Picture: Reading on a rock at an inhabited island near Koh Samui, Thailand.
I worked on this article for months…
I have been actively thinking about happiness for the past three years and I have been working on this article for the last six months.
If you learned something new, it would mean a lot to me if you could share this article after you have read it. Spread the love.
Happiness… Why is this concept so hard to grasp?
Many people spend a lifetime looking for it, not many people really seem to have figured out what exactly it is. Is it meant to be figured out? Wouldn’t unraveling the secret of happiness demystify life itself? Or is happiness so personal, there are no general rules to apply?
Let me start with the fact that I do not have the answers. But I have been trying really hard to figure it out. In total I came up with eighteen principles. Before we discuss these principles, I want to start about luck. When talking about happiness it is almost impossible to not include this into the picture.
How luck influences Happiness
The world is not ‘fair’.
It is not fair today and it will not be fair tomorrow. There is a certain amount of luck involved in happiness: you can not always influence the circumstances. The amount of luck you get, will never be equal to the amount of luck other people get.
A lot of the unfortunate people claim the life they live, is mostly determined by fate. A path that is set out on forehand, which cannot be influenced by your own action. At first sight, it might seem an easy way out to blame everything but yourself for the circumstances you are in. However, sometimes it is hard not to agree: there is a limit to how much unfortunate happenings a person can handle.
On the other hand, most of the fortunate people claim the life they live, is fully determined by will-power and hard work. ‘I create my own luck’, is a phrase often heard from succesful business men and women alike. I personally wonder if they would have stated the same if they hadn’t succeed in what they are doing.
The truth is probably somewhere in between: fortune tends to favour the brave (Phormio, 203 BC), but cannot be controlled at the fullest. The circumstances are the circumstances, you can not always control them. What you cán control, however, is your state of mind – no matter how bad circumstances are. This is a fact.
I have met people who have all the reasons to be depressed, but still live a happier life than some of the (by society considered) most successfull people. The circumstances can make it harder to live a happier life, but it seldomly determines your state of mind – only you can do that.
Taking the circumstances as a given, there are a few principles you can live by – to optimize the level of happiness for the situation you are in.
Appreciation of the Now
Happiness is… right here, right now
I found most people in Western society tend to push happiness over the horizon. They live in the here and now, but they are simply not really there with their minds.
Appreciation for the here and now, gets consumed by daily routine. How many young people are still thankful to get up and go to their job or study? Are they really enjoying the moment, or are they mainly looking forward to the future: the future in which they will finally graduate, the future in which they finally get that promotion?
From what I have seen, most of the people in Western society are so obsessed with the future, they forget to be happy and thankful for the things they have right now. At least some of these thoughts, must sound familiar to most people:
‘If I graduate, I will be happy.’
‘If I have this new job, I will be happy.’
‘If I have saved enough for this new car, I will be happy.’
‘If I go on this holiday, I will be happy.’
The problem here is, that yes, we will be happy. For a while.
After that, we will be just wanting more.
After graduation, we just want to get the job we want. After we get the job we want, we work our ass off for another – even better – job. A year after buying a new car, we want a better one. A few weeks after going on our ultimate holiday, we are looking forward to the next one.
A lot of people tend to have the feeling happiness is just around the corner. However, with this mindset, that most people force upon theirselves, happiness will always be just that.
Around the corner.
If one keeps pushing happiness over the horizon, it will never be reached. Be happy and thankful for the things you have right now.
Every morning cán be the last one.
Happiness is… not being sad about the past
Whatever it is that happened, whenever you look back, it is always better to embrace the good memories. We should not stand still, thinking about the sad memories, too long.
I realise, this will not always be easy. Some people mostly have good memories, others mostly have bad memories.
However, when one drags along all the sad happenings in their life, it will make the future harder as well. Sometimes it is better to let things go, no matter how difficult this is.
When someone who meant a lot to you, falls away – remember the good times you had with that person. Do not stand still for too long, by the fact he or she isn’t there anymore.
