A guest post by Jared of How to Be Happy
If you search the world for happiness, you may find it in the end, for the world is round and will lead you back to your door.– Robert Brault
Just as the apple seed has everything it needs to sprout, grow, and produce fruit, each of us intrinsically has what we need to be happy, loved, and fulfilled. Most would agree logically that’s true. Then why do we often over-complicate happiness?
Maybe the reason is it takes a little bit of uncomfortable work. It means dealing with emotions. And as humans, we mostly try to avoid uncomfortable situations.
We avoid looking deep inside ourselves for the answers because either we don’t know how, or we’re afraid of what we might find. So we choose the path of least resistance; external sources and things that bring immediate enjoyment.
It’s okay that we behave this way, it’s natural. And it will make us happy for a while. But long-lasting happiness, one that’s built on a foundational knowing that everything is fundamentally okay, has many levels. And life of enjoyment is only one part.
In one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history, known as the Grant Study, Harvard researchers examined and followed two hundred sixty-eight men over a period of seventy-two years.
The article “What Makes Us Happy?” published in the June 2009 edition of The Atlantic Magazine, revealed some amazing insights about happiness. Of all the data collected and examined, the article ascertains the key to happiness is love.
The job isn’t conforming; it isn’t keeping up with the Joneses. It is playing, and working, and loving. Loving is probably the most important. Happiness is love, full stop.– George Vaillant, director, the Grant Study
According to that study, love really is all we need.
In a support group I once heard someone say, “I settled for sex when what I really wanted was love.”
I could certainly relate to that, at least the concept of physical acceptance as opposed to love. For most of my life I was seeking acceptance, not love. Even when I thought I was—in love, being loved, acting lovingly—it was still just a means to an end. A tool I used to get more than my fair share of everything. I wasn’t intentionally mean or deceitful, just a romantic narcissist.
I was missing a crucial piece to the puzzle. Love for self.
According to the Beatles, “…nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time, it’s easy. All you need is love.” Maybe it really is that easy and not complicated at all.
Happiness was quite elusive for me over the years. Grasping moments of it here and there, later discovering it was always attached to something else; and always external.
Once I developed love and emotional connectedness with self, I was better able to identify what I needed both emotionally and spiritually. As a result, I no longer had the need to chase happiness. It simply found me, everyday, waiting just outside my front door.
Over the years I’ve discovered a few tips that have contributed greatly to my happiness.
Tip #1: love yourself
It’s a common theory that we cannot truly love others without loving ourselves. But I’m not sure I agree with that. From my perception, I certainly loved a lot before really knowing how to love myself. I would give anyone the shirt off my back, but don’t you dare try to give me yours.
Love for others in this manner is based on different motives. That we’re going to get something in return, maybe not something tangible like a shirt, but certainly acceptance.
Learn to love yourself and you’ll need less external forms of acceptance to be happy.
Tip #2: lower expectations
As the saying goes, “expectations are resentments in training.” Want to be happier? Expect less out of yourself and others.
Sounds pretty depressing I know, but this relates to unreasonable demands.
Like the dreadful relationship expectation of “getting back to the way things were.” You’re limiting yourself and your life to past experiences. Why limit yourself and those around you to something you’ve already experienced?
I admit I can still be guilty of this. Especially when traveling.
On a recent trip to Belize, I overly planned and wanted the trip to be perfect. I put a lot of pressure on myself since on our first date I asked my wife, “If there’s any place in the world you could go, where would it be?” Her response was, “Belize, because I’ve always wanted to learn to SCUBA dive and hear its great there.”
After becoming certified divers and traveling all over the Caribbean, we were finally going to Belize. I picked a nice condo rental right on the beach which received great reviews. The only negative comments were concerning a ground floor rental, as there was less privacy and security.
