“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” ~Dale Carnegie
There was a time when I didn’t think I could ever be happy.
I felt alone. I felt confused. And I felt overwhelmed.
Luckily, that all began to change when I started looking inside. I discovered how I was the cause of my unhappiness.
And I discovered what stood between me and enjoying life.
Here are ten of the things I discovered:
1. Neglecting yourself and your needs
One of the biggest things was that I was ignoring what was right for me. I looked outside for the answers.
I looked to friends and society to tell me how to live my life. It was too painful to discover what I needed, so I gave away my power and hoped that would solve everything.
Eventually, I realized that no one really knows how to live a happy life. Some seem confident, but they don’t really know.
Even the happiest of people go through dark times. When I began noticing what I felt drawn to do and what felt right for me, things began to change.
It happened slowly. I wasn’t confident at first, but I began to listen to my inner GPS.
2. Ignoring your inner GPS
As I began listening to myself, I saw that I had an inner guidance system within me.
I didn’t call it that then. It communicated with me through feeling. When something was right for me, I felt peace, joy, and curiosity inside.
When something wasn’t right, it felt lifeless, dead.
I began to see that trying to figure life out logically didn’t work, because my mind couldn’t foresee the future.
The heart is what I would call my inner GPS. It nudges me through life, one moment at a time. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I’m on the right track when I listen to my heart.
3. Resisting darkness
Life contains both dark and light.
It sounds counterintuitive, but when you embrace the darkness, you open the door to the light.
I’ve gone through some dark, depressive periods in my life. I used to resist them, a lot. Today I do it less.
I know that it is through these dark times that I learn the most. I dive inside. I breathe it all in, and I notice what it is that’s making me quiver with fear.
I investigate my internal reality and stay in the present moment.
This is hard to do when I’m feeling down. I want to run away to food, movies, games, books, and anything but the darkness.
But when I dive in, I see that the darkness is nothing but a virtual reality created by me. I look at the fear of not having enough, and I see that what I’m afraid of is a thought I choose to entertain.
4. Saying ”no” to the now
The more I try to escape the present moment, the more miserable I am.
When I stay right here, right now, even the most ordinary tasks become extraordinary. Washing the dishes feels alive.
But if I try to exchange the now for a future paradise, I live in a present hell.
Being in the now, for me, is simply about noticing what’s here, right now. As I write this, I hear my fingers tap-tap-tapping away on the keyboard.
I notice the hum of the electronics on my desktop, and I feel my body on the chair.
And above all, I feel my feelings fully. I’m feeling a bit anxious as I write this. And that’s okay. It’s normal to feel anxious.
5. Being afraid of making mistakes
If I am afraid of making mistakes, I assume that I have something to lose.
I also assume that there is a perfect way of doing something.
Yet, I cannot know any of this. I don’t know if making a mistake helps me grow (which it often does). And I don’t know if making a mistake is the perfect path for me.
You see, we live in our heads. We manufacture a reality that we then believe is real when it’s not.
A hundred years from now, my mistakes won’t matter. What will matter (for me) is how much I loved and how much I enjoyed life.
I’m human. You’re human. We make mistakes. That’s okay, as long as we’re honest with ourselves.
6. Aiming for perfection
I try to be perfect because I think it’ll bring approval from others, from you.
And that approval will make me feel loved and feel good about myself.
Yet, the act of trying to be perfect means dismissing myself. It means not loving who I am right now. It means not doing what I can with what I have.
I have an image of what perfect is, and it always seems to be out of my reach.
I’m striving to feel better, but the only thing I manage to do is to feel worse in this moment. When I notice the scam of perfection, I return to the present moment.
I breathe. I do my best. And I follow my heart.
This applies for staying in the present moment as well. I’m not in the now all the time. I try to accept whatever comes.
7. Chasing happiness
I often fall into the habit of chasing happiness.
But to me, it’s more like I’m avoiding my feelings. I feel bad, so I want to be happy. I create an image of a future where I’m happy, and I long for it.
I want it now.
I think to myself, ”If only I had that, I could be happy.”
Yet, that thought is the one keeping me stuck. The wanting happiness snatches me out of the present moment.
When I let go of wanting to be somewhere else, I notice what’s right here. Sometimes it isn’t what I want, but even what I think I want is another thought.
Each thought that says I need something else is an opportunity for me to stay in the present moment.
8. Trying to control life
I don’t control life.
I control my reactions and actions but not much else.
When I try to manipulate life, people, and places, I end up exhausted. It’s not my domain. It’s not up to me to control outcomes.
All I can do is follow my heart, my inner GPS, and see what happens. I am a passenger in this body, on this blue planet of ours.
I am here to experience both the good and the bad. I am here to learn and to grow. To cry and to laugh.
9. Putting off your dreams
Dreams are scary.
It took me two to three years to muster up the courage to write about the things I truly wanted to write about.
I was afraid of what you would think, what you would do. I was afraid of failing, of succeeding, of everything.
Eventually, I realized that I could give in to my assumptions or I could take the next step and see what would happen.
Luckily, I took the next step. And you know what? Nothing bad happened.
I wrote. I told people about my work. My audience grew. And years later, here I am. Here you are, reading my words.
My dreams began with one step, and so will yours.
Stop waiting for a grand opportunity and notice the doors that are open now. It might only mean starting a blog that has ten readers or writing in your journal. But start somewhere.
And start before you feel ready.
10. Trying to fix others
I used to think it was my responsibility to fix others, even if it meant forcing them to see things my way, and it compromised my happiness and theirs.
I now let people travel their own path.
You have mistakes you need to make. You have experiences to collect. I am not going to stand in the way of that.
If you come to me for help, I will help, but I will not force my truth on you.
I cannot control life, and I cannot control you. When I see that life will take care of itself, I have no need to control you.
This has been especially hard with my loved ones, but I’m learning. I’m improving every day.
There is no fixing, because I do not know what perfection is. If we are here to experience life, then perfection is experience.
There are no mistakes, no blunders, and no pitfalls.
There is only this moment.
There are many things I’ve learned during my life, but one of the main things is that we tend to take our thoughts too seriously.
We tend to take life too seriously.
I think that if I make a mistake, my dreams are ruined. But when I see the assumptions behind that sentence, and when I see that my dreams are a figment of my imagination, I am liberated.
I remember that all I have to do, all I can do, is follow my inner GPS.
I can only do what excites me, and life will take care of the rest.
Happy man on the beach image via Shutterstock