We’ve all heard it before; money can’t buy happiness. It’s true. Yes, money does alleviate money worries, which, in turn, sounds like it would make us happy, but it is not the answer to happiness. Not even close. Some of the most satisfied people I’ve ever met live paycheck to paycheck. For example, the U.S. is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, so shouldn’t it be full of happy, satisfied people? However, the 2016 Update to the World Happiness Report prepared for the U.N. by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network places the U.S. 13th on the world happiness scale, just ahead of Puerto Rico at #14, a country on the verge of bankruptcy.
So, what is it that determines happiness? It’s you. There is no other magic ingredient. Not money, not where you live, not what car you drive or how big your house is — you, and how you feel. You get to decide if you are happy or not happy. And that’s good news! So here are 6 critical factors according to truly happy people.
This doesn’t mean marriage and family. Although it can, but that’s up to you to decide. Meaningful relationships are those where you can be yourself without fear of judgement, with people who you genuinely enjoy being with, and people who genuinely enjoy being with you. People who make time for you and people who you look forward to spending time with.
If you are spending time with anyone who doesn’t make you feel GOOD then that relationship needs to be re-evaluated. Honor yourself enough to know that you deserve to be treated well by people who make you feel good.
2. Meaningful work
Everyone needs to feel they contribute something to the world, that the world needs them. If the work that pays the bills doesn’t leave you feeling satisfied at the end of the day, find some volunteer work or another way that you can contribute. Everyone has a beautiful purpose here and it is vital that you find whatever it is that makes you excited to get up in the morning.
3. Maintaining a positive outlook
Seems a bit simple doesn’t it? It really is, and it is also the most important. Every person, happy or otherwise, has good days and not-so-good days. Happy people don’t dwell on the details of the not-so-good days, but look optimistically forward to the new day that follows. Have you ever noticed how those who expect bad things “happen in three's” always seem to get exactly what they expect? Or how about those folks who stub their toe in the morning and say, “I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning, this is going to be a bad day!”, have a terrible day? This is not mere coincidence. Practice waking up expecting a great day. Practice saying things like “It’s only going to get better from here!” anytime someone cuts you off or something else that’s rather unpleasant happens. Make a new habit and watch how your life transforms.
4. New experiences
For goodness sakes, if you’re waking up bored with life, DO something about it! There is so much out there to enjoy. Take a painting class, a dance class, a cooking. Go for a walk on a different trail. Take a drive on the weekend with no plan (but lots of fuel, you don’t want to get stranded!). Take that trip you’ve been dreaming of for years. Have a conversation with a stranger. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. And on and on. Experience this beautiful life you’ve been given.
5. Feeling gratitude in the moment
It’s far too easy to fall into the habit of reminiscing about the past or planning for the future. We do it so often that we forget to see and feel where we are right now. Take a moment to appreciate how you feel right now. Look up, and look around you. Look at the birds in the trees, the clouds in the sky. Smell the rain. Appreciate the home that you live in. The loved ones in your life. The pet at your feet. You get the idea---find something beautiful about this moment, right now. And make a practice of doing this a few times a day. The more that we practice gratitude, the more we have to be grateful for.
Throughout history, people have lived rich and satisfying lives in all kinds of circumstances. Wealth is not a requirement for happiness. Connection is required. Feeling connected to other people, to the world around us, to nature, to who we are is what brings peace and meaning into our lives. Yes, you are just one person in a big, big world full of people, but you are a part of what makes this world go ‘round. Once we recognize that, it gives us a different perspective on change and loss, even on suffering.
Pay attention to the world and the people around you. Slow down and take in the world around you. Experience life, feel gratitude for the little things and the big things, find connection and appreciate it. Celebrate beautiful moments in each day, find people and work that make you feel appreciated. Take time to make these things new practices in your life. Know that it takes time to change how you think and feel. Have compassion and forgiveness for yourself, just as you would for others.
Life is a gift. Make sure you unwrap it.