a big part of my day involves sitting at my computer, working alone. When I do work with other people as a writing coach, it’s usually one-on-one (I can cope with one other person!)
Of course, I can’t spend the whole of my life alone or with just close friends and family. In both my professional and personal life, I get out there and meet people from time to time. And I’ve learned a few tricks along the way. If you’re an introvert – if you feel shy and awkward in a room full of strangers – then here’s how to make it easier for yourself:
#1: Get to Know People Beforehand
One of the many things I love about the internet is that it makes it incredibly easy for me, an introvert, to strike up a connection with total strangers. When I’ve been to networking events, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have some established friends there already.
How do you find people who’ll be at the event? Try:
- Forums or similar on the event’s website
- Twitter – search for the name of the event
- Blog posts – is anyone you know going?
- Facebook – the event itself may have a page
- LinkedIn – will any of your contacts (or their contacts) be attending?
If you’re going to a very large event, like a multi-day conference, you may want to make specific plans to meet up. You could even arrive a bit early so you can get a meal with a friend or a small group of friends before the event itself starts.
#2: Go Prepared
If you’re attending a new event, you might have all sorts of worries about how to get there, what it will be like, who’ll be there, and so on.
I’m always less anxious when I feel well-prepared, and I expect the same will apply to you. That means:
- Find out the dress code in advance. There might not be one – ask friends/colleagues who’ve attended before. Err on the side of over-dressing ... though if you’re in a suit and everyone else is wearing jeans, you may feel a bit awkward.
- Take a pen and small notebook. As a writer, I carry these with me anyway – but they’re useful to have on hand in all sorts of situations.
- Take business cards. You might have stock ones from work, but if you create your own cards, try to make them interesting. I use Moo.com to create cards with several different designs – that way, my new contacts can pick whichever one they like best. It’s a great talking point and much more interesting than thrusting a boring black-and-white card at someone.
- Carry breath mints, a comb, makeup, deodorant etc. Be prepared to make last-minute touch-ups to your appearance before you go into the event. You’ll know better than me what you’re likely to need!
- Take a map (or know the exact address). Allow a bit of extra time to get there, too, if you’re going somewhere new for the first time.
Have you ever been standing around awkwardly, trying to get up the courage to go and speak to someone? The longer you wait, the harder it is! When I was a student, I made a point of speaking in the first ten minutes of any class – that way, I found I was much more confident about contributing as the class went on.
The same applies to networking. As soon as you arrive, find someone to chat to. It’s often easy to strike up a conversation in the registration queue, for instance. Questions like “Have you been to this before?” can be a great way to get someone else chatting.
#4: Look for Someone Else Who Seems Shy
It can be very hard to break into a big group of people – especially when they all seem confident. Look for anyone on their own – perhaps standing in a corner, or loitering uncomfortably on the outskirts of a group. They probably feel just as shy as you do, and they’ll almost certainly be grateful if you go and engage them in conversation.
You don’t need to say anything scintillating to start chatting: a comment about some aspect of the event (the food, drinks, weather, decor) can be an easy way in, or you could simply ask “What do you do?” or “What brings you here?”
#5: Don’t Talk Too Fast
Many of us talk fast when we’re nervous. You might have to make a conscious effort to slow down – especially if you have a strong accent. (You may not think your accent is strong, but consider the people you’re networking with: I’m from the UK, and I occasionally have to repeat myself when I’m at events in the US.)
If you find yourself talking too much:
- Ask open-ended questions – encourage the other person or people to talk too
- Avoid interrupting people or finishing their sentences for them
- Get a glass of water to sip while talking (go easy if you’ve got an alcoholic drink...)
Have you ever come back from an event and cringed, thinking “I should never have said that” or “He must have thought I’m an idiot”?
Lots of introverts do this. We have a tendency to over-think and over-analyze things. I’ve seen blog posts and tweets by other introverts who were fantastic to chat to ... but who’re worried that they somehow screwed things up.
Even if you say something a bit daft or make some mistake, chances are, no-one even noticed. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The important thing is that you went to the event, and you had a go at networking – next time, it’ll be easier.
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