It is often said that the more you pursue happiness, the more elusive it becomes. This is true only if you pursue it in the wrong way. Gamblers and businessmen pursue happiness by pursuing money; they either fail and are miserable, or succeed and spend their life afraid of losing it. Many pin their happiness to one thing, convinced that once promotion is secured, a new partner found, or a new house purchased, happiness will follow. But jobs can turn sour, relationships falter, and houses be repossessed. Lasting happiness arises when you change your approach to life, valuing things you once ignored and dismissing things you once prized. Here are six steps you can take to make your journey more joyful:
1) Take care of your physical health. This is the foundation upon which well-being rests. So cut down on alcohol, cigarettes, and junk food, eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and take regular, gentle exercise.
2) Re-appraise your attitude toward other people. Happiness depends a great deal on relationships. People often see their neighbors, colleagues, and even friends as competitors to be defeated or used. This is inevitable in an overcrowded, materialistic society in which self-worth is too often confused with social success. But if you judge yourself and others by income, job title, and house size, your neighbors will soon become rivals. Rid yourself of jealousy. The more you compare yourself to others, the more resentful, bitter, and unhappy you are likely to become. Caring about other people is vital if you are to be happy; love and empathy warm you and connect you to the world. Conversely, caring about what people think of you can be fatal. This does not mean you should ignore constructive criticism; if you have offended someone, you need to be told. Some people care less about being selfish or rude, and more about their social status; they wish to be admired for their job, their home, and even their car. Those who refuse to play this game often display a spontaneous joy so lacking in the social climber.
3) Develop a passion. Remember to make this passion sincere. A teenager may hate parties but go because she is expected to. A self-made millionaire may take up golf, not because he enjoys the sport, but because he seeks admission to a different social class. Ask yourself what you truly, deeply love. Some people have a passion for film, others for nature or the theater. Make your passions and your family the center of your life, not your job. Your job should be a means to an end, nothing more.
4) Learn to take pleasure in small things. Do not pass through life so preoccupied with work, money, and relationship troubles that you fail to notice the sun rise and the seasons change. Happiness need not hinge on work and marriage alone. Make a point of savoring the small pleasures: soaking in a hot bath, sharing a bottle of wine with a friend, reading to a child. Give your whole being to such moments.
Too many people regard anything without practical benefit as a waste of time. If it does not somehow earn them money or win them praise, it is seen as a distraction. The result is continual tension. The mind gets little relief and is forever gnawing at one problem or another.
5) Re-discover your inner child. Trivial hobbies and spontaneous play are crucial to good mental health. Any pleasure that does no harm to others should be valued: computer games, stamp collecting, bird-watching, even rollerblading – the more capricious, useless, and fun, the better.
6) Seek escape from the ego. This need not mean withdrawing to a monastery or taking up self-deprivation, but the more wrapped up you are in personal troubles, ambitions, hopes, and a feeling of self-importance, the more likely you are to be unhappy. Do not confuse this with self-loathing however. It simply means adopting a more realistic view of yourself. Some are depressed by the thought that, in a century or two, no trace of them will remain; others find the idea liberating and even exhilarating. As always with happiness, perception is everything.
Happiness need not be complicated. Take better care of your body, change your attitude toward others, develop a passion, take pleasure in small joys, and reconcile yourself to your own insignificance. You will feel like a new person.