Happiness is a choice. I know it’s cliché to say, but I have found it to be true. In the past I was often dissatisfied with life, in response I threw myself into work and volunteerism – signing up for all sorts of projects. Somewhere along the way, I associated happiness with accomplishment. I set big goals and told myself that I just had to muscle through to the end of a given project, and then I would find a sense of peace. The problem with this mentality is that since I am a goal oriented person, I am always in the middle of something, which means my happiness was perpetually postponed.
I can’t recall a specific moment when I realized my error, but I know it happened as I sought to experience a more spiritual life. In this pursuit I’ve come across many amazing books and inspiring people. Those who seem the most content and happy, often share a similar message. The core of the message is that you must know what brings you joy and what causes you suffering, and then either pursue or avoid those things accordingly.
With that in mind, it’s really more appropriate to say that happiness is a practice of regularly making decisions that bring you less fear and more contentment. I still have my moments of anxiety, irritation, stress and fear. However they are fewer and farther apart than they were five months ago, and five months ago they were much fewer and farther apart than they were five years ago. As I continue my practice, it becomes consistently easier to make choices that lead to a more contented life.
Below is a list of 6 choices I’ve made which have been uplifting for me.
- Give up on perfectionism – In my youth I had time to focus on efforts in a way that allowed me to produce outcomes that were near perfect. It was hugely satisfying and became an expectation of mine. As I moved into adulthood, it became increasingly more difficult to hit this level of detail. Then I had kids, and for the sake of my sanity, I gave up on it all together. I am so much happier now that I’ve released myself from that expectation. For example, when I was single and living alone my apartment was usually spotless. The expectation anchored and I began avoiding company if anything was out of place. Or if company showed up unexpectedly I was compelled to straighten things up while they visited – even though it was already very clean and organized. Now I relegate a deep clean to about once per season and have a daily routine to de-clutter and give the kitchen a nightly wipe down. Everything else gets done on rotation throughout the month, and when unexpected guests arrive I do an internal shrug and remind myself that people actually live in this house. It’s a long way from where I was, yet it still allows me to feel organized.
- Make me time – Life gets hectic and people often tend to neglect themselves when things get busy. Usually this is because we feel committed to giving a lot of time to our family and work. As responsibilities pile up, me time gets squeezed into nothingness. This is what happened to me and it was the greatest disservice I did to myself and everyone who relied on me. My productivity and creativity took a nose dive and I began feeling resentful. Furthermore, I was exhausted and it showed in my looks. While I’ve never been high maintenance, I became embarrassed by my shoddy appearance. In an effort to correct this, I began feeling rejuvenated from the hair, skin and nail treatments I scheduled. Then this lesson struck me. When I take away my time for self-care, I disrupt my happiness and that affects everyone around me.
- Stop being competitive – Being competitive with others is simply a way to compare yourself. In the end, you’ll find somebody who makes you feel inferior. This may lead to thoughts of envy. Now I choose to compete only with myself. This allows me to inspire myself and urge my own progress. Like many athletes know, it is hugely fulfilling to beat your personal best.
- Refuse to go tit for tat – This choice has been huge for my marriage. My husband is extroverted and always wants to be out and about. Before kids this was a small problem when I occasionally felt left out, but after kids it erupted into a big problem. Now not only did I feel left out, but also that I was unfairly stuck at home. I spoke with a friend who felt similarly and we made a plan to go out for drinks, not because we really wanted to but rather to show our men how it felt to be stuck at home. As we struggled to think of something to do, I realized that I love being home with my kids. I’d gladly stay home reading a book while they play. From that moment on, I stopped keeping score. I am extending this lesson to other areas of my life including at work and with friends. If I start to feel the need to go tit for tat with somebody, I reflect on what I really want and whether I need to set better boundaries.
- Stop worrying so much – I think things through quickly, jumping rapidly from thought to thought. This is very useful, but can also be damaging if you let your thoughts escalate and run amok. For example, when my father-in-law became ill the doctors said there was a chance that he would be mentally incapacitated for the rest of his life. He was young and had the potential to live for a very long time in this condition. I’m ashamed to admit this, but my mind produced an endless variety of fearful thoughts on the financial burden his assisted living would bring. In the end, those fears did not manifest, but they robbed me from being a rock for my husband and our children during a very difficult time. Today I try to catch myself when my imagination goes too far assuming a tough future or even the ill intentions of another person. During these moments I remind myself to stay present in the here and now.
- Know that you are blessed – While my life is not always ideal, it is amazing. I tell myself every day that I am fortunate and that I am blessed. An attitude of gratitude has changed my worldview. Now I genuinely see the opportunities in my challenges, and I count my blessings when things go wrong because I recognize that as long as I have my health, my family and a roof over our heads I have 3 powerful reasons to be grateful.
I am sharing this list because these practices have lightened my life and helped me tremendously. We all struggle in different areas and these won’t be suitable for everyone. Even so, I hope they are useful to you.