Twenty-five years ago, the idea that “happiness is a choice” was profound. Today it’s a meme, as meaningless as dozens of other tired old clichés that get thrown around. In fact, to a certain segment of the population it’s become little more than a way to judge and belittle people. Having a bad week? Going through a rough patch in your life? Well (these folks say) happiness is a choice, and if you just tried harder…
We all know people like this. And not surprisingly...they’re often not the happiest people themselves.
You see, they’re missing the point. “Happiness is a choice” has some truth in it, but it’s a huge oversimplification. Happiness isn’t just a choice. It’s a bunch of choices. You don’t just wake up one day and tell yourself, “I’m going to be happy from now on” and that’s that. You can’t flip a mental switch and go from discontent to happiness in the blink of an eye. Instead, happiness is the result of dozens of very small choices…choices you make not once but continuously, on a day-to-day and even moment-to-moment basis.
It’s not something that happens overnight. And like a good marriage, it is something that takes continuous work. If you want more happiness in your life, be prepared to pursue it…starting with adopting these 7 habits:
1. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
We used to call it “keeping up with the Joneses.” Today some of us call it keeping up with Facebook. But whatever you may call it, comparing yourself to other people is seldom a good thing. Comparisons make life a competition—which it’s not. When you compare, you do one of two things: you either focus on your own self-perceived shortcomings and feel bad about yourself, or you focus on another’s flaws and feel smug. Either way, it creates negativity.
2. Don’t worry about what the neighbors will think.
We put far too much stock in the opinions of others. Here’s the bottom line: if it doesn’t affect you in some real, concrete way, does it really matter what so-and-so thinks of you or your life? If you go to the supermarket in sweatpants and flip-flops, does it matter what the other shoppers (or your neighbors) think? Does it actually affect you in any way?
Not really. (Showing up at work in those clothes is another story. Because your boss’s opinion can directly affect you.) So the next time you find yourself worrying what someone will think, stop and ask yourself—does it really matter? If not, let it go.
3. Do what’s important to YOU, not to other people.
This, in my experience, is one of the keys to happiness. We’re taught from the time we’re small to do what’s expected of us—by our families, our communities, by society as a whole. All too often what our “group” thinks is “important” doesn’t align with what we ourselves feel is important but we go along because we’re afraid of being different.
Dare to be different.
Do what’s important to you personally. If you have a passion for painting but not enough hours in the day to do housework and paint, for example—then let the housework go three days out of seven. Paint on those days instead. Follow your own priorities list, not someone else’s. Because here’s the thing: Ignoring what’s important to you sends a message to your subconscious that your wants and needs don’t matter. That you are not important. It’s a surefire recipe for unhappiness.
4. Learn to let go.
You don’t have to forget, but forgiving is another story. Letting go of grudges, hurts, resentment, and other pent-up negative emotions frees up a lot of mental and emotional energy. There has to be enough space in your life for happiness, and letting go makes room for it.
5. Smile. A lot.
Smiling gives you a double-whammy of positivity. Cracking a smile—a real smile, one that reaches your eyes—will give you an immediate mood boost.
That’s right. The simple act of smiling instantly makes you feel a little happier. Don’t believe me? Try it right now.
And that’s not all. When you turn your smile on someone else it usually provokes a smile in return. This also boosts your mood…and brightens someone else’s day to boot.
6. Be kind.
Kindness is contagious. A little kindness can set off a chain reaction that keeps spreading like ripples in a pond. Kindness makes you feel better about yourself and lets you see yourself in the best light. But its effects go beyond the psychological and into the physical—being kind to others produces feel-good chemicals like serotonin in your brain. That’s pretty powerful.
7. Don’t sweat the little things.
Most of us put far too much energy into stressing about small things. Things that, in the great scheme of things, really aren’t that important but which take up far too much of our time and energy. So when you find yourself faced with an annoyance, a worry, or something that makes you angry, stop and ask yourself three things:
Is it really important? Will it matter in a week, or a month, or a year? Is there anything concrete you can do about it? If the answer to any of these is “no,” then let it go and put your mental energy into something else.
Are these 7 things the “secret to happiness”? Of course not. But if you take a good look around, you’ll see that they are fundamental habits that all the happiest people you know have in common.