Let me start with a disclaimer: I know “happy” is in the title, but this post might be a little depressing. Is it important? Yes. Should you read it? Of course. Will it make you laugh and put you in a great mood? No, that’s what puppy videos on YouTube are for.
I’ll get the depressing stuff out of the way first: I found out recently that one of my friends died suddenly and unexpectedly. She was in her 30s and had two little girls with her husband. She was a fun-loving, happy person who radiated joy. Her death is heart-breaking for so many reasons.
See? I warned you this would be depressing.
While I’ve been thinking a lot about death this past week, I’ve also been thinking about life. More specifically, how short it is, and how important it is to make the most of it.
Cliché, I know.
The problem with the whole “life is short, make the most of it” thing is that it’s pretty vague. What does “make the most of it” actually mean?
And so you hear things like “Live every day like it’s your last,” which, let’s be honest, is completely unrealistic. Imagine if you actually lived every day like there was no tomorrow. It’s really terrible advice.
So what’s the solution? Where’s the balance between “live like there’s no tomorrow,” and “live like you might have a long, full life, so you’ll probably want a retirement fund and health insurance”?
I’ve written about happiness before and I’ll keep writing about it because every day, I see people around me forgetting that happiness is a choice. It’s not something that just happens, it’s something you create.
And I think I’ve figured out how. Yes, I’m implying that I’ve figured out the secret to life, happiness and, basically, everything.
What? I never claimed to be humble.
So here it is, the secret to life
Find happiness in each day. Take life one day at a time and make each individual day matter in some way.
Are you underwhelmed? Just hear me out.
Living the life you want doesn’t have to mean making massive changes. Sometimes the biggest changes in life are simply a series of small ones. They are habits formed or broken, relationships started or ended, small choices made. They are tiny adjustments that eventually point the ship in a different direction.
When we talk about getting the most out of life, what we should be talking about is how to get the most out of every day. How to find what we’re looking for in the smallest of actions. How to choose to be happy each day.
So how do you do that? Well, because this is the internet, I’ve made a list of 4 steps to being happier, every single day.
1. Identify what makes you happy
Step 1 is simple, but not necessarily easy. Before you can find happiness each day, you first need to know what makes you happy.
To do this, grab a sheet of paper or your journal (youare journaling, aren’t you?) and brainstorm everything that brings you joy, no matter how big or small. You’ll want at least 10 things. Here are some of my examples:
Eating a good meal
2. Identify what you do that doesn’t make you happy
It might seem counterintuitive to focus on what doesn’t make you happy when our goal here is to find happiness in each day, but it’s important. Why? Because if you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time each day doing things that don’t bring you joy.
Sometimes these things are obligations, but not always – often they’re habits that we don’t even realize we’re doing. The first step to making a change is awareness of what needs to be changed, so this is an exercise in becoming aware of how we don’t want to spend our days.
Examples might be:
Spending too much time online, on social media, etc.
Watching too much TV
Snacking at night
Eating lunch in the company cafeteria with negative coworkers
3. Every day, commit to doing at least one thing that makes you happy
Now that you’ve identified what you want more of in your life, commit to it. Happiness is not a default, it’s a skill you need to build. And the only way to do that is to commit to it and make it a priority.
Now, I’ve said commit to one thing, but try to work up to three things that bring you joy every day. I don’t want to hear that you’re too busy. If you’re too busy to be happy, you should really rethink how you’re living your life.
And when I say “commit,” I mean it. Every morning, identify how you’ll bring happiness into the day, and put it in your calendar. Make it non-negotiable. I’m so serious here. You have one, short, precious life to live. You deserve to make it a good one.
One more thing: on your list, you might have things that you can’t do every day, like traveling. Think of these as long-term happiness goals, and try to identify something you can do today to make that goal a reality. Could you transfer $100 from your checking account to a travel fund? Could you research a weekend getaway? Proactively working towards something you want can make you almost as happy as getting it.
4. Every day, commit to changing one thing that doesn’t make you happy
Let me just preface this by saying that you won’t be able to eliminate everything that doesn’t make you happy. That’s an unrealistic goal, similar to “live like there’s no tomorrow.”
Not what we’re going for here.
What you want to do is to make some space for the things that make you happy by changing or eliminating some of the things that don’t. One of the main excuses I hear from people who are unhappy is, “I don’t have time.” That’s what this step is for. We’re trying to make more time for fulfillment.
So how do you do that?
Look at your list of things that don’t make you happy. Is there one thing on your list you can try to eliminate, reduce, or change, just for today? You don’t need to swear it off forever. Take one day at a time. Can you spend less time on Facebook, giving you more time with your kids? Can you use your morning commute to listen to an audiobook or podcast about something that interests you? Can you skip lunch with negative coworkers and take a walk outside instead?
Again, I’m not asking you to commit to this for life. I’m asking you to try it, just for today, and see what happens.
Bonus step: Write it down
Ok, I know I said there were only 4 steps, and to be honest, if you do just those, you’ll be on your way to a happier, more fulfilled life. But if you really want to take it to the next level, I can say from personal experience that this fifth step is life-changing.
Keep a happiness journal. Every morning, write down what you plan to do to make the day a good one. It only takes a minute, but putting it on paper is a powerful way to make it more likely to happen
And then, at the end of the day, write down what you did that day that made you happy. Focusing on what went right each day makes you practice gratitude, which is proven to increase levels of happiness.
Remember, positivity does not mean the absence of negativity. No day will be perfect. No life will be free of unhappiness. That’s not the goal. The goal is to do what you can with what you have. You have one life and even if you live a full life, it’s really not that long. Only you can decide to live the life you want – no one else will do it for you.
Happiness is a choice. And it’s up to you to choose it, every single day.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Favor the Bold Communications. It has been republished here with permission.