The same accounts for regret. You cannot change the past, you can only learn from the mistakes you made. Let it go.
Life goes on. And so should you.
Happiness is… not worrying about the future
When you worry too much about the future, this often stands in the way of being happy with the things that you have right now.
The future is uncertain and you cannot always influence it. It is in our nature to worry about uncertainty, although it will mostly limit us in being truly happy.
The thing is, most people in Western society actually have not that much to worry about – to be honest.
Chances are high, when you look back a couple of years later – you will see that you had nothing to worry about anyway. Most things end up just fine the way they go.
A future in which everything is certain, would be merely boring.
Happiness is… taking care of yourself
Living a healthy life, is living a happy life. Most people only realize this when they get sick.
Eat healthy, keep moving. The better the mind takes care of the body now, the better the body takes care of the mind later. Motivate yourself to eat healthier and exercise more. Do this continuously, make it part of your routine – not only after New Years (busted, haha).
It will pay off eventually.
If you do not invest time in getting healthy now, you will lose the same amount of time getting sick later.
If you do not invest time in getting healthy now, you will lose the same amount of time getting sick later. Click To Tweet
Happiness is… being with the people you love
Let’s start with the fact that this principle is not completely true. Being with the people you love does not make you happy in the following two occasions:
- If the people you love are not happy, it will make you unhappy as well. The only thing you can do, is taking action and doing everything you can to make them happy again. Leaving your loved ones behind unhappy, will be something you carry with you for the rest of your life – and is definitely not a solution. Ofcourse, things are a bit more difficult when that person doesn’t want your help.
- If the people – or person – you love, do not love you back, it will probably make you unhappy as well. In the end, leaving those persons behind, might be the best solution.
In most cases however, being with the people you love is the ultimate way to unlock long-term happiness.
You have a limited amount of time: do not waste all the hours in making a career. There are more important things in life. I have seen very ‘succesful’ CEO’s who never saw their own children: you do not want to walk that path.
Do the things you love, love the things you do
Happiness is… start taking responsibility for your own behaviour
This one might look like a no-brainer, but unfortunately this is not common knowledge.
To live a happy life, it is important to realize you are the only one in control of your decisions. Take responsibility for everything you do. Too many people are blaming others for their own choices. Whether it is the government, the crisis, the bad weather, traffic jams… whatever it is: you are responsible for your own life.
It’s easier to blame someone else, I agree. But in the end yóu are in control of your own behaviour, and nobody else.
It is about time, people take matters into their own hands. Realizing you are in control of your own life, will make life a lot less miserable.
Happiness is… having a purpose in life
Set goals for yourself. Ask yourself what you want to achieve in five years. Where do I want to be, with who, and what would I want to have achieved by that time?
Is there anything you can do, to come closer to that dream? Then do it!
Having a purpose in your life, keeps a person going. It makes you eager to develop, eager to learn. Everything on earth, that does not develop – everything on Earth that does not grow anymore – is slowly dying. Humans are no exception. Having a purpose in life, makes you feel alive.
Be happy with the things you have, work on the things you want to have – every day.
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. (Jim Rohn)
If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. Click To Tweet
Happiness is… not working for the paycheck
Get the job you actually like to get up out of bed for – every morning. Do not just work for the paycheck, it will only make you happy once a month. Since you will spend most of your time working, do something you have a passion for. Do something that makes you happy, at least most of the days.
If your company doesn’t make you happy, maybe it is time to invest effort to look for something else – there is probably something better for you out there.
- Ask yourself what your passion is (what do you like to do, when you are not working?)
- Ask yourself what your dreams are (what would be the ultimate life for you, if you could choose?)
Look for a job, that helps you to get closer to both.
I wrote an article about this last month, if you are interested to read more about this principle, read ‘What would you do for a living, if money was no object?‘ (opens in new window).
Do not work for the paycheck. It will make you happy only once a month. #loveyourjob #thebucketyears Click To Tweet
Happiness is… experiencing new big things
The very core of the human spirit is driven by new experiences (Jon Krakauer). Falling in a routine, day after day, slowly breaks this spirit. When we are kids, we do new things all the time and it is very exciting. I do not see any reason we should stop doing it as grown-ups.
