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 a recent interview with small business guru Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited, I asked him what one key step or strategy would it give to listeners that they could 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. So, start getting access to a greater degree of inner happiness by first stopping. Sounds paradoxical? Maybe, but it’s a vital first step.
2. 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:
- What will bring me inner happiness?
- How will I know when I’ve experienced a new level of inner happiness?
- What will it look like, feel like, 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?
3. SHIFT YOUR ATTITUDE TO ONE OF ‘DESERVABILITY’
This is a new word that a participant in one of my workshops recently 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.
4. 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 first.
5. 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, unsatisfying work, excess weight, etc.
6. ADD IN MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
Once you’ve eliminated ‘stuff’ that makes you unhappy or detracts from your happiness, you’ve now made room for adding in what will contribute to your happiness. This can work on many different levels. For example, once 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 beautifully blooming 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.
7. 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. (Bantam Books, April 1999) 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 absurdus, 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 a 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.
8. KEEP WATERING THE ROOTS OF YOUR HAPPINESS TREE
As you identify what provides you with inner happiness it’s important to keep doing them. While this may sound so obvious as to be not worth mentioning, 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 in 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.
9. 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.
10. ACKNOWLEDGE THE ‘SHADOW’ AND MOVE ON
And 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 there’s just know that you don’t need to stay stuck in the shadows. Acknowledge them and then, when you’re ready, move on.