First published on Medium
Oct 23, 2017 · 6 min read
What makes you happy? Chocolate? Your dog? Your best friend? A great trip to a tropical country? Everyone has a different answer to these questions but if you use these seven powerful practices, you’ll feel happier every day. I’ve lived an amazing life, I’ve won big and I’ve lost big (check out ‘How to Live with Grief’ and ‘How to Live in a Heartbreaking World’ if you want to read more). I’ve found that these seven practices have helped me find happiness and meaning, no matter what my circumstances have been. Want a happier and more meaningful life? Put your focus on these practices and watch your life flourish.
Be compassionate, be supportive, choose kindness over being right, put in the time and effort required to build authentic connections, and be real with other people so they are free to be real with you. Make it a priority to spend time with people you enjoy and connect with. Unless they treat you like crap. Then move on. Seriously. Life is too short. Don’t waste your time and energy on drama. Go find people who value and appreciate you. Then value and appreciate them. Your friends will carry you through difficult times and make the sweet times so much richer.
Loving others well and feeling loved and understood is the key to having a wonderful life. I know this because I grew up with a brother who couldn’t speak or walk and he was one of the happiest people I have ever known. He had amazing relationships with friends and family. There was so much love and connection in his life and that made it an amazing life in spite of his challenges. I learned this key to happiness from my brother and my number one priority in life is having strong, loving relationships.
2. A Passion
This doesn’t have to be your work, and you don’t have to be good at it. It just has to get you excited about life. It can’t just be your passion; you actually have to spend some time doing it. My passion has always been writing. Ever since I was a little kid and typing out stories on my grandmother’s typewriter. The last time I was organizing my office, I counted 87 journals full of my writing. It’s what I love. I finally started sharing my writing because it feels great to connect with others through my words. What makes you lose track of time because you’re enjoying it so much? Find time for it, you deserve some time for yourself, doing what you really love.
3. The Ability to Forgive
You have to cultivate the ability to forgive. To forgive doesn’t mean that you are okay with what happened; it just means you are releasing its hold on you. The only person you are hurting by holding on to your anger, resentment, and hurt is yourself. Let go. Forgive others, forgive yourself, and move on. Life is better when we aren’t burdened by what we can’t change. The only power we have in a situation is to let go of our anger and resentment, and give ourselves some peace. Cultivate compassion for yourself and others. Whenever I’m in a situation where I’m feeling hurt, I ask myself what serves me best. The answer is often to let go, or — depending on the situation — to address it with the person, and then let it go. We have to let go of things too — what’s meant for you won’t pass you by. That means jobs, relationships, and opportunities. But not chocolate. Don’t let chocolate pass you by — chase it down and take it. It’s meant for you.
I used to keep a gratitude journal which I wrote in every night. Now that I have kids I think fuzzy grateful thoughts right before I pass out. They usually include “Thank God they’re finally asleep.” It’s a start. I also thank people when they do something for me. Whether it’s at work or at home. I make it specific. Not just “Thanks for your help,” but “Thanks for your amazing editing under my ridiculous timelines!” (That’s for you Jacinda.) Every night at dinner, our family shares what we are grateful for. My three-year-old daughter is grateful for cheese — every single night, whether we are having it or not. I don’t care. It’s starting the conversation. Last week my six-year-old son said he was grateful for his sister. She glowed. That was worth every nonsensical grasp of gratitude that was uttered around our table in the preceding months. Research has shown that even the act of searching for something to feel grateful for makes us happy. Having grown up with a brother and a mother with serious health challenges, I know that if I can walk and talk and breathe, I have much to be grateful for.
There are so many ways of contributing to the world — parenting, working, volunteering, donating, or following your passion. Pick one and do it. I try to weave contribution into everything I do because I am so aware of how fortunate I am and want to give from that place. Contribution doesn’t have to be huge. It can be as simple as making sure your kids feel loved or doing your best at work or listening to a friend who is having a difficult time. When I contribute, I give something of myself to the world and it helps me feel like I’m having a positive impact. I can’t solve all the problems in the world but I can be there for a friend. There are a thousand ways to contribute in your own unique way. Find one and do it, it will make you feel great and it will make the world a better place.
6. Knowing and Loving Yourself
When you understand yourself, flaws and all, you can start to show up differently. You can make better and different choices once you are aware of the impacts of your choices. You can also be more compassionate and loving with yourself. Ways I’ve learned to love and understand myself include coaching, therapy, Myers Briggs/Insights personality tools, the StrengthsFinder tool, and asking people for feedback. The personality tools and feedback were helpful, but therapy was far and away the best thing I ever did to start loving and understanding myself. When we love ourselves, we are kinder to everyone we interact with: our families, our friends, our co-workers, even the clerk at the grocery store. Do the hard work of learning to love yourself and everyone you know will benefit.
7. Sense of Humour
I have two small children. This means I can be laughing, crying, or screaming on a regular basis. Choose laughter. Every time. Well, unless knives are involved. Then choose screaming. Some of the things your friends, family, and colleagues do are both hilarious and annoying. You can choose whether to laugh or to scream. You say you’ll laugh about it someday. Why not today? Like the time my baby’s poop leaked through her diaper, her sleeper, and onto my shirt, and then I went to teach a leadership class to a room full of executives. Hilarious. When someone finally pointed it out to me we had a good laugh about it and moved on. Life is both funny and heartbreaking. Get some laughs while you can.