How do you achieve a happy life? That’s a tough question, and nearly everyone has an opinion on it. My thoughts come from 50+ years of living – sometimes amazingly happy and sometimes not.
Often, you’ll hear – from parents, teachers and mentors – “follow your passion”, “make your vocation your vacation”, “find something you love to do so much you’d do it even if they didn’t pay you” (this last one from my Mom)… all are good advice, but not really the silver bullet for a happy life in these 21st century United States.
So here’s what I think (and how I try to live as happy a life as possible):
First, realize that you won’t always be happy – things get you down from time to time and that’s ok – it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong.
For genuine happiness to take root, you need to have your basic needs met (often called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). You need food, shelter and safety. Without those, you won’t have the mental bandwidth to grow into your own happiness.
For a truly happy, satisfying life, one needs a strong foundation: a sense of self-confidence and a sense of self-pride. That doesn’t mean being self-centered, but more being comfortable in your own skin. Knowing who you are inside – that person you are when you are quiet and alone – and like that person.
Also, as much as you can control it, you need a healthy body. From a healthy body, a healthy mind can flourish. Don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, don’t eat crap and exercise and move to maintain aerobic health. You don’t need to be a jock, but take care of your physical self.
You should also be curious and one who loves to learn. Change will come at you your entire life, and being able to learn and adapt will give you the tools to move forward and gain new skills and knowledge. And remember that creativity can only happen when you have rich experiences to draw from – read, take classes, experience life, talk deeply with real people and listen, listen, listen.
If possible, do your best to earn yourself at least a four-year college degree. Maybe it’s residential – maybe it’s online. It really doesn’t matter your major or your career goals – just that you do your best and get that degree. It shows the world that you can finish something – that you are educated and a competent thinker. Also, it sets you up so much better for the myriad of career choices that will come your way. And it’s been proven with genuine statistical correlation that those with a college degree are happier, have better relationships, are healthier, live longer and earn more money. Why not give yourself that advantage?
So what about your vocation? Obviously, you want it to be fun and rewarding, but will it make you happy? People are happy when they do challenging work. People are happy when they can see the results of their efforts. People are happy when they collaborate with others and accomplish something bigger than themselves. That could be almost any career – it’s not really the job itself, but what can you do in the job. Can you be challenged? Do real work? Collaborate? If so, then you can grow into a deep sense of satisfaction with that career path.
Don’t forget your life outside of work. Have friends – visit them, talk to them and share your time together. Enjoy a hobby or two of your own choosing – be an expert in something fun and obscure that you love. Volunteer and be an active civic participant in your community. Have a relationship that is based on trust and friendship and give more than you take. In short: participate in life fully, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
It sounds complicated, but it’s actually far simpler than just skating by the skin of your teeth or trying to get something for nothing or fretting and taking your “emotional temperature” far too often. Work hard, socialize hard and be comfortable with yourself: more often than not, you’ll find yourself quite happy and content with your life well-lived.