What does it mean to create your own happiness? Regardless of who you are and what your goals are, I’m betting that being happy is close to the top of your list.
Isn’t that something that we all pursue? Don’t we all stretch and strive for experiences that we think will bring us happiness?
The way I see it, we all have the power to choose how happy we are in our day to day life. We have control over so much – our relationships, our career, our routines, our health, etc. It would be ludicrous to believe that our happiness is dependent on the luck of the draw given that we are responsible for all of those outcomes.
If you’ve ever met happy people and spent time around them, you quickly realize that happiness is a conscious choice. It doesn’t lie in cars, mansions, or an abundance of money in your bank account, happiness is a product of the simple, everyday decisions that you make.
In today’s article, we’ll talk about daily choices you can make that will help you create your own happiness instead of feeling like it’s being dictated by external factors.
The research on happiness is extensive, and there are clear indicators as to what constitutes a happy, fulfilled life, as opposed to one that is characterized by a sense of quiet desperation.
What Does It Mean To Make Your Own Happiness?
One common misconception about how to create your own happiness goes something like this: you need to relentlessly focus on trying to achieve your goals.
Goals are typically centered around an outcome you want to achieve. Maybe you want to lose weight, get a promotion, buy a new car, or take that vacation you’ve always wanted. Regardless of what you want, here’s the punchline – if you’re tying happiness to an external event, you’ve already one step behind.
There’s a principle in psychology called set-point theory, which states that the happiness we feel due to a change in life circumstances is temporary, and we’ll eventually return to our baseline level of happiness once the honeymoon period of achievement has worn off.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get that promotion, or try to save up enough money to take that vacation you’ve always wanted, it just means that you shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking that it will bring you the happiness and inner peace you’re looking for.
No matter how hard you work, there’s no guarantee that you will achieve the outcomes you want. That’s just how life goes – sometimes you can do everything in your power to achieve something and it just doesn’t come to fruition.
In order to create your own happiness, you need to set up a life that you can be proud of whether you achieve your goals or not.
It’s about staying in touch with your friends on a day to day basis so you have a strong support system.
It’s about appreciating the little blessings that most people overlook and showing gratitude for what you’ve been given.
It’s about that split-second decision where you decide to chat up a stranger and try to make a new friend, instead of just walking by and pretending you didn’t notice them.
It’s about managing your emotions and not getting too attached to the endless swarm of thoughts running through your head minute by minute.
See the common theme here? None of these things are related to how much money you have or your job title – they center around the way that you approach each day. You can make a conscious choice in moments like these that often make or break how happy you feel.
What’s The Secret to A Happy Life?
Before getting into some practical decisions you can make each day to create your own happiness, first I want to talk about one important finding that researchers have concluded is the single biggest ingredient to living a happy life.
Have you ever heard about the Harvard study?
Robert Waldinger is a psychiatrist and a professor at Harvard Medical School. He also happens to be the director of a 75-year old study on adult development, which means he has profound insight into what it takes for people to achieve a sense of satisfaction with their lives.
This study followed two groups of men over 75 years and collected a bunch of data about the state of these individual’s lives.
The main takeaway from the study?
The biggest predictor of your overall happiness and fulfillment in life comes down to the quality of your relationships.
More specifically, the study showed that having people you can rely on helps your nervous system relax and reduces the emotional pain that results from external events.
It also showed that people who don’t have an engaging social circle are less happy, less confident, and tend to show signs of aging and physical decline earlier than those who do.
So if you’re looking for a short-cut answer to the question of how to create your own happiness, place high importance on expanding your social circle and improving the quality of your relationships.
If you can imagine a happy life as a wall of bricks that you need to lay, research tells us that strong personal relationships are the first brick that we should all start with. This provides a stable foundation for finding joy in other aspects of our life.
Now that we’ve covered the biggest factor in living a happy life, here’s seven more examples of lifestyle choices you can make that will positively contribute to your overall life satisfaction.
7 Proven Ways to Create Your Own Happiness
#1 – Align Your Goals With Your Values
One of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to goal setting is not aligning their goals with their values, and this has a significant impact on your happiness.
What are your values exactly? Your values are the principles that you believe are important in the way you live and work.
If you set goals based on what you want, they may not align with your values. And when you’re not living in accordance with your values, everything just feels a little “off.”
I remember a couple years ago, I was putting in long hours to try to get my marketing agency off the ground. Because of this, my social circle was limited and I routinely skipped out on opportunities to enjoy the company of my friends.
I remember trying to convince myself that these sacrifices were necessary because it was all in service of my ambitious goals, but it just didn’t feel right to me. The truth is that it was making me deeply unhappy because my value structure placed an importance on spending time with the people I cared about.
This state of incongruence tortured my conscience and really took a toll on my overall motivation. That’s what happens when the actions you’re taking are in direct conflict with your values.
Your goals are not the starting point for your values, your values are the starting point for your goals. If you want to create your own happiness, it’s important for you to first define what your priorities are in the following areas – work, relationships, health.
Think about what an ideal life looks like in each of these areas – that will give you a clear picture of what your values are. Then, get to work on fixing the discrepancies between your current actions and your values.
