1. Let go
I remember feeling physically lighter the first time I succeeded in really letting go of the things that were making me unhappy. Letting go is not easy but for me this is the key secret of being happy most of the time. There are five areas in which I am learning to let go:
- Expectations: The single most important step on my journey to happiness was learning to let go of expectations. Expectations – of ourselves and other people – set us up for disappointment, frustration and misery. Freeing yourself and the people you love from the burden of expectations is one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.
- Outcomes: Besides releasing expectations of people, learning to go with the flow by detaching from desired outcomes is also useful in achieving a happy medium. As a task-oriented person who pays attention to detail, this was challenging but worthwhile because I’m more able to take life as it comes these days.
- Possessions: The third thing I learnt to let go of was our need to possess. Thinking that we own things makes us susceptible to the fear of loss, and a life lived in fear is not a happy one. My aim now is to be able to store all my essential worldly possessions in just one suitcase.
- Approval: I’m now working on letting go of the need for the approval of others. Many of us care too much what others think. Although I’ve pared down the list of those whose opinions matter to me, I find this list of about ten people still too long. I’m guessing the ideal number for this list is one – me. Or maybe even that is too much because…
- Self: Another thing I’m learning to let go of is myself: my self-importance, needs, wants, hurts, even thoughts. While I am nowhere near the level of detachment and stillness that would make me a saint or buddha, I am slowly learning to get over it instead of dwelling on things.
2. Take control
This sounds like a contradiction of the first step, which is letting go. The difference is that we can let go of the things we cannot control, while taking charge of the things we can. Here are four main areas I worked on that added up to an overall feeling of joy, or at least long-term contentment.
- Finances: Stabilising my finances removed one of the major sources of worry and unhappiness in most people’s lives. I learnt to manage my money, increase cashflow and wealth using a simple spreadsheet, operate on a weekly cash budget, and studied ways to create multiple sources of income.
- Time: Reclaiming my time contributed a great deal to being happy, since work – life balance is key to loving both work and life. Finding time to do the things that are most important to me made a huge difference.
- Health: I used to have bad eating habits and had to learn to control bingeing and cut down sugar intake. Over time I managed an acceptable balance between enjoying sinful foods while limiting their impact. I also learnt simple ways to walk a lot more and get natural exercise in my daily routine.
- Relationships: The younger me was rather difficult to get along with, which obviously made nobody happy including myself. I had to work on being kind, speaking gently, and even resorted to writing things down before blurting them out. Thanks to good mentors, I even learnt to praise instead of criticise. Today I am grateful for strong and easy relationships with friends and family.
3. Practise gratitude
It is impossible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. So one of the easiest ways to be happy is to be grateful. While letting go and taking control involve work and time, being grateful can happen in the space of a single thought. Here are three ways to practise gratitude:
- Journal: Probably the second best thing I did on my path to happiness was to start a gratitude journal. Write down five things you are grateful for each day, either at the end of the day or first thing the next morning. You can repeat points, since you’ll be grateful for your biggest blessings on many days.
- Carpe diem: An attitude that helped me to be grateful everyday was living like you’ll die tomorrow. Thinking like this helps you to make the most of each day realising this could be your last chance, and then the happy days start piling up in a virtuous circle – you’re happy to be living, and your way of living makes you happy.
- Judge not: As I gained some perspective in life (largely through growing older!) I came to see that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are illusions. Things will happen in life – accidents, deaths, poor health, separations. You’ll be much happier when you stop judging these things as good or bad, but accept that things just are. Be grateful for the experience and smile because it happened.