There’s a lot of talk about happiness in America. It seems we are obsessed with finding it, as though it’s difficult to uncover, like a four-leaf clover or a purple unicorn.
There’s an entire industry of books telling you how to “be” happy, or how to “live” happy. Even Oprah and the Dalai Lama have written advice on the topic. Because, well, they should know. They are pretty damn happy.
I asked my 8 year old son what he thinks happiness is. He’s a bit of a philosopher and sometimes comes up with brilliant insights. He said, in his matter-of-fact tone: “It comes from something that makes you happy, but it depends on how you’re wired. Um, I don’t know the rest…can I have an ice-cream now?”
Is this really the Secret to Happiness, an article on TheWakeUpCloud.com, spurred me to write my own take on the topic. The author said “people that love what they do and seem happy no matter what, those people are always focusing on what they are grateful for and what’s good in their life.”
It got me thinking: I take it for granted that I’ve figured out how to be happy. There are people who live 70 years and never achieve it. You could say that I’ve found that four-leaf clover called bliss. I’m always discovering new things to be excited about.
But let me explain, being happy doesn’t mean that I’m always smiling and never get road rage. Cause I do. Just try running a stop sign in front of me and you’ll see this sweet smile turn upside down.
Being happy means being in love with where I am, whom I’m with, what I’m doing, and myself. (Notice that it doesn’t mean Having a lot of Stuff, the perfect home, a nice car.)
Really, it’s a choice. You can choose to be grumpy or you can choose to be cheerful. I choose to enjoy life as much as possible. Because it is more fun that way.
But I wasn’t always this way. I was incredibly angry and miserable for the entire first half of my life.
At the age of sixteen I got very sick for a long time. My mother finally took me for tests. After a week of medical bloodletting and cat-scanning, the doctors found nothing wrong. My mother was relieved. But I was disappointed because I was hoping that cancer or some other horrible disease would explain why I felt like I was dying.
It wasn’t until years later that I diagnosed what had been wrong with me. It was depression, which I didn’t figure out at the time because I had always been unhappy, even at the ripe young age of five. I was used to being miserable.
It’s hard to be content as a child when you live in a house of discourse. My father’s idea of discipline was to smack me upside the head and call me a dumb-ass. I moved out of that house of horrors the second I graduated from high school.
I became obsessed with trying to be happy, though I had no idea of what it would feel like. I just knew that it had to be better than feeling unloved and disconnected.
I dreamed of leaving that little town in Maryland and traveling the world. The jungles of South America, the surf in Australia, elephants in Sri Lanka – I wanted to experience it all!
But it wasn’t until years later that I would actually start my traveling life. Instead, I just went on being angry at the world, with a big chip on my shoulder that said “I’m 5’3”, I’m angry and I’ll punch you if I want!”
Sadness was a heavy blanket that covered me everywhere I went, even after I ventured out of small town Maryland and moved to Southern California.
Sure, I had fun like every other twenty year old. I spent a lot of time in Hollywood at the rock and roll clubs, dancing and drinking and driving when it was still cool to do it.
But, I was sinking deeper into depression all the same. I would just be driving down the freeway and it would pop into my head that no-one loved me, and I’d break down and cry.
Then one day my older sister, Brenda, gave me a little piece of advice that literally shifted my mind into a different way of being. It changed everything. She said:
“Maria, you are responsible for making yourself happy. Happiness comes from within.”
I was stunned. It was the first I’d ever heard of this philosophy. But the second she said the words, it rang true to me. And this was where I had my big turning point in life. I realized that:
- I was responsible for my own happiness, not anyone else, and;
- Happiness was inside myself, not outside
I made a promise that from that day forward, I’d make myself happy, from within. I wasn’t sure how to do it, but I was going to figure it out.
Fast forward many years later and I’m one happy girl. You could say that I have everything I ever wanted. But that’s not exactly true. I still don’t have the big beach house on Cristobal Avenue that I’ve been wanting. I haven’t been to the Maldives yet. And I have nowhere near the amount of cash that I thought I’d have by this point in my career.
Thankfully, it’s not things that make me happy. I live a minimalist life, so I don’t have much by way of material things compared to other Orange County, CA locals. You could say that I am an anomaly here in The O.C. I drive a 1997 Toyota 4-Runner with a lot of dents in it. (I have a bad habit of backing into things.) I’ve lived in the same cozy 2-bedroom house for 11 years. You won’t find any jeans over $90 in my dresser.
