Do You "Want" to Be Happy? Then Here's What You Need to Do.
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "I'll be happy when..."
You know, "I'll be happy when I can own my own home," or "I'll be happy when I can buy a new car/afford nicer clothes/replace this cludgy old desktop." Even people who aren't focused on gaining possessions tend to fall into this kind of thinking, only for them it can sound like, "I'll be happy when I get a promotion," or "I'll be happy when I have kids/feel better/have more free time." (See also: Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Happier)
Whether the thinking focuses on possessions or more abstract desires, it all comes back to one thing: wanting more. Most of us live this way because it's the life we've been taught. Wanting more is endemic to our culture.
However, having more does not necessarily make us happier. As it turns out, wanting less and happiness are connected in some interesting ways, and there are a few steps we can take that will help us achieve both goals.
Gratitude leads us to want less because it reduces our feelings of insecurity. When we intentionally look around and see all of the good things in our lives, we feel more secure with who we are, what we've accomplished, and what we have. When we are secure in what we already have, we are happier.
In fact, gratefulness is tied to a higher sense of wellbeing. When we take the time to notice and feel appreciation for the things in our life that we value, we feel better about who we are and how our lives are going. We feel a higher sense of achievement, and we realize that we have more of the things that are truly important to us than we might have thought before we took the time to be grateful.
Put those two effects together — security in our achievements and overall wellbeing — and we lose some of that urge to want.
Steps to Take
You can write down the things you're thankful for or share them over dinner every night. Choose what works for you to get gratitude going. (See also: 20+ Ways to Say Thanks)
Let Your Values Rule
In order to step back from the cultural drive for more, you need to know what your life is about and then set your goals accordingly.
Start by spending some time pondering your answers to the following questions:
What do you value?
What do you want out of life?
What are your overarching goals?
Once you have your answers, take some time to let them guide your goals. For instance, if you discovered that you value new experiences, you can begin saving for a trip rather than for a new vehicle. When I went through this process, I realized that truth and honesty are driving forces in my life. These values helped me make it a goal to only take jobs that allow me to keep my integrity, even when they don't pay as well or aren't as plentiful.
Answering these questions and forming your goals based upon them will help you gain the self-understanding necessary to step back from "more" as a way of life and to cultivate a life that better aligns with your values. When our lives and our values don't align, we can feel empty and then we often try to fill that emptiness with more stuff.
When our values and our lives do align, we stop trying to fill those empty places with stuff and ambitions, because we are already full to overflowing. (See also: Trading Goals for Values)
Defining what our lives are about also gives us the chance to define what happiness looks like in our lives and to pursue it. When we do this, we turn happiness into something measurable and achievable, rather than abstract and kinda hazy, and then we can work step-by-step to become happier.
Steps to Take
It takes time and intention to figure out what you want out of life. Give yourself regular chances to journal about it and to talk with like-minded people, and you may discover values you didn't even know you had.
Focus on the Present
Focusing in the present means paying attention to what is in front of you, instead of running from one thing to the next on the hamster wheel of life until exhaustion sets in. You can do this no matter what your daily tasks include. If you need to wash your dishes, just wash the dishes. Notice how the light refracts through the suds and the way the warm water feels on your hands. If you are entering data on a spreadsheet, you can focus on the way your hands feel on the keyboard or what your work means — for you and for everybody else on your team.
When we take the time to focus on the present, we learn to see when things go right instead of focusing on when they go wrong. When we are stressed and acting without thinking, daily events often only stand out when they are negative. Being present, then, allows us to not only see and celebrate the small times when life is good, but also allows us to acknowledge our baby steps and value them, no matter how small. Sometimes, the distance between where we are and where we want to be seems insurmountable, but focusing on these small steps in the present helps us see that we are moving forward, even when the goal line isn't quite in sight. This makes us happier.
Seeing life as it is — with both the good and the bad — gives us a tool to evaluate our lives based on what we value. We won't simply do things because they are there or because we usually do them. Instead, we will be able to determine which of our actions bring good, even if that good feels small. This aids us in evaluating which of the things we do helps us achieve our overarching goals, and which ones are extraneous to those purposes.
This can lead us to wanting less, because we will no longer want the things that don't fall into our overall view of life. We will be living in closer alignment with our values, so our daily actions will be valuable and we won't need extraneous things.
Focusing on the present also helps us to see that we already have many of the things that we want, especially when it comes to things like relationships with family and friends and neighbors and colleagues.
Steps to Take
Many people find it easier to focus on the present when they practice regular meditation, or when they take some time to sit in nature every day. This sort of practice often allows people to better focus on the present through the whole day. If that feels intimidating or difficult, start by simply stepping away from your electronic devices for a few minutes. Just disconnect and be where you are. (See also: The Joy of Disconnecting)
And if you don't have the time or energy to add something new, start focusing on what is in front of you, whatever it is. Focus on the physical sensations and the reasons behind your actions. Even the most mundane tasks — like cleaning the kitchen — are rich with sensation and meaning, if we allow ourselves to sense them and to consider them.
Have you found that wanting less and happiness are tied together in your own life? I'd love to hear more about your journey!