I find it interesting that although the United States is considered by many to be the most prosperous country in the world and the most prosperous society in history, so many of us are unhappy. It has also been my observation that an increasing number of us are awakening to this fact, and are searching for ways to be happier.
Of course, there are volumes written about this subject, so this top ten list isn’t intended to be the final word on the subject. But, taking some of these suggestions to heart and putting them into action will move you well down the road to inner happiness.
In an interview I once conducted with small business guru Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited, I asked him what one key step or strategy would he give to listeners to put into place in their businesses that would make the biggest difference. He summarized it in one word — stop! Stop and take the time to really think through what you’re doing.
The advice is just as sound in our personal lives. Most of our lives are simply running out of control. It’s like we have our ‘pedal to the metal’, and we don’t know how to take our foot off, or perhaps we’re afraid of what will happen if we do.
I’m more concerned about what will happen if we don’t. Life isn’t a straight path of a drag race. It has plenty of twists and turns, some of them sharp hairpins. Imagine trying to drive a car along a twisty mountain road without ever taking your foot off of the gas — a sure set up for disaster. The same is true in life. So, start getting access to a greater degree of inner happiness by stopping first. Sounds paradoxical? Maybe, but it’s a vital first step.
What if you set your alarm to awaken just 15 minutes earlier but instead of jumping out of bed, you simply propped yourself up in bed and laid there quietly contemplating your day and how it’s the opportunity to live and express your purpose in each moment and with each action. What if you set your intention to be more awake and aware for the rest of the day, and to check in with your inner guidance and to allow Universal Love to shape your day? Try it and see if it doesn’t add a depth of happiness and contentment to your life.
What is Inner Happiness?
One of the most important reasons to stop the frenetic pace of your life for a while is so you can begin to answer the question, “What is inner happiness?” Once you’ve spent a bit of time on that one, go on to these questions:
- What will bring me inner happiness?
- How will I know when I’ve experienced a new level of inner happiness?
- How will it look and feel — what will be happening or not happening in my life?
- Where would I want to experience more inner happiness? At work? At home? With my family and friends?
These are all useful “purposeful pondering” questions that you can start your day with as you spend just 15 minutes exploring these, and then continue to ask for answers as you go about your day. If you want a little more structure and support, you can create a reminder for yourself. For example, every time you see the color purple, ask yourself the pondering question for the day. Or, whenever you hear the phone ring or set your wristwatch timer to go off every hour. Such questions can powerfully shape your day, so ask away.
Shift Your Attitude to One of “Deservability”
This is a new word that a participant in one of my workshops coined. I like what happens from combining ‘deserve’ with ‘ability.’ We are all able to shift our attitude to one of deserving happiness. And if you aren’t, then there may be some deep-seated emotional blocks that need to be addressed through counseling or some other channels. This step is summarized in one of my favorite sayings, “Suffering is optional.” You deserve to be happy.
You might move this forward by asking yourself, “If I did deserve to be happy, what would it be like? Who would I need to be to be someone that is happy? What would I be doing that is a natural expression of being happy? What could I eliminate from my life that would result in a deeper sense of happiness for my life?
Be willing to be surprised by the answers that come to you, and decide to act upon the ones that call most strongly to you.
Handle Life’s Details Once and for All
The details I’m referring to are those basic needs that we all have — food, clothing, shelter, love, etc. Is it possible to have inner peace while your outer life is in turmoil?
Yes, actually I believe that it is possible, but I also believe it’s a lot more challenging and so unnecessary. It’s difficult to take the time to contemplate what will bring you true inner happiness when your stomach keeps growling from lack of food. Go take care of your stomach, and other needs, but watch out for the ‘one-day, someday syndrome,’ that says you have to do x,y, or z first before you can be happy.
Remember, taking care of your basic needs is a good place to bring inner happiness to your life as you’re taking care of your needs. It’s hard for us to truly make a significant difference in the world if we’re constantly being tripped up by the breakdowns that occur when our basic needs aren’t being met.
At the same time, many of us have allowed a lot of wants and whims to slip onto the ‘basic needs’ list, and consequently, we’re attempting to live much higher on the hog under the false supposition that we have so many basic needs. Cable TV with Showtime and the Disney Channel is not a basic need. Neither is having the newest model luxury automobile or taking exotic vacations twice a year. Simplify your life by identifying what your basic needs truly are.
Eliminate What Detracts from Happiness
These next two steps are so simple in nature that their power can easily be missed. If you want inner happiness (or pretty much anything else), eliminate from your life that which detracts from it. This includes those emotional blocks I spoke about earlier. It may also include the elimination of ‘toxic relationships,’ clutter around your home, dissatisfying work, excess weight, etc.
This is one of the places where the “How Do You Eat an Elephant?” principle comes in handy. Just like you eat an elephant one bite at a time, you can eliminate that which detracts from your happiness one step, or one item, or one relationship at a time. And with each step, take the time to acknowledge your progress, thus adding to your experience of happiness along the way.
Add in More of What Makes You Happy
As you eliminate ‘stuff’ that makes you unhappy or detracts from your happiness, you make room for adding what will contribute to your happiness. This can work on many different levels. For example, when I cleaned and organized my office and eliminated many of the file folders that surrounded my desk, there was room to add some beauty to my office decor. I now have a small fountain on top of my oak filing cabinet, a decorative aquarium on the library table and several plants (including a Christmas Cactus which is blooming beautifully as of this writing). But when I was surrounded by clutter, there was no room for these beautiful additions. My surroundings now contribute to my happiness.
What can you eliminate from your environment that will open up space, both inner and out, for making additions that will enhance the quality of your life?
Find Your Balance Between Inner Work and Outer Expression
I’m currently reading a wonderful book by Wayne Muller entitled, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest. The following passage points to this important step to happiness:
“The noise of our lives made us deaf, unable to hear when we are called, or from which direction. Henri [a friend of Muller’s and a priest] said our lives have become absurd — because in the word absurd we find the Latin word absurd, which means deaf. In our spiritual life, we need to listen to God who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear in our hurried defense.
“On the other hand, Henri was fond of reminding me that the word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means “to listen.” Henri believed that spiritual life was a pilgrimage from absurdity to obedience — from deafness to listening.”
If you’re living a loud life of absurdity, it’s important to add in moments of peaceful rest and solitude so you can listen and hear life’s call to you.
Keep Watering the Roots of Your Happiness
As you identify what provides you with inner happiness it’s important to keep identifying it. While this may sound obvious, it’s surprising how often people stop doing what they know works. If watering the roots produces luscious fruit, then keep watering the roots. If devoting the first hour of each day to quiet meditation and reflection helps you stay centered and present throughout your day and that makes you happy, then don’t drop that special time out of your routine.
Spread It Around
Happiness doesn’t have to be a one-person show. While it may begin with you and end with you, in-between are plenty of opportunities to spread it around to others. You will probably find that spreading it around simply adds to your own experience of joy and satisfaction, so don’t be stingy with it.
Acknowledge the “Shadow” and Move On
From time to time even the happiest among us will have occasion for sadness. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate our happiness. So, when those days come along, embrace them. Allow yourself to be present to whatever is there. Just know that you don’t need to stay stuck in the shadows. Acknowledge them and when you’re ready, move on.