“There is no reason to reach high for the stars. They are already within you. Just reach deep into yourself.” ~Unknown
I left a big job at a hedge fund in New York City nearly eight years ago. I was far from certain the job was to blame for my unhappiness at that time, but it was the biggest, boldest action I could take to make me feel like I was doing something to help my cause.
I have spent the last eight years searching for happiness, not sure at all what it would feel like or where I would find it.
So I mostly wandered. I moved from New York City to San Francisco to Seattle to Park City. I started a business, closed the business, took a job, quit the job. I ended an engagement, moved in with a boyfriend, and then moved out. I searched for happiness on beaches, in jungles, and in the forest.
Open to all the help I could get during this rudderless time, I also compulsively collected Top 10 lists that offered surefire ways to achieve greater happiness. (The proliferation of these Top 10 lists has given me comfort that I am not alone in my search!)
I can’t count the number of times I have put a small notepad on my nightstand to record three things I am grateful for before bedtime, or I have started exercising more (and more, and more).
I would eat one list up and then move on to the next. And that’s the problem. My experience has been that quality-of-life improvements can be made with these lists as guides, but the improvement is typically fleeting—as was with each of my moves, new jobs, and new boyfriends.
What to do? After years of trial and error (and some great teachers along the way), I have come to understand that it’s that question that gets us stuck to begin with.
Most Top 10 lists for finding greater happiness are prescriptions for what to do, actions to take, and this is their limitation. It was also the greatest limitation to my own approach—my focus was on taking big, bold action.
What I have learned about finding happiness is that first we have to stop doing. We have to start by focusing on who we are at our core, on our being; only then can we begin to figure out what we should be doing to fully realize this beautiful person, to let the stars that are already in us shine brightly.
So, who am I at my core? Who are you? We are each made up of a unique collection of values, the combination of which make up our being.
The top way to live a happy life: identify your values (who you are) and act (do) accordingly.
How well do you know your personal value system?
Often when we talk about values, words like honesty, integrity, kindness, and thoughtfulness come to mind.
Most of us were taught to honor these values early in life (it’s as if we were all in the same kindergarten class), and then most teachers, parents included, stopped talking about the v-word.
In the West, ambitions and goals typically receive much more emphasis than values as young people grow and gain responsibilities.
But your value system is like your fingerprint, full of life and wholly unique to you. (That’s what makes it so hard for any list of Top 10 lists to speak to us all.)
My value system, for example, is made up of roughly twenty principles that combine to make me the one-of-a-kind person I am.
My values include courage, beauty, curiosity, creativity, adventure, presence, and generosity, to name a few. When I’m in a funk and can’t figure out why, it is likely because I am not feeding one (or more) of these values.
For example, when I’m out of touch with beauty because I’m spending so much time in front of my computer, my to-dos might include taking a walk in nature. When I feel life’s become too routine and scheduled, I might make an adventure date with myself and go rock climbing.
Inevitably, when something’s not quite right, I can identify a value that needs more love—pronto!—and create an action item from that deep source of wisdom.
Now it’s your turn. What values make you uniquely you? If you have not spent much time getting to know yourself in this way yet, here are a few suggestions:
- Peruse a lengthy list of values and circle those that hit home
- Think of your role models and consider what it is about them you admire most
- Reflect on the values you want to pass on to your children
Once you have your list of values, start by identifying a few that you’ve fallen out of touch with, values that for one reason or another aren’t getting visibility in your daily life. With those values as your guide, create a list of to-dos that will allow you to connect with each value more fully.
Add on from there. (Why wait until a value is not getting visibility?)
The more you can connect your actions to your values, the more happiness awaits you. Ultimately, you will be connecting with the beautiful being that is you and that connection is what happiness is all about.