How to be Happy in 5 Simple Steps

Let it go!

Let it go!


5.  Let grievances go

We all have that co-worker that annoys us to no end.  You know the one, the guy that never does his work, and requires you to pick up the slack.  The woman who is always five minutes late and leaves ten minutes early every day.  Maybe it’s your micromanaging boss who wants to know every single detail of every project you’re working on at every moment.

Perhaps your spouse consistently leaves their dishes on the side table, or leaves the cap off the toothpaste.  Or maybe it’s just the a-hole that cut you off in traffic this morning.  Those things are supper annoying when they happen, but in the grand scheme of things, did the guy cutting you off in traffic really effect you or those you love?  Is it worth getting all bent out of shape over a coffee cup on the side table?  It takes less than two seconds to screw the cap on the toothpaste.  Why let it ruin hours of your day being angry about it?

4.  Accept difficulties as challenges rather than problems.

Successful people don’t sit around and complain about things, they get up and fix them.  There are actually two parts to this step.  The first one is to look past the problem, to see the cause.  The second it to stop being an “idea” person, and start being a “do-er”.  The world is full of “big picture guys.”  Everyone has a dream.  What the world needs are doers.  People who talk about a challenge, and then get off their butts and do something about it.  It takes zero energy to complain, and physics tells us that if there is zero energy expended, then there can only be zero gain.

3.  Focus on what’s important.

Time is like a fixed income.  The difficulty of being on a fixed income is living within it.

Time is like a fixed income. The difficulty of being on a fixed income is living within it.

Do you have a plan for the week, or are you facing a blank slate? Of course, you say, what upstanding person doesn’t have a plan!

I have one too; it’s my “Master Task List”. I do pretty well getting my work done, but at the end of a busy week I sometimes realize I haven’t done the work I told myself was important – whether it’s about my professional development, my personal development, or my family’s development. It’s so tempting to check off a bunch of things on my checklist, and too easy to think that it’s progress when it’s really not.

You can boil it down to the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important, and often they are not the same. It’s a concept often discussed in time management; you can find lots of time management books, magazines, blogs, and workshop sessions devoted to the topic. I’ll leave it to you to read a few and pick the time management system that works for you. Instead, I’ll share five pieces of advice I’ve learned.

1. Set Three “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) for the day. Ask yourself, “If I could only do three things today, what would I feel the most fulfilled in doing?”

2. Focus on providing value. Ask yourself, “How much value will this provide me, or someone else?”

3. Think long-term. Ask yourself, “Will this make a difference in a week, a month or a year from now? Five years?”

4. Tackle first things first. Finishing the most important tasks in the beginning of the day ensures that you can get to other work and still feel you have accomplished something strategic.

5. Have a clear vision. If you can’t envision it, then you can’t measure it; if you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it. Think about whether or not the work you’re doing is moving you closer to your vision, or if it won’t make much of a difference tomorrow or next week.

2. Be good to others.

Do good.

Do good.

Have you ever heard the saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? It’s not enough to want to do good, and to try to do good-you must also think about whether your actions actually had good results. Not every attempt to do good will end with good results, so when things don’t work out, be willing to reconsider your actions and change them accordingly. Never let your sense of duty, loyalty, or obligation get in the way of doing what’s right. For example, many parents feel that it’s good to help their children in every way possible, but there are times when children need to learn lessons on their own and face challenges in order to achieve or to avoid mistakes in the future. A child who has been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving needs to bear the responsibility of his or her actions. If the parent bails the child out, then helps the child avoid consequences, he will only learn that the parent will be there to help even if he does wrong. The intention is good (wanting to help the child succeed), but the action might not be (removing all obstacles from their path).

Being good to others is just like being a “do-er”.  If you expel zero energy, you’re not really doing good.  On your list of what’s important, be sure to consider if those things are good only for you, or if they’re good for others.

1. Take risks.

You don't have to pet a great white to take a risk.

You don’t have to pet a great white to take a risk.

There’s a great saying by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” That’s powerful stuff. If we don’t dare, we never experience our full potential.

One reason many of us don’t dare, don’t challenge ourselves fully, is fear. The thought that: ‘I can’t do it’; ‘I’m not good enough’; I’ll fail anyway’; ‘Bad things will happen’; ‘If I can’t do it right, I don’t want to do it at all’;’ I’m happy enough with the status quo.’

We’re not talking about bungee jumping (unless that’s your thing) or putting yourself in danger. But taking risks—stepping outside our comfort zones and challenging ourselves— builds self-esteem. And higher self-esteem correlates with greater happiness, according to Nathaniel Branden, author of The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

That’s not a surprise. When we see ourselves as that confident, brave, courageous person, a risk-taker—the kind of person we’d admire—our self-esteem grows.

To understand why self-esteem can build happiness, you need to know what self-esteem is and isn’t. It isn’t gained by compliments or external praise or attention. Branden defines it as “experiencing oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness.” It’s a confidence in our own abilities to think, learn, change, and make decisions. To get there, we have to learn to trust ourselves, which also makes us feel more in control of our lives.

In order to build trust in ourselves, we must put ourselves on the line, do the things we’ve always wanted to do but avoided out of fear (everyone has fear; a courageous person has fear and does it anyway). We have to give ourselves opportunities for successes and failures. Without them, we never learn to believe in ourselves.

One of my all time favorite quotes is “Take a risk.  If you win, you will be happy.  If you lose, you will be wise.”


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