Never stop doing new stuff. Most of the times this dóes mean you have to take a step out of the comfort zone. Break your routines, on purpose. Make life an adventure again.
The very core of the human spirit is driven by new experiences. Never stop doing new stuff. #thebucketyears Click To Tweet
Do new big things – all the time
Happiness is… conquering your fears
Fear is a prison, it limits our freedom. Everybody has a fear.
As a kid, mine used to be darkness. By the time puberty hit me, it was girls and social acceptance. Later this fear would become connecting with strangers and making mistakes. A few years ago, it used to be public speaking (and it sometimes still is) and extreme heights.
It is healthy to have fears, but it feels like freedom to conquer one. Never stop doing things you are affraid of.
A very wise man once told me that limits are only in your mind, they do not really exist.
I agree with him. You can conquer the world if you want to.
Trading consumerism for socialism
Material happiness is short term happiness
There is no kid in the world that was more materialistic than me. When I was a kid, Scrooge McDuck (Dutch: Dagobert Duck) used to be my idol. I am not kidding: I even started collecting coins. I litterally thought money was happiness.
Something fundamental in me would change though.
I have met people who had it all: the expensive watches, the fast cars and the supermodels. Those same people confirmed what I already had figured out by then: when you have the ability to buy everything you want, people around you are very happy for you, but for yourself it will leave an emptiness inside.
“The 10,000 USD watch just made me very affraid to get robbed. I also was continiously busy with not bumping my wrist against the wall. The Ferrari is something special for a few weeks, after that, it is just your car. And what about Russian supermodels? Ah, Russian supermodels are only after your money, and tend to be very bad conversational partners. Haha, I prefer girls with a strong character and intelligence.”
Contrary to common believe, I am absolutely convinced material possessions will never bring long-term happiness.
When you buy a Ferrari, a water scooter, a yacht, a pink helicopter with diamonds on top, or whatever that it is you fancy: yes, I am convinced you will increase your happiness – for a while.
When we buy a new phone, we will make sure absolutely no scratch comes on it. Two years later, we care a lot less. No matter what it is you buy, most people – if not all – just get used to their possessions, appreciating it less every day. It is embedded in human nature.
What happens next, is that most people will end up looking at others that have even more, resulting in wishing they had more themselves.
With this kind of thinking, it is unavoidable a person eventually becomes a slave of money and posessions, forgetting about the things that can make a person happy on the long-term.
“I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that’s not the answer.”
– Jim Carrey
Material happiness is short-term happiness.
Letting go of the urge of endless consuming, will give room for peace of mind, which is something way more valuable.
Invest money wisely. If our current cars get us from A to B just fine, maybe we shouldn’t buy a new one. Money is mostly better invested in achieving dreams (principle #6), following passions (principle #7) and experiencing new big things (principle #8).
Success in life is not measured by the car you drive.
Materialism is short term #happiness. You do not need a large sum of money to live a rich life. #thebucketyears Click To Tweet
Happiness is… stop looking at your neighbour’s plate
Another thing I noticed, is that too many people focus on the things other people have. Not on what they have themselves.
I strongly believe one of the most important keys to happiness, is to stop looking at people who have more than ourselves.
As kids, most of us were terribly busy with comparing the stuff we got, to what the other kids got. Remember yourself crying out ‘that’s not fair’, because some other kid got more than you?
I dó remember it and I am happy my parents taught me to not feel this kind of sickening jealousy anymore.
The only time you should look at somebody else’s plate, is to see whether they have enough (Louis C.K.).
The only time you should look at somebody else's plate, is to see whether they have enough. Click To Tweet
Happiness is… taking care of others
Some people only care about their family and social circle. Most people care about the people, that are much like themselves. Just a few people care about all other people.
Who ever you care about, it feels good to take care of them.