If you want to become a millionaire, but you deeply value social connection, no amount of money in the world will make you happy.
If you value self-discipline, but routinely procrastinate important work, then you’re going to be living in a constant state of incongruence. Your present self and your future self will constantly be at odds with one another.
What you’ll notice is that when you start letting your values act as the north star that guides your actions, it actually becomes easier to achieve your goals because you’re more fulfilled, more motivated, and overall more content with the direction of your life.
#2 – Learn to Become Present
I know that you’ve been bombarded with advice like this before (as if it were just so easy to simply stay present).
But the truth is that if you were to take a hard look at how you spend your time, most of it is probably spent on auto-pilot mode. We always seem to be making plans and rushing towards a future state that is more satisfying than the present moment.
As Eckhart Tolle, the author of the Power of Now says, “Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle to overcome. Since the present moment is Life itself, it is an insane way to live.”
Look, I’m not saying that you have to be this happy-go-lucky person who’s always blabbing on and on about the harmony of the present.
What I am saying though, being happy starts with actually experiencing life. You need to learn how to be fully engaged in what you’re doing without getting pulled towards your anxiety-inducing thoughts about the past or the future.
And the cool part about life is that literally every second that we breathe presents us with an opportunity to practice this skill.
If you’re doing the dishes, be fully engaged in it. Don’t spend the whole time thinking about your to-do list, feel what it’s like to actually dedicate all of your attention to the here and now.
If you’re having a conversation with a friend, pay close attention to everything that they’re saying. Don’t start analyzing what you’re going to say before they’ve even finished their sentence.
The more you practice the skill of mindfulness, the better you’ll become at it.
#3 – Welcome New Experiences
We all love routine. It makes us feel safe, secure, and therefore happy. Routine actually does play a role in finding inner peace as well.
For example, getting on a consistent sleep schedule improves your mood and boosts your energy. Following a specific routine after you wake up each day makes you more productive and gives your life a sense of structure.
The downside of routine is that it can become an obstacle to happiness. Just because something is familiar, doesn’t mean it’s making you happy. It’s probably just making you feel safe.
Most people live life in a bubble, and getting outside this bubble brings about feelings of discomfort and short-term unhappiness because our brain is programmed to keep us safe and protect us from the unknown.
Without ever getting out of your comfort zone opening yourself up to new experiences, you’ll never actually get to leave your bubble. As a result, you’ll never know what kind of potentially life altering experiences are out there waiting for you.
- What if I changed jobs?
- What if I moved to a different city, or even a different country?
- What if I talked to that stranger?
- What if I decide to go back to school?
Now, are these things guaranteed to make you happier? Absolutely not. But you’ll never know until you take a risk and gain experience.
One of the reasons people tend to live life in a bubble is because they believe that leaving their comfort zone represents letting go of things that are making them happy. Our brain is hard-wired to believe that leaving behind the familiar represents letting go of things that make us happy.
In reality, it might be the very thing that sets you free.
#4 – Focus on Habits, Not Goals
We’ve already talked about some of the perils of relying on goal achievement when it comes to happiness, so you’re probably wondering what the alternative is.
At the end of the day, you still want to reach those goals and pursue them, and the pursuit of anything comes down to your daily habits.
Your habits determine your identity, and your identity drives almost everything that you do. If you want to create your own happiness, you need to become detached from the outcome and focus on the process.
You need to learn to focus on the small daily actions that create the results you want, regardless of whether or not they lead to you achieving your goals.
Putting too much emphasis on goals tends to lead to “all or nothing” thinking. Either you achieve the goal, or you don’t. Habits are more flexible – they allow you to find joy in the journey of constant improvement.
If you have a goal to lose 50 pounds, don’t focus on losing 50 pounds. Focus on building an exercise habit.
If you have a goal to get a promotion, don’t focus on getting a promotion. Focus on building a habit of getting to the office early and working on your most important tasks.
If you’re a salesperson and have a certain revenue goal you want to hit, don’t place so much focus on that one target. Focus on calling a certain number of people every day.
Whether or not you meet those goals is irrelevant. For starters, if your daily process is on point, you’ll likely hit those goals anyway.
Furthermore, because your happiness isn’t tied to an arbitrary target that you may or may not reach, you’ll learn to be content with the fact that you showed up that day and did the work.
If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide that will teach you how to create effective habits that you actually stick to, feel free to check out my Free E-Book: 3 Steps to Creating Better Habits.
#5 – Learn To Love Your Work
Think about how much of your life that you actually spend at your job.
You have 24 hours in a day, 7-8 of which are spent sleeping. That means you have about 16 hours left.
Of those 16 hours, you have to spend some time showering, getting dressed, making your morning cup of coffee, commuting to work, eating, checking your phone, etc.
That means that depending on your work schedule, you’re likely going to spend over 60% of your waking hours working.
Can you say with total honesty that you actually like what you do? If you can, then you’re a part of the 13% of people who feel truly satisfied with their chosen profession.
It’s really just a math game. If you’re spending over 60% of your time doing something that doesn’t give you a sense of fulfillment, you’re making it incredibly difficult to live a meaningful life.
