There’s nothing simple you can do right now that will make you happy forever and ever. There are, however, lots of little decisions you can make every single day to help you live a happier life.
Being happy is a continual process, a constant choice to act in a way that reflects what matters most to you. Happiness happens when you bring to life your ideals.
Happiness, in other words, is very much about what you do.
So what can you do right now to be happier? I’ve put together a list of easy things you can do to be happier. They’re tiny actions that can yield big results – and none of them require more than a few minutes of your time.
This is the second time my friend Sam has given me a happiness interview. The first time, she asked me what the heck I was thinking – and her responses to my interview questions made me ask myself the same question. Turns out Sam was in “a bit of a funk-o-la” at the time even though she looked on the outside like she was doing all the right things.
That was three months ago.
Last week, out of the blue, Sam sent me another set of responses to my original interview question. The difference was like night and day.
The moral of this story: even funk-o-la is temporary.
What does it mean to you to “be happy” or have a happy life?
For me, being happy is finding an inner peace with what is and making the choice to live life with intention.
Whether it’s a big choice like not going to an event that I know will drain me, or a small choice like unfollowing someone on Facebook who is throwing negative crap at my day, I consistently ask myself, “Will this feel good? Will this energize me? Will this bring me peace?” If the answer is no, well, then the answer is no.
Choosing to do more of what makes me smile, makes me laugh, lifts my heart and gives me energy makes my life happy.
What have been the best ACTIONS you’ve taken in pursuit of happiness?
#1 is making the choice to be happy, to pursue happiness.
For so long, despite ups and downs, bad moments and good, I declared myself to just “not be a happy person.” Even on a smiley day where everything went amazingly, I would still say “This was a great day but I’m not a happy person.”
Once I realized that continuing to hold onto that belief was only getting in my own way, and simply feeding my fear of being happy, I made the conscious choice to do what I could to be happy, including acknowledging moments where I was happy.
Which brings me to #2. I swear Britt didn’t pay me to say this but seriously, my gratitude practice has been one of the most significant actions I’ve taken in pursuing happiness.
The primary benefit of my gratitude practice is increased awareness. Even if I don’t include every last little thing each day, I am consistently checking in with myself. “Ah yes, this feels great. I love this. I want to remember this. I want to do this again.” Or “This kinda sucks. Let’s not repeat this thing.” Another benefit is just seeing the patterns overtime of what makes me happy.
My top 3 things currently are spending time with my adorable pups, eating wonderful food, and spending time with friends. With that information, I’m armed with the knowledge to choose to do more of those things in the future.
What “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue your happiness?
The only “should” I’ve had to let go of in order to pursue my happiness is “You should (call, write, visit, apologize, etc) because she’s your mother.” My mother isn’t happy and blames everyone she can besides herself for that. My mother has made it clear she is not interested in having a relationship with me. My mother is emotionally abusive. It took me 30 years to free myself from the obligation of going back into that minefield, but finally doing it probably ranks as #3 up there with best actions I’ve taken to be happy.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?
The best advice about happiness I’ve received is that it’s not a race to be won and then left in the dust.
We hadn’t spoken since noon the day before when I had told him I was done.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I’d tempered my declaration to a slightly more reasonable level, “but I am done trying to connect with you!”
He opened his mouth as if to respond but closed it again without speaking. I watched him take a breath, clench his jaw, and shove down any signs of anger or understanding. And then, with a single word, he lowered the cone of silence.
Shortly after that he left to spend the afternoon with a friend, and I settled into losing myself in motherhood and housekeeping. When he came home we moved in our own wide circles around the kids, overlapping with restrained civility only when absolutely necessary. The next morning he left for work without saying goodbye.
My heart broke.
Yes, I’d technically been the one to use the D word – but he was the one who was executing it so easily. He was the one pulling away effortlessly. He was the one holing up and refusing to reach out when he knew that I was hurting. I was the one he’d rejected!
Our perceptions can be so, so stupid. And blinding. And fickle.
Just a few days earlier I’d been telling a friend of mine the story of our marriage. I’d told her all about the things I learned from almost getting divorced and the horrific behavior Jared had put up with and forgiven while I was “finding myself”.
“Wow. You can’t ever say he doesn’t love you,” she’d said.
“No,” I’d agreed, “he definitely has proven his love.”
But now I was saying I was done. Now I was saying he didn’t care. Now I was saying I was the only who tried and he was the one who needed to… to… to love me better?
You can’t ever say he doesn’t love you.
With my friend’s words echoing in my head, I struggled to make sense of what I was feeling and who was to blame. Finally, I summoned my courage and sent him a text.
“I know in my head when I think about our entire history together that you must love me. But when I don’t feel loved right now, it’s really hard to hold on to that.”
The standoff was over.
With that one admission I had reopened the lines of communication and we did, eventually, find our way back to each other.
There are few things scarier or more painful than thinking the person you love most in the world doesn’t love you back. Unfortunately – as my own recent marital breakdown demonstrates – it is surprisingly easy to find yourself thinking exactly that, no matter what your loved one actually feels or thinks about you.
But there is hope.
It’s never too late to turn things around and start feeling the love you need. These steps can be used over and over again to pull you and your relationship back on track.
1. Stop trying to guess how your partner feels.
One of the lessons I’ve learned repeatedly in my almost 15 years of marriage is that how I feel has nothing to do with how Jared feels about me. Whether or not Jared loves me (he does) is not the point.
I used to think that if Jared loved me enough he would automatically know what I needed.
Because apparently love makes us mind readers.
Except, it doesn’t.