It’s all the other things that bring joy: Peace found through meditating. The great memories I’ve gathered from traveling the world. I work for myself. I’ve got a loving marriage and a healthy son and we live at the beach and I’ve got the freedom to do anything I want.
None of those things I listed are extraordinary. My husband isn’t totally perfect, but I choose to love him just as he is. My house is tiny, but I am grateful to have it. Being self-employed is harder than working for someone else, but I get complete freedom in exchange for the steady paychecks.
Your happiness is equal to the amount of appreciation you feel for what you have.
I wasn’t born this way, as you read above. Instead, slowly, over time, I designed my life to be exactly what I want it to be. I figured out what would make me happy, and I made decisions that led me to having it.
Here are some of the decisions I’ve made and steps I’ve taken. And they are Keys to happiness that anyone can implement:
* Know that You are Responsible for Your own Happiness: No one else cares as much as you do about your life. Do what makes you happy regardless of what your parents want or your teachers want or your siblings or anyone else. It’s your life. And don’t apologize for it.
*Do what you love for a living: If you do what you love, happiness will follow. And hopefully money will, too.
*Choose the Right Partner: This truly will determine 80% of your happiness. If you aren’t happy most of the time with the dude or chick you’re with, or if they try to change you, or if you feel the need to change them, than you have the wrong person. Make a switch.
*Live where you love: It’s crucial to BE where you belong. If you’re drawn to the mountains, figure out how to live there. For me, it’s the ocean. I can’t be grumpy when I’m staring at the waves of the Pacific Ocean.
*Appreciate What You Have: It’s exciting to strive for new things, more achievements and passionate opportunities. And at the same time, be happy with what you have while you have it. You’ve got a lot to be thankful for right now.
*Accept other People for what they are: Don’t try to change your brother or your lover or your kids. Just let people be who they are, and work around it. If someone really bothers you, than break ties or cut back on the time you spend with them.
*Accept yourself: Love yourself no matter how much you screw up. Make yourself proud by being the person you want to be. Don’t strive for perfection, but more for doing what’s right.
*Enjoy growing older: The older I get, the more excited I am because I’m gaining more confidence, knowledge and respect from others. (Of course, I’m not welcoming the wrinkles- but that’s another story!)
*Cut Negative People Out of Your Life: Slowly, I’ve cut back on the energy stealers, the blood suckers, the negative people who criticize and crush dreams. There’s no time in life for these people. Even if they are relatives; cut back on the time you spend with them.
*Love the people in your life: My friend Bridget always leaves me mushy voice mails. They usually go like this: “Hello, beautiful woman! Just checking in. I miss you and love you!” She never fails to make me feel loved and special and wonderful. I used to feel a little weird hearing it, but I’ve gotten used to it, and now I talk that way, too.
*Arrange Your Life to Do what Brings you Joy: Did you ever notice that avid surfers, skiers, kayakers, whatever, are always beaming with joy? There’s a reason they are called “avid” at what they do – it’s because they do it avidly. They’ve arranged their lives to do the sport they love. Skiers often will get jobs at ski resorts in the winter so they can hit the slopes daily. Surfers live near the ocean and find jobs in the surf industry so they are around surf. Take what you love and arrange your life around it.
Being able to explore the world is the most important key to my happiness. My husband and I both have the travel bug and we’ve designed our lives to be able to travel quite a bit. We made a commitment years ago that we would take 6-8 weeks each year overseas. Last year we traveled about 16 weeks out of the year. Travel is a priority over buying a new car, expensive clothes and other stuff that we don’t need. As far as our business, well, Drew and I choose to make less money so we can have more adventures, and we just sort of shut down the business while we’re gone, or we incorporate business into our trips.
The freedom to travel is a childhood dream. And it’s not that hard to do – it’s just a commitment and a priority, and everything else falls into place around that commitment and priority. Things like our business, our sons’ schooling. And our decision NOT to follow the status quo of American way of living, which means having lots of STUFF over EXPERIENCE.
You might not want to live my life. But there’s a life that you do want to live, full of things that you love and enjoy and dream about.
And you have the freedom to design your life for happiness.
We were put on this earth not to have difficult experiences but to enjoy love, peace, hope, faith. It’s your job to fulfill your happiness so that you can pass that onto your children and others in your life.
I’ve been unhappy, and I’ve been happy, and all I can say is – being happy is much more fun.
PS: Found this on Twitter by @RossTeasley: SO simple, it’s BRILLIANT: Roadmap for Happiness http://post.ly/Q3Hb