A few years ago I was talking with one of my old high school friends. Both of us were making more money than all our high school friends combined. However, we were far from being the happiest people in the room. That got me thinking. How come we were supposedly the most successful people there but others were happier than us? I could see the answer clearly: the way society measures success is completely broken.
From that day on, I worked on being happier. Yes, happiness is a skill and can be acquired. I don’t claim to have achieved complete happiness, but my life is so much better than it was two years ago!
These are some of the lessons that took me from where I was to where I am now.
Happiness Comes from Within
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “BS!” I used to feel the same way. However, I’ve proved myself wrong. I used to be happy when good things happened to me and unhappy when bad things happened. Then my mentors helped me realize that we choose how we want to feel. I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m saying it’s possible and it becomes a lot easier the more you do it.
I’ll give you an example. Last week we lost one of our best clients because they filed for bankruptcy. I was really bummed for a little bit. But then I told myself: “You control your thoughts” and decided to start being happy again. It happened just like that. I don’t expect you to believe me because I didn’t believe this a few years ago. Instead, I want to invite you to try it. Next time you feel worried, sad, angry or anxious, make a conscious effort to let go and start feeling happy again. Notice what happens. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
Have you ever asked yourself what you need to be truly happy? Maybe the answer was to get that promotion you’ve been really working for, sell your business, find a life partner or make more money. When we say these things, we’re just fooling ourselves. When you get the promotion, you’ll start working on the next promotion. When you make more money, you’ll work on getting more. I feel goals are healthy; they keep us motivated. But they’re only healthy if you enjoy your whole journey, not just arriving to destination. Cherish each step of the process and keep in mind that you can be happy now, not when you get to where you want to be. Be happy now, with what you have and who you are.
Understand What Thoughts Really Are
We just talked about letting negative thoughts go. In order to be able to do this, you need to understand that thoughts don’t represent reality. Thoughts are just thoughts and you can control them. These are some things you can do with your thoughts:

  • Acknowledge that just because a thought pops into your mind, it doesn’t mean that you have to do something about it. You can just let it fade out. Understand it’s just a thought and let it fly away. For example, if you start worrying that your boss will yell at you if you don’t finish the report on time, recognize that you’re worrying about a thought, not about something that has actually happened. It might not happen at all. And, if it happens, dealing with it will be a lot less stressful than worrying about the possibility that it might happen. You’re smart and you can deal with situations when they happen; don’t worry about all the things that might happen.
  • Understand the difference between the things you can control and the things you can’t. In the example above, you can focus on the report to finish it fast but you can’t control your boss’ mood tomorrow morning. Do what you can do and don’t obsess about those things you can’t change.

Think “What Good Will Come from This?”
As I mentioned before, thoughts are our perception of reality. A rainy day is just a rainy day. You’re the one who can think “oh, crap, now I can’t go for a walk” or “what a nice day to watch a movie in bed!”
Things are neither good or bad. What you think about them is what makes them good or bad. I can’t prove this. I don’t think anybody can. It’s one of those things that you either believe or you don’t. I’ll give you an example. A month ago my car died during a roadtrip. Fixing it would’ve cost me a fortune so I had to get rid of it. I could have been extremely upset, but I knew right when it happened that my car breaking was actually a good thing. Let me share with you why:

  • I donated my car to charity. A few people were fed for about a month with the money the charity got for my car. Those people needed food more than I needed a car.
  • I had to rent a car to drive back home. The old lady at the car rental company got a commission for the sale. She needed that more than I needed my car.
  • My wife and I have had only one car for the last three weeks. I’ve been driving her to college and that got us spending more time together, which I really enjoy. Two weeks ago we went out for breakfast and ended up having one of the most amazing, interesting and deep conversations we’ve ever had. We even planned a trip to Europe for the summer. This wouldn’t have happened if my car hadn’t broken.

If you’re thinking, “yeah, sure, but I’d rather have a car” let me say something: that’s not the point. The car died. There was nothing I could do about it. All I could do is to open my eyes to all the good things that were going to come from my car breaking.
Live in the Present
Every time we’re unhappy is because we live in the past (e.g. bitching about something that happened earlier at work) or in the future (e.g. worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow). Do one thing at a time and do it at its fullest. If you’re washing your dishes, enjoy the warm water running through your hands. If you’re lying in bed, slow down your thoughts and enjoy the warm blankets wrapping your body; don’t worry about all the stuff you need to do the next day.
This is one of the most difficult things for me to do. If I find myself living in the past or the future, I don’t get mad at myself. I just notice it and take myself back to the present.
Be Thankful Often
When was the last time you thanked your spouse for cooking or picking up the kids from school? When was the last time you thanked your friends for being your friends? When was the last time you appreciated the food you eat, the house you live in and the people in your life?
We tend to be unhappy for all the things we aren’t or we don’t have, but as soon as you start being thankful for all the things you are, you have and the people in your life, you start getting much more perspective. And, your problems don’t seem like a big deal anymore.
Being happier isn’t easy but is a skill that can be acquired, just like playing an instrument or learning a new computer program. I’m definitely not there yet, but I’m working on it and it feels amazing. Thank your for letting me share this with you.
So, what do you think? Is this something worth trying? Do you think it’ll be hard?