We can feel the pain of our loved ones, it makes us unhappy. We can feel it when they are happy, and it will give ourselves a feeling of happiness as well. The state of mind of loved ones is contagious.
Take care of the ones you love, and they will take care of you.
Happiness is… forgiving the ones you loved once
As a kid, there used to be a time I thought all adults are always behaving mature. That everything they did, was rational. I was quite surprised to see the opposite is true in most of the occasions.
All around me I see people that were once close friends or family, are not talking with eachother (for years!), just because of a few small things that happened in the past.
For the love of everything in life: be pro-active and talk it out like grown ups are supposed to do.
Becoming a Guardian of Inner Peace
Happiness is… broaden your perspective.
Do not judge people you do not know. Not on looks, not on behaviour. You have no idea what their journey is about.
Often people are only willing to listen to people that are like-minded. However, when you are only listening to people that confirm your belief, it is very likely you will become narrow-minded.
Listen and talk to strangers, and the world will open up to you.
Happiness is… stop caring about the judgement of others.
As kids, people do not care much about judgements of other people. Kids feel little shame and do whatever they want. What others think of it, that is none of their business. They dress how they like to get dressed and do whatever pops in their impenetrable minds at that moment.
Somewhere along the way it goes terribly wrong though: by the time puberty hits us, we start attaching a tremendous amount of value to he opinion of others. Something most of us are struggling to unlearn ourselves the rest of our lifes.
Many people claim they do whatever they like doing, but seldomly this is completely true. Most people are just living the life that is expected from them.
Valueing the opinion of others as zero, gives you back the freedom you already had as a kid.
Happiness is… respecting life.
Respect everything that lives. Take care of both people ánd animal when in need. In the end we are all just trying to make a living on this planet. Personally, this principle made me start giving to the homeless. It also made me stop killing insects when they are bothering me, and made me reconsider the amount of meat I eat (although I am still a long way from becoming vegeterian, haha).
Once you start respecting life, life will be more likely to respect you.
When you are living by all other seventeen principles described above, it is time to open the door to ultimate happiness by becoming the guardian of your own inner peace.
It took a while before I figured this one out, but it has the ability to change everything:
Happiness is… not allowing external factors to disturb your inner peace.
For the greater majority of people an external stimuli, automatically triggers an internal reaction.
External stimuli: The train to work is delayed with half an hour, due to which you will miss an important meeting.
Internal reaction: Disbelief, anger, maybe even aggression or panic
Most people believe they can not control it. But you can.
Yóu are in control of your own reaction.
You can chóose to laugh it away. Look for a solution or drink some coffee while reading a book, or maybe even to start a conversation with a stranger (principle #15). You can smile and realize there are plenty of other things that are worse than the current situation.
Getting angry is punishing yourself for someone else’s behaviour or mistakes. This automated internal reaction normally makes the situation even worse, instead of better.
You might as well just smile and be thankful for the things that dó make you happy.
Yóu are in control, but it takes practise.
Where fitness trains physical well-being, meditation trains mental well-being. I find it quite astonishing the first is much more popular. A happy mind goes a longer way than a perfectly fit body. Beauty that which obeys is just borrowed after all.
In the ultimate situation, not a punch in the face (an extremely negative external stimuli, one might say) can disturb your inner peace. Now thát is next-level happiness.
Let me be clear: I am not there yet myself. Getting a punch in the face makes me very unhappy. I am making steps though.
Another example. True story this time.
Three years ago I got robbed at Bali, losing my brand new camera and most of the pictures of my trip.
This is the moment I realized two things.
One: I had spend too much time getting the right picture, where I could have enjoyed the moment more, by taking time to suck in the astonishing views I have witnessed in Indonesia.
Two: I can decide myself how to react. Whatever my reaction would be, it wouldn’t bring my camera back.
I could choose to get angry or sad – instead I choose to party and be happy. There are tons of worse things that could have happened.
It is all about your attitude in the end.
Smile. You (have the ability to) live an awesome life 🙂
What is Happiness to you?
Let me learn from you now. What is happiness to you?
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