“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Life seems complicated these days.
We’re all busy pursuing happiness, yet how many of us ever reach that goal?
Success, money, and busyness are top of our priority list, yet deep in our hearts we’d prefer time, love, and security.
It’s the age of making a living, but perhaps at the cost of making a life.
What really makes us happy, and how do we find it?
I spent many years trying to fit in, to be someone else, to pursue the dream of success, in my jobs and my relationships.
I collected material things, often at the cost of what really mattered, and I was left unfulfilled as a result.
I quit my corporate job and left my long-term relationship to go on a journey of self-discovery. Here are my top nine happiness life hacks, from my experience and the things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Authenticity: Be who you are, not who you think you should be.
We live in a world where we are surrounded by ideals, and with a tendency to compare ourselves to others, it’s no wonder so many of us feel like we’re not enough.
I’d tell myself that writing was a hobby, not a “real job.” I sought approval through promotions and success through status, neither of which made me happy.
To find happiness, we must be true to ourselves, live our own dreams, and be proud of what makes us unique. So, instead of comparing yourself to others, look to see if you’re fulfilling your own potential in accordance with what you value.
2. Self-care: Respect yourself.
Health and happiness are inextricably linked; you can’t have one without the other.
Our nutrition is so important, as is getting enough sleep and regular exercise. In a world where lifestyle-related disease is at epidemic proportions, taking care of our own health is increasingly critical.
Yoga, meditation, and regular walks help me look after myself and keep me strong. These practices were key in helping me overcome corporate burnout.
Sometimes these practices seem too basic, and we ignore the simple principles of good health. It’s often the last thing we prioritize and in our busy lives. But taking time out to care for our health is fundamental. Without our health, we can achieve very little.
3. Mindfulness: Live in the now.
Our minds are so busy, and with the evolution of technology, we are now connected 24/7. We never switch off. As a result, we are spending less time in the present.
Our thoughts are consumed with rehashing the past or worrying about the future.
The past has gone and we cannot change it, and the future never arrives. The only time we have is now—the present—and of course, this is life.
In a world where multitasking is seen as a necessary skill, being mindful is the opposite. It’s slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time, one moment at a time.
Mindfulness is acceptance of what is, without judgment; being yourself, at home with yourself; and seeing the beauty in every moment. It teaches us to slow down and notice more. This leads to a true happiness that arises from within, independent of external circumstances.
4. Resilience: Learn from experiences.
Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The art of happiness is also the art of suffering well.”
To be happy, it is critical that we embrace the tough times, too. They come to us all. It’s how we deal with them and bounce back that impacts our happiness. This is our resilience.
We spend much of our time trying to avoid the bad times and cling to the good, yet both will always come and go. Embracing this and shifting our perspective is key to happiness.
5. Appreciation: Be grateful.
In our consumer-driven society, it’s all too easy to focus on what we can get, and to be never feel fulfilled. This leads us into constant craving. Like a bottomless bucket that can never be filled, we always want more.
I learned that happiness is not about getting what you want; it’s about loving what you have.
There are many things we are lucky to have, yet take for granted: fresh air, clean water, warmth, shelter, family, and food. It’s not until these things are taken away that we realize how fortunate we are. Gratitude helps us remember our priorities and focus on the things that matter.
6. Simplicity: Let go.
We feel we need to have things in order to be free, when in fact it’s the opposite. Our struggle to hold on to things brings the very pain we are trying to avoid. We are terrified of letting go, for fear we’ll have nothing, but this is the true path to living well.
When I went from a corporate job and material wealth to having nothing and living simply, it put things into perspective for me. After all, everything material we have can be lost tomorrow.
The irony is, if you’re asked what you most value, it’s likely to be the things money can’t buy—things like love, health, and family.
There are also things within us that we need to let go of. This can be hurt or anger from the past, or limiting beliefs about ourselves. These things hold us back, and like heavy baggage we carry around with us, they break us down.
7. Self-empowerment: Look within.
We have a tendency to look for inspiration externally, in our teachers or gurus, yet we have infinite potential within.
Often, these people help us tap into our inner well, but so do other ordinary people in our life, along with our own experiences.
We are capable of amazing things if we stop doubting our abilities. It’s often during our biggest challenges that we find out just how much strength we possess.
8. Compassion: Reach outside yourself.
Happiness is less about survival of the fittest and looking after number one, and more about collaboration and acts of kindness. Doing good makes us feel good. The best jobs I’ve ever had were voluntary, unpaid roles helping others.
Our natural response to seeing someone in distress is the impulse to help. We care about the suffering of others, and we feel good when that suffering is released.
Feeling like we’re making a difference in the world and helping those who need it brings us joy and meaning.
9. Enjoyment: Do things you love.
We need to earn a certain amount of money to provide the basics, and few of us are lucky enough to have a job we love. However, we all still have a whole life outside of work with which to create happiness.
Instead of just making a living, be sure to make a life. Do things you love every day, spend time with those who nourish your soul, learn new things, take time out for you.
This can involve small things, like a chat with friends, a walk on the beach, or a cup of tea in the garden; or the bigger things, like enrolling on an art course, traveling to that place you’ve longed to visit, or writing that book.
10. Challenges: Try something new, something that scares you.
Sometimes we’d like to change things, but it’s just too hard. We know we’re unhappy where we are, but the alternatives are too scary. We prefer the devil we know, and the familiar feels secure, even if it doesn’t make us happy.
For me, leaving my relationship, changing careers, and speaking in public all left me gripped by fear. I was afraid of the unknown, and also failure. But it’s only by facing these fears that we are able to grow into the people we’re capable of being.
To get somewhere you’ve never been, you might have to do something you’ve never done. Life begins at the end of our comfort zone!
Life doesn’t have to be complicated. Happiness shouldn’t be hard, but we often make it so.
One of the things I’ve discovered is that we are responsible for our happiness, and it comes from within—which is great news, because it puts us in control and makes it possible!
It takes work, and it may not be easy, but small steps in the right direction put us on the path to happiness.
Try focusing on one of these life hacks each week and see how your life changes.