In the case of almost anyone, if you could strip away their egos and ask what they want from life, the most frequent answer would simply be that they want to be happy. I certainly know that it’s what every parent wants for their children, and what every teacher wants for their students.
However, you rarely hear becoming a happier person listed as a personal goal. Almost all goals are tied to finances, career, health and relationships, none of which bring lasting happiness on their own.
I’ve known miserable rich people, people who loved their jobs but hated their lives, physically fit people who were riddled with anxiety, even people in great marriages who suffered from loneliness every day.
If happiness is truly what we’re all after, why do so few people attain it? Why is anxiety and depression on the rise? Why are fewer and fewer of us passionate about the work we do? Why is crime and drug abuse so prevalent, and why is much of our society driven by envy and greed?
The answer is that we have the wrong mindsets. It’s not our fault, either – all of us have been conditioned through marketing and the norms of society to seek an extrinsic definition of happiness. In other words, we tend to unconsciously define our happiness by what we do and what we have.
The problem is that the things we attain are fleeting, and the joy they bring quickly subsides. This leaves us constantly searching for something lasting, but we can’t pin down what it is or how to get it.
It may be a cliché, but happiness does truly come from within. But what does that really mean? How does one actually become happy within?
What’s the secret for how to get what you want in life?
Here is a list of six mindset-based areas to focus on that, with attention and effort, help create real happiness in life. Consider the following, and think about the work you can do in each to become truly happy:
1-Peace IN our minds
Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. We all experience difficulties and hardships in our lives – that’s just the natural order of things.
The problem is that our conscious minds and working memories extend our suffering long after challenges have occurred, not to mention far in advance (through worry and anticipation) of negative circumstances even becoming a possibility.
We need to practice techniques that help us maintain equanimity, or composure and mental calmness in our lives. Staying centered in this way provides us with the perspective that even the worst of circumstances will pass.
I believe meditation and/or prayer are the best ways to build this balance. Becoming mindful in order to conscientiously bring your attention into the current moment is another powerful tool to achieve a centering mental peace.
2-Joy IN our being
It’s pretty obvious that an essential element of happiness is experiencing more positive emotions. The challenge is understanding specifically how you can do so.
There’s a concept that psychologists employ called environment enrichment. Simply stated, this is intentionally managing the environment one is in to positively impact learning, memory and overall brainpower by maximizing physical, social and cognitive activities.
Applying this principle is a fundamental key to experiencing more joy. Understand the things you enjoy doing and the people you enjoy being around, and then enrich your normal environment by doing more of those things with those people.
Oh, and the natural converse is to recognize toxic environments and negative people in your life and remove yourself from them as much as possible. Life is just too short to be miserable!
3-Meaning IN our lives
In the early 90s Billy Crystal movie City Slickers, Crystal plays a typical working professional caught up in the rat race and looking for meaning while on vacation at a dude ranch. While there, he meets an old cowboy (played by Jack Palance) who apparently knows the secret of life, prophetically saying that it’s, “One thing.” Crystal responds by asking, “What’s the one thing?” Palance replies, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”
Some people who don’t seem to be doing much may say that they’re living restful and relaxing lives, that they just want to keep it simple – I happen to think they’re either lying or delusional, because accomplishment and exercising our creativity are inherently important to all of us.
We have to have a reason to get up every morning and be fully engaged in life. Numbing and avoidance are dysfunctional behaviors, and when we seek this disconnection from reality, it’s likely that we’re suffering.
Life is about making an impact, and we need to figure out what we want our legacy to be… then start working on leaving that legacy!
4-Wellness IN our bodies
There is a connection between the state of our bodies and our ability to be happy. The body is the vessel from which we derive the energy to take action, produce value and experience joy.
I remember Zig Ziglar once poking fun at professional horseracing. He joked that we routinely spend thousands of dollars and months or years of our lives caring for million-dollar horses, yet we neglect and destroy our own million-dollar bodies without a thought.
It’s critical that we learn to pay attention to our bodies. What are the things our bodies need? What may be harming our ability to feel good and muster the energy and emotion to do the things we’ve always wanted to? Be mindful and recognize the signals your body may be giving you about how best to maintain its balance and health.
5-Love IN our hearts
Love is so much more than caring for someone. It is having the grace to apologize, to accept the apologies of others, to be thankful and considerate, to have empathy and put yourself in another’s shoes. Love your family and always keep them involved in your life. Just because your parents are getting old and your grandparents are getting older, you shouldn’t leave them behind. You should all get out and see the world.
When all is said and done, our lives are measured by the impact we’ve had on those around us. As Zig Ziglar said, “You can get everything you want out of life, if you just help enough other people get what they want.”
6-Faith IN our souls
When my grandfather was dying, it was as sad as you would imagine… but maybe more so in his case. As an atheist, he was terrified of dying, because in his mind it was the absolute end. He would tell me that he was just going to become food for maggots. What an awful reality he was experiencing, and what a tragic time for the rest of our family.
One common attribute that almost all deeply happy people have is faith of some sort. This has nothing to do with religion, necessarily, and everything to do with the belief that life has purpose. It is also about understanding that our lives have permanence in the legacies we leave behind.
I never claim to know the truth – honestly, I’m not sure we’re supposed to. What I do know is that the belief that everything is random seems irrational. Everything in life and the universe is just too elegant and beautiful for that to be possible.
Find a faith that works for you, and know in your heart that there is a reason behind all that we experience.
The ultimate currency in life is happiness. When you’re thinking about how to get what you want in life, remember that abundance is much more than riches and possessions. It is living our passions! It is experiencing love and gratitude. It is finding joy and meaning in what we do every day. It is a feeling of peace, and the certainty that everything is going to work out.
The elusive solution for finding what we want in life is in the most frequently overlooked place – right inside us, and it’s probably been there for most of our lives. The challenge is to have the courage to take the journey within, and to increase the substance of who we are so that the world outside will respond in kind.
I hope the ideas above help you figure out how to get what you want in life and what to start working on!