The only way for our partners to know what they can do to make us feel loved is for us to tell them. The more specific we can be, the better chance they have of meeting our expectations and our needs.
Of course, this is also terrifying.
Hi, I’m feeling unloved and unloveable! Let me beg for your affection by telling you exactly what you have to do for me!
And a little embarrassing.
I really feel loved when you tell give me a specific list of things that you love about me.
It’s no wonder I tend to resort to my love-inspired-mind-reading theory.
In recent years, I’ve been able to use my history with Jared to bolster my courage in these moments. I also remind myself that I am absolutely loveable and so of course he is going to want to love me.
Ultimately, finding the courage to be vulnerable comes down to having faith that you can survive the consequences of that vulnerability – even if that includes rejection.
5. Ask the person you love how they feel love.
This serves two purposes.
First, chances are that you and your partner speak different love languages. That means that he is probably trying to love you in ways that are meaningful to him – and possibly wasted on you. It helps to be able to recognize these well-intended behaviors for what they are:
proof that you can trust this person enough to reach out.
The second reason to learn your partner’s love language is so that you can…
6. Practice loving them in their love language.
One thing I’ve learned from my own experiences and from coaching others is that we tend to turn inward when we’re feeling insecure. When we are too focused on ourselves, we become like blackholes where love and light go to die. No matter how much love someone is throwing our way, we are blinded by our self-centered perspective.
The solution is to turn our attention outward.
And when we do, we’ll inevitably see that loving someone else well helps us to experience love ourselves.
Bonus: the more loved your partner feels, the more motivated they’ll be to listen when you ask for what you need.
It’s like an endless, awesome loop of love!
And you can get it started.
But be careful. You can’t love someone well with strings and expectations attached. Avoid the trap of thinking that you can skip open and honest communication if you just make your partner happy. Remember:
You cannot make someone else happy.
Being happy won’t transform your partner into a psychic.
The best way to reconnect with your partner and recharge your relationship is to rely on personal responsibility, self awareness, vulnerability, and courage. It’s with those strengths that you’ll be able to identify what you need and ask for it.
Every single time I have talked to a group of women about happiness, I have been asked this question:
Is it my job to make my kids happy?
Finally, I’m thrilled to have an answer that comes from a source I trust.
Dr. Deborah Gilboa – you can call her Dr. G – is a family physician and parenting expert. She’s also smart, compassionate, and believes in every parent’s ability to know their own child best (which is the only kind of parenting expert I’ll listen to!)
Here’s what she has to say about happiness, parenting, and where the two overlap.
How do you define happiness?
A room without a roof? Just teasing. I define happiness as one part contentment, one part excitement and one part physical pleasure! That last part could be an ice cream sundae, a massage, a sandy beach or a boat, depending on the moment.
What is a parent’s responsibility in their child(ren)’s happiness?
Our job is to give our kids the tools they need to find and make their own happiness. We have to take the long view (because goodness knows they can’t!), and raise them towards a worthwhile adulthood.
What do you do when your kids are unhappy?
I ask them about it. I ask why, and what and how, and then I ask how he might solve the problem he faces, or how he might move on from the disappointment.
I show empathy. I do not set myself up as the person who will fix it, but I often mention that I could offer some suggestions.
What “shoulds” have you let go of in order to be a happier parent?
That I should have a clean house, that I should cook a full dinner for my kids every night, that I should be with each of them for each game/performance/playdate.
We do a lot of balancing with 4 boys in 6 years, out of necessity. It’s taught me some great lessons, like what I can let go and what I shouldn’t. If we only had one child I don’t think I would have traveled that path!
What’s the best advice about happiness you’ve ever received?
That happiness is more rare in the “big” moments than in the everyday. We often have a lot of expectations built up and emotions swirling at the milestone events. That the happiness in the car on the way to the graduation while singing along to a great song on the radio is every bit as valuable (and often more achievable) than happiness while shaking the university president’s hand.
How much do you love the idea of a parenting expert who might not have a spotless house or be serving a homemade dinner every night? Lots!
But that doesn’t mean that Deborah is a hands-off parent. In her new book, Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate, Dr. G makes it clear that she wants her kids to succeed in the real world and she takes a proactive approach to making that happen. If you’re looking for some practical advice to get your kids to be more responsible, respectful, and resilient, I highly recommend checking it out!
Most of us tend to do one thing while thinking about another. We drive home while mentally planning dinner. We make dinner while wondering if our kids are caught up on homework and when the last time we called our own mother was. We eat dinner while trying to get everyone else at the table to communicate openly about how their day went.
This mental multi-tasking might be how you attempt to “get it all done”, but research shows mindfulness can actually help you manage your busy life better.
People who practice mindfulness are:
more satisfied in their relationships
less emotionally reactive
Rest assured, you don’t have to be mindful all the time. Moderation is a good thing even in matters of mindfulness (in fact, we tend to be most creative when we are mentally distracted.) You just need to find some time to be present.
And I promise you aren’t too busy.
If you shower, you have time to be mindful.
One of the easiest ways for busy people to practice mindfulness is to take a mindful shower.
You have to do it anyway, and you know you usually forget all of those brilliant ideas you have the second you turn off the water. Instead of letting your mind run in circles while you lather up, seize this precious personal time to practice being present.
Pay attention to…
how the water feels on your skin.
the smell of your shampoo.
the way your fingers feel on your scalp.
how the steam accumulates around you.
You don’t have to experience some kind of soap commercial nirvana; just notice what is while you’re performing the necessary task of getting clean. Give yourself those few minutes to let go of the future and the past. Trust that the world can maintain its orbit long enough for you to wash the stink off.
It might seem like a small thing, but it’s a good start.