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“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
They’re not the richest.
They’re not the coolest.
They’re not the slimmest.
They’re not 24/7 infused with passion.
They just seem to be light of spirit. They just seem to put a light, easy vibe out in to the world. They make you feel like you want to be around them.
How do they do it?
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” ― Lao Tzu
What makes people happy has been analyzed for centuries.
Almost any research-based list you come up with involves being grateful, living on the optimistic side of the line, being kind, staying hopeful, relishing in how lucky you are and playing your strengths.
Those things are valid but if you question people — if you dig down into what makes them happy — their answers are surprisingly simple.
Here are some of those answers from a survey I carried out with my clients: a bush walk, a coffee sitting in the sun, fun with the kids, a motorbike ride, being outside, dancing, laughing, hanging on the beach, brunch (lots of honorable food mentions but brunch was the favorite), a barbecue on a summer’s day, finishing a satisfying piece of work, catching up with old friends, achieving “stuff”, scoring runs (from a pro cricket player) catching a bad guy (from a police officer).
Everyone has their own “happy place” —but, if you dig even deeper, you’ll find it’s not about where they are when they’re feeling good. It’s about their engagement, their connections, the meaning of the activity to them.
Here’s my take on the three qualities the happiest people share.
It’s often said that the measure of despair lies in the gap between where you are and where you could be (or where you hoped you’d be). I’ve seen this in over and over again in the people I’ve worked with: If Only….I had more money/prestige, a better body, a nicer partner (or any partner), a more worthy job, a less-asshole boss…things would be okay.
That’s true; changes in our circumstances can make things better. But life doesn’t travel on an upward trajectory. There are dips and jags and low points and all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. The happiest people know their past helped create them but they don’t keep looking back, nor do they look too far forward. They have an enviable capacity to be right where they are. They take What Is and immerse themselves in enjoying it — or, if it’s challenging, finding the resilience to cope with it.
I’ve always thought it slightly bizarre that some people leap out of bed every morning infused with passion for what they do. Who are these people? And don’t they ever feel exhausted and overwhelmed? Don’t they need a lie-in sometimes?
Happiness is not rooted in having a passion — it’s about having a consistent purpose for what you do. Whether it is to build your business or work your land or do your craft or feed your family or raise your kids — it doesn’t matter. But having a reason for what you do, even if you’re not in love with it all day/every day, is helpful. It will keep you going, even on the days that stretch you to your limits.
A young woman who had never had a relationship broke down during one of our sessions and said this: “Everything you read says love is essential to happiness, that human connection is the most important human need. If that’s true, how can I ever be happy? What’s going to happen to me?”
I understood her fears. But she had interpreted what she had read as meaning she needed a partner to be happy. It caused her to double down on what she didn’t have — and that was feeding her worries. It also caused her to place “couple-type” relationships on a pedestal, to see them as the Answer to Everything.
Of course, they’re not. A healthy relationship is a fine thing (on a good day). But a toxic or miserable relationship can take you to whatever the opposite happiness is. Love comes in so many packages and can be felt, and expressed, in so many ways. The job of a lifetime is to stay open to it.