Everyone has a favorite theory about what constitutes a happy life. Likely you know a few people who’ll readily tell you theirs. Allow me to share my five secrets to a happy and more productive life.
1. Only do what matters.
On any given day, we’re assailed with nonstop demands on our time, from the insatiable fount of hard-to-discern-what’s-valuable information on the Internet, to work, home, entertainment, invitations from friends and colleagues, junk mail, spoof robocalls and more. No wonder it’s become paralyzingly difficult to carve out chunks of time to devote to yourself. By prioritizing everything you must do, however, and giving weight only to what matters most to you, what you deem essential to accomplish today, you’ll find that you’re less distracted, cut down on daily stress, and find pleasure in completing task, projects and pursuits that are paramount.
Instead of letting others dictate what should matter to you, make sure you are the sole arbiter of this distinction. When you control what you feel is important, you’re taking the first proactive step to not only simplifying your life, you’re also enriching the precious 24 hours you have to live today.
2. Love what you do.
No doubt many have found themselves in dead-end jobs, forced by economic circumstance to take and keep whatever gainful employment was available. By resigning yourself to forever being less-than-satisfied with your means of bringing income into the home, however, you’re likely to lose out on a priceless and crucial ingredient in living a happy and more productive life. When you love what you do, every day is filled with opportunity, hope, discovery and purpose. Even challenges, major or minor, will not dissuade you from your enthusiasm, diligence, willingness to take risks, or forego immediate gains for long-term progress.
Here’s what happened to me. When I was raising two small children myself, I took an entry-level job in the purchasing department of a major automaker. I did very well there, all the while earning two college degrees at night. My supervisors wanted to promote me to the position of buyer, but I declined. I heard about a job in the public relations department, interviewed for it and got the position. At last, I was able to make use of what I had learned in school and every day flew by. I received incremental promotions and eventually rose to the executive level, even though there were some disappointments along the way (losing a plum reporter’s job during a major financial downturn and being reassigned to financial analyst position, for example).
Granted, it takes some imagination and a well-thought-out plan to see past the pigeonhole job you may be in right now (like my stint doing budgets, paying bills, analyzing and forecasting how the department could afford a mid-year new-car press preview). You can get beyond this unsatisfying stint and leave depression behind, starting with an adjustment to your mindset. Do the best you can with everything you do, no matter how menial, whether it’s considered drudge work no one else wants, or beneath your talents. How you meet challenges is a testament to your creativity and problem-solving, two traits that will serve you well wherever you go in life. So, be the best barista ever. Welcome guests as you park their cars. Find satisfaction in creating an efficient filing system. Think how you’re instilling a sense of wonder in your small children as you distract them from sibling rivalry or engage their curiosity when they complain of boredom. Offer suggestions when asked in company meetings. Become an expert in your area, so that you’re looked to for answers.
It’s by loving your part in excellence that you widen your sphere of influence, expand your horizons, and go on to bigger and better things.
3. Engage in your passions.
Think about what gets you excited, what you can’t wait to do. The origin of this excitement is your passion. And passion is what makes life extraordinarily rich and rewarding. How sad that so many people put off doing what they find pleasurable because of a sense of duty, citing lack of time, or that it’s not right to have fun when there’s so much work to do, or some other excuse that robs them of vitality and fulfillment.
What I love is a lengthy list of pursuits and hobbies. These include reading, writing, gardening, travel, trying out new recipes, mastering a difficult challenge, getting several degrees in my chosen fields. When I’ve deprived myself of my passions, I’ve suffered the consequences. There’s no point in telling yourself that you can do this another time or that you just shouldn’t waste time on this, for tomorrow may never come. You don’t have to take all day to do what you want for free or play time, just take a small amount of time for yourself. Watch that comedy. Stroll through the mall and check out interesting sales. Linger on the nature trail to notice what’s changed since last you were here. Engage in continuous learning so you’re always reaching for the next level, expanding your horizons, and making new friends.
4. Be true to yourself and your values.
When you live in accordance with your values, you are living in integrity. No one can take your values from you, although many people hide what they believe and are afraid to live according to their core values out of a mistaken idea that they’ll do better by going along with what others or the majority believe and do. Herd mentality never serves anyone well, least of all the person of integrity.
Granted, you may have to buck the trend to be true to yourself and your values, but isn’t living in harmony with what you believe worth it? It is so much more life-affirming to live what you believe than to exist in a discordant state. For my part, among the many instances where I was torn between my beliefs and values and doing what was considered appropriate for me (by others), was when I took the exam to get into law school. Attorneys make a very good living, and if I became a lawyer, I thought, all my money troubles would be over. I did well enough on the test and began to take law classes. I hated every minute of it. That career choice was short-lived. I did a deep soul search and realized I owed it to myself to believe in my talent to write, and to find a career that allowed me to make use of my gifts.
5. Share your joy with others.
Spreading your enthusiasm and showing your happiness and joy can be contagious. If you are happy and filled with enthusiasm, others cannot help noticing. Your positivity can at least cause them to rethink their outlook for today, to entertain the possibility that things may be better than they thought and potentially improve their mood, subsequent interpersonal exchanges and action.
I’ve always enjoyed people-watching when I get my morning latte at my favorite coffee shop. Instead of standing in line like a robot, waiting to be assisted, I find something congenial to say to the person in front or behind me. I do so with a smile. Invariably, I both surprise and delight the individual, who generally reciprocates with a smile and pleasant banter. It’s nothing consequential, yet it spreads a positive emotion and embraces human connection.