Look, I’m a realist. I know that there are those of you reading this right now who are working a job because you need to put food on the table. That’s something I fully understand and empathize with.
Not everyone has the luxury of pursuing their passion and working a job they love because meeting basic needs for themselves and their family is their #1 priority.
However, I also know this:
There are some of you reading this right now who would be more happy teaching golf lessons, or cooking, or selling wine, as opposed to slugging it out your 9-5. There are some of you reading this who like the safety of your current employment situation, and simply don’t have the courage to transition out of your job and pursue something different.
Even if you do have financial obligations to meet, who’s to say that you can’t spend an extra 1-2 hours per day building a side hustle around a topic that you’re intensely passionate about?
Guess what, that’s exactly what I do every single day! I don’t get up at 6 a.m. because I like it. I do it because this blog is my passion and something that I want to turn into my full-time career.
As of this moment, it doesn’t make financial sense for me to quit my job and become a full-time blogger. That’s why I spend the first three hours of my day writing content that I believe will add value to other people’s lives, and then go work a job that takes care of my immediate financial needs.
I’m betting that you can find an hour or two each day to do the same.
As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, “Everyone has time, stop watching fucking Lost.”
#6 – Screw Perfection, Focus on Progress
One of my favorite quotes from Jordan Peterson goes like this:
“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.”
We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re doing it, but we feel the effects quite instantly.
The rise of social media has played a big part in this – someone is always doing something that is bigger and better than what we are doing. Sometimes scrolling through your social media feed or watching Youtube videos of someone you admire can be a constant beatdown to your ego and self-worth.
True happiness lies in focusing on your own journey.
We’re all on a different path. You really don’t have a clue what someone else is going through. Just because their life seems picture-perfect from the outside doesn’t mean that they aren’t fighting battles you know nothing about.
If you want to create your own happiness, you need to set up a standard of improvement that relies on one metric – how much better you are than your previous self.
If you want to become a successful entrepreneur, there’s already people who have achieved the goal you want and built successful businesses.
If you want to get in better shape, one look around the gym will make you keenly aware of how many people have the type of body you want.
Comparing yourselves to these people is a futile exercise because they’ve already put in the work and made the sacrifices necessary to get what you desire.
“Am I better than the person that I was last month?”
If you can answer “Yes” to this question every month, for five years straight, you’d be unrecognizable. You’ll get to where you want to be eventually if you don’t let the success of others weigh down your own progress.
#7 – Accept Negative Thoughts, But Don’t Get Attached To Them
One of my favorite self-improvement books of all time was written by Russ Harris. The book, titled The Confidence Gap, was a brutal but profound wake up-call for me in regards to happiness.
In the book, Harris points out that much of our unhappiness doesn’t come from our thoughts, but in the way that we handle our thoughts.
Your mind is programmed to wander. You can’t just shut off the part of your brain that causes you to relive past failures or feel anxiety about the future.
However, you can control your response to these thoughts. You can make a conscious choice to get attached to them and fall into thinking patterns that make you unhappy, or you can choose to see your thoughts for what they are – just your imagination running wild.
Just because you’re thinking something doesn’t make it real. If you see a cute guy/girl at the bar and suddenly the thought pops into your mind that “He/she is going to feel annoyed when I go up and talk to him/her,” that’s simply a thought you don’t have to get attached to.
It’s not a guarantee that will be the outcome, in fact it’s probably not even the likely outcome if you’re a reasonably polite and social person, but it sure feels that way doesn’t it?
That’s because you’ve chosen to take that thought as truth and let it dictate your actions. When it comes to controlling your monkey-mind, Harris points out that you should cultivate an attitude of acceptance towards your thoughts.
The next time you feel worried, anxious, or stressed out, simply acknowledge the thought and then move on.
Instead of seeing it as truth, you can repeat things like:
- I’m having the thought that I’m anxious right now
- I’m having the thought that today’s to-do list is too much to handle
- I’m having the thought that today’s presentation will go badly
- I’m having the thought that people will care about my bad haircut
You can also point out the downright insanity of some of your brain by saying things like:
- There goes my monkey-mind again!
- Ah, there goes my brain fantasizing about some situation that’s highly unlikely. Thanks mind!
- Yup! There’s the daily story that I’m not good enough, thanks mind!
Do you see how doing this with all of your negative thoughts can lessen the blow? When you cultivate an attitude of acceptance, you don’t feel bad about having these thoughts, you’re simply recognizing them for what they are – misguided assumptions that don’t represent reality.
Notice a common theme here in all of these examples of how to create your own happiness?
All of them have to do with the way you approach life, not necessarily the goals you achieve or the rewards that come with achieving them.
You don’t get to decide the negative thoughts that pop in your head on a daily basis, but you do get to decide how you respond to them.
You don’t have total control over whether or not you are as successful as someone else, but you do have control over whether or not you use their success as your measuring stick.
You may not be able to pursue your passion due to current life circumstances, but there’s nothing stopping you from spending an extra hour per day that helps you get out of your 9-5 a couple of years down the line.
I hope that this article helps you realize that you can create your own happiness, and inspires you to put things in motion that will bring you the inner peace that you’re looking for.