Upon arrival I realized we were on the ground floor, 30 feet from the ocean with a steady stream of locals walking by. I literally spent the first 45 minutes feeling disappointed and stressed about our upcoming week in this beautiful place. I had this vision and expectation of a second floor room (which I did request if available) overlooking the ocean.
My wife is amazing. In the most loving way she suggested I just relax and that my unmet expectations were robbing me of this wonderful moment. She was right. I took a few minutes to sit and meditate and get back into the experience of where we were and our wonderful life together in that moment.
That room ended up providing the most amazing experience. Being on the ground level, right on the beach enabled us to interact more openly with locals. We made new friends and were invited to local events and amazing opportunities. Many of which would not have been possible had we been secluded away on the second or third floor.
Lowering expectations opens you up to the possibility of something greater.
Tip #3: be of service
I believe there’s no greater calling in life than to be of service to others. Imagine the world if everyone overcame their biggest obstacles and committed to helping others going through something similar.
However, you must be careful of giving for the wrong reasons. If you’re expecting something in return, besides feeling good about yourself, see #2.
You can be of service anytime, any day, anywhere, regardless of your career or place in life.
Tip #4: find gratitude
Anger, fear, unhappiness, any negative feeling has little room in a heart full of gratitude. One way I practice this is with a gratitude list.
Write down 10 things that you’re grateful for. It can be anything; food, shelter, hair, a sense of humor. Just get it on paper. It works, it really does.
Tip #5: be understanding rather than understood
One of the benefits of emotional connectedness and self-love is the ability to relate better to others. We’re better equipped to tap into our own emotions in order to understand what someone might be going through.
The next time someone cuts you off in traffic or takes the last cup of coffee at work, remind yourself that you have no idea what they may be going through. Maybe they’re on their way to the hospital due to a family accident or late for a crucial meeting. Everything isn’t about you.
Life happens around us, not to us.
Tip #6: swan dive out of your comfort zone
The most significant turning point in my life was the awareness that I needed to change. Not just where I lived or what I did for a living, but the way I viewed the world and my place in it. That point was reached out of desperation, so I was willing to try anything.
The result was the willingness to get completely outside my comfort zone. I sought help from books, life coaches, spiritual advisors, therapist, and any resource I thought would help. Many of them suggesting things I would not have tried had I not been desperate.
Like when I started a new job, my life coach suggested that I spend each morning going around the office and introducing myself to three new people. I said, “That’s not like me, I’m shy don’t you know?” He’s response, “Jared, everything is not about you.”
Doing things, taking action outside of your comfort zone puts you in direct contact with the universe. Actions facilitate movement through space and time and affect the universe around us. Actions enable feedback from our environment and nurtures learning through experiences with others.
Get out and do something uncomfortable.
Tip #7: you get more bees with honey
This is one of my wife’s favorite sayings. And it’s so true.
Think about the last time someone changed your mind or the way you think by expressing themselves verbally. I mean something that you really knew, deep in your heart, was a certain way; like a core belief or deep-rooted perspective about life.
Chances are that’s never happened. At least you didn’t suddenly change the way you thought because they said something in a brilliant way or nagged you about it.
Think about that next time you’re trying to argue your point with someone. Think back about number 5 above and be understanding.
Tip #8: learn to sit quietly alone
This was perhaps the toughest of all for me to learn. For the majority of my life, my head was filled with fear, guilt, or regret. Sitting quietly was excruciating and just not possible. But through self-discovery and hard work, I’ve dealt with those issues and learned to accept the consequences of being myself.
There’s a correlation between the levels of happiness I experience and how at peace and centered I am internally. The better I’m able to mediate, be still, and enjoy time alone with self, the more fully I feel in all aspects of life.
You have to be with you 24/7, 365. It’s time you start learning to play nice.
Jared Akers is a writer and tester of the impossible. He writes, inspires, and enjoys sharing on How to Be Happy. He’s been developing a life of happiness with his wife for the better part of the last decade while sharing his journey. You can follow Jared on twitter @jaredakers