How to get to happy


What are the things that make up happiness? What does happiness look like? Forget the fleeting kinds of happiness; they're pretty easily recognizable. I mean the deep, abiding kind: the kind that separates the people who pulse with joy for life, seemingly regardless of circumstance, from the ones who don't.

My own path to happiness has been a bit on the winding side. My mother's side of the family has more than its share of depressives, some diagnosed, most self-medicating with alcohol. And Dad's side? Well, they put on a good face, but I fear there were horrible pangs of what-ifs that buzzed about them in their final hours.

While I'm far from There yet, since my whack upside the head a few years ago*, I pretty much bound out of bed every morning (provided it's not too early), eager to greet the day. I find I worry less than I used to, and complain less, too. In fact, a highly unofficial poll of the people who know me pre-Epiphany and today reveals that I am far less of a pain in the ass than ever I was before**.

Anyway, anyone who knows me at all knows I am the last person to claim Buddhic-like contentment. On the other hand, anyone who knows me at all knows I cannot help but spill it if I have something inside I feel might be of any kind of use to anyone.

So, without further ado:

1. Get to know your owner's manual

Before you can identify where you want to go, you gotta know where you are. What makes you feel heavy? What makes your heart truly sing? Start small, if you like: keep a running list of what you love to do, or what you're looking forward to. Or start with what you dread. The important thing is to look at all of it. Which leads us to...

2. Don't even try to lie.

The Truth is big and scary. The Truth is small and encouraging. But the truth of the Truth is that, once you make it your friend, it will never, ever let you stray too far from the state of happiness.

3. When things look bad, focus on what's good.

Never underestimate the power of gratitude. Nothing snaps you out of a funk faster than realizing things could be far, far worse, and probably are for someone, somewhere. Shifting your focus is at least as important as gratitude. Which means the corollary of this rule is...

4. Look at what you're looking at.

If you're feeling good, see how you're seeing things. If you're feeling not so good, see how you're seeing things. Attention can be a good teacher. So, of course, can unpleasantness.

5. Let the yucky be your teacher.

There's a huge temptation to skip over parts of the process that one finds difficult, but really, you never skip steps: you just delay them. Lather-rinse-repeat may be a part of your own growth process, of course, but ironically, you can probably get to Happy faster if you take the "slow" road. (I wouldn't know; I'm a step-skipper from way back. It took me 40 years and a whomp upside the head to get it.)

6. Understand that happy may not look like what you thought it would.

Starting out in your tiny, one-room log cabin, Happy may well look like a bling-filled crib to the stars. On the other hand, if you live in a bling-filled crib (and aren't happy), you may fear the road to happiness lies in renouncing all of your beautiful possessions. Neither is true. Money and happiness are neither mutually exclusive nor hopelessly intertwined. Good news, I think.

7. Staying fluid helps. A lot.

Some people are naturally more relaxed and open. Flexibility is something I had to learn, both literally and figuratively. Stretching and yoga helps the physical part of it, and something about it (probably the slowing down necessary to do it right) also helped me to be more flexible in my thinking. But really, happiness in huge part involves embracing change, something that not all of us (ahem) are naturally good at.

8. So does having fun.

This one sounds really self-evident, but it's easy to get all serious on The Pursuit of Happiness and suck the fun out of it. Unless you're in a critically depressive phase (in which case you should seek professional help), Getting To Happy is a life's work. So relax. Whoop it up, even. Think of this as the MG in the garage you'll be tinkering at for a lifetime. No biggie.

9. Doing trumps reading about doing.

Yes, it's helpful to find good books and articles and thoughtstarters and motivational quotations and links and a million-billion other things. You know they're no substitute for doing. Go ahead and do your reading, but also do something. One thing, every day. Make it a little project for yourself, if that helps. (Of course, if you're a do-er and an anti-reader, the opposite advice is probably true, but I've a feeling if you're on squidoo, you fall in the former camp.)

10. Put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to place the mask of the person sitting next to you.

This is a tricky one sometimes: we need to balance our need to take care of others with our need for self-care. I guess I'm hoping that native common sense will prevail here: your happiness should take a backseat to your child's getting fed or clothed or comforted. Period. (Perhaps you could even derive some happiness from knowing your child is well-cared for.) But striving to find one's identity, or love, or self-worth, through the making-happy of someone else? Well, I've taken that detour. It's the road to nowhere.

11. When in doubt, get quiet and look within.

It's a big, loud, noisy, distracting world. It can be hard to make the time for quiet ventures that don't immediately pay off in goodies like money or fame or power. Thus is confusion born. Take a step back, take a few deep breaths and look at the problem or the situation or the confusion again.

12. Be nice to yourself.

When you fall, pick yourself up kindly. If you make a mistake, take the steps you can to correct it, make a note of where you erred, and move on. Be as gentle and sweet to yourself as you would a baby or your beloved. You are both. You make the world shine bright like a brand new penny. Treat yourself thusly.


*Whack provided by an acute onset of Crohn's disease back in 2002 which landed me in the hospital for 11 days. You can read a little more about the experience here and here.

**A highly unofficial poll of my shrink revealed that at one point, she had not only considered me a lost cause, but was ready to dump me outright into the lap of the nearest dispensing psychiatrist she could find.

Photo by carf. Check the Creative Commons license before sharing, please.

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