In the middle of a recent conversation with Bianca, a good friend of 30 years, she abruptly blurted, “Marcia, you always seem so happy!” Her statement made me pause in the middle of my story because it resonated with me. My happiness wasn’t something I had ever considered, but I felt a deep connection to Bianca’s statement and realized that it was true.
That’s not to say that I had never experienced moments of sadness. I’ve had many grief experiences, and I had even battled through a long bout of depression a few decades ago. But underneath it all, deep below all my moment-to-moment emotions, I am genuinely happy.
And so, after Bianca made her statement, I began to be introspective. I needed to investigate the source of my joy. Was my underlying happiness a rebound reaction to the many obstacles I faced during my childhood? Was it because of the struggles I overcame in my young adulthood? Could it have been a takeaway from lessons I’ve learned throughout the years?
As I thought this through, I realized that I hadn’t always had a deep sense of happiness. In truth, I’d gone through periods where I carried underlying sadness and a fractured foundation of dissatisfaction. As I considered my joy, I realized that much of what I was feeling had come about soon after I decided to change my mindset and adopt lifestyle habits that would help me lead a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
The choice was both empowering and life-changing. And you too can make this commitment to expand your happiness and build a foundation of joy. Here are fifteen habits that I practice and that continue to pave my path to true happiness:
1.) Practice Authenticity and Vulnerability
When you habitually practice authenticity, you remain true to yourself and know that people who love you have indeed been introduced to the real you. Allowing others to see the real you leave you reassured that those who choose you are indeed choosing you. Without practicing authenticity, you can experience immense loneliness and are often left living in a state of uncertainty about your closest relationships.
Daily life behind a persona is a lonely existence that can leave you feeling like a fraud. You are invariably aware that those who choose to spend time with you or be supportive of you might suddenly abandon you when the real you is revealed.
In her book, Rising Strong, researcher and author Brené Brown defines vulnerability as, “…the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome — is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy.” So ultimately, regardless of the risk, vulnerability pays off by delivering more love, more belonging and more joy. Who doesn’t want that! So, drop the persona and embrace vulnerability. Live honestly by allowing those you wish to befriend, to see the you that you are when you are alone.
2.) Embrace What Makes You Truly Unique
Learning to both love and like yourself is a significant factor in finding your joy. Be sure that any trait you identify as imperfect is also included in your list of things to love, like and accept about yourself. To accomplish this, you’ll need to be committed to the idea that no one is perfect. And be honest about identifying areas of your life where you can continue to grow.
We live in a society where we are consistently bombarded with messages that encourage comparisons. But why should we compare ourselves to each other when we are each living our own unique individual lives?
Even identical twins have unique life experiences. These two people who start out with duplicate minds and bodies become unique through their life experiences.
In 2018, Life Science magazine released an article about how astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space changed his gene expression to no longer match that of his identical twin. In 2008, Scientific American published a report that called into question the many findings of previous twin studies that assumed identical twins were indeed perfectly similar.
So, if “identical” twins aren’t truly identical but are instead unique, who are we to question our own uniqueness! I say, embrace and celebrate the personality or physical traits that make you who you are. Free yourself from any need to fit in just to be liked. And most importantly, embrace, honor and love any uniqueness you recognize in yourself.
3.) Always Practice Gratitude
A habit of thankfulness is for me one of the most valuable happiness habits. I firmly believe in the importance of making appreciation a daily practice. It is without-a-doubt a personal favorite of mine. If you choose to adopt only one of these fifteen habits, make this the one.
What does gratitude look like in practice? To me, being thankful is recognizing the preciousness of life and realizing that anything at any time could change for the worst. It is realizing that the universe owes me nothing. It is feeling thankful for what are seemingly minor gifts from others.
Gratitude means understanding that for every win I experience in life, there were billions of people who took the same risk and may have even worked harder and smarter yet did not win. I… am… grateful… for everything. And I believe that this is the most potent happiness habit that I carry in my toolbox of life.
4.) Become Confident by Proving Yourself to Yourself
Fear had controlled me for much of my early life, and in my mid-twenties, I became so fearful that I was unable to leave my home. It was devastating. One day, I decided to take a leap of faith and to make doing so an ongoing lifestyle choice. At the time, it felt as if my life was an obstacle course. I faced overwhelming daily challenges.
I now continue to challenge myself habitually. For instance, whenever I travel (which is fairly often), I always sign up to participate in activities that I’m sure will require me to muster all the courage I can. And so far, I’ve faced those fears. I have zip-lined, held snakes, and had one iguana stand on my head while a second one rested on my shoulder. I’ve also parasailed, scuba-dived, spoken in front of large crowds and much more.
Choose to face your fears head on, and you will begin developing tremendous confidence in your ability to overcome fear. I call it building my courage muscle. I’ve proven to myself that I have the courage and strength needed to face life head-on and so can you.
5.) Believe That You Are Beautiful
Yeah. I know! We aren’t supposed to say that about ourselves. According to society, we are to wait for others to tell us they approve of our physical appearance before we can express happiness about our looks. This rule seems to be especially skewed in its application to women. Well, I don’t agree. We don’t have to be “perfect” to be beautiful. We just are!
If you know you’re beautiful (and you should), then that’s all that matters. Feel comfortable with this truth. And isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder anyway? We’ve each heard that said many times.
And in response to a compliment (or even flattery) from others, you should be able to have an internal conversation that goes something like, “Hey! Thanks for the compliment. It’s genuinely appreciated. But it is my opinion on this topic that matters most.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that you be ungrateful for someone else’s kindness or sincerity. A compliment is by all accounts a sweet gift and gifts are good. Instead, I am suggesting that your awareness of your beauty and the value you place on it should not depend on someone else’s approval or appreciation.
6.) Be Highly Optimistic and Worry Less
I’ve noticed that worry and pessimism often go hand in hand. But by being highly-optimistic, you’ve already convinced yourself of the increased probability of having a positive outcome.
There is a quote by J.K. Rowling that says, “Worry means you suffer twice.” It’s best not to suffer at all, but even if you must, please don’t suffer twice!
Know this, “optimism is the antithesis of helplessness,” which means it’s empowering. And who isn’t happy when living with an awareness of how much power we have to bring about positive outcomes.
According to a study published by Harvard University, “a cheerful disposition can help you get through the tough patches that cloud every life,” and it also helps you “…enjoy better health.” And if you’ve heard of The Law of Attraction, this is where that applies.
Optimism is in many ways a prelude to visualization. You can adopt the habit of visualizing and planning for then expecting a great outcome. Choose always to trust that something good is going to happen. Join me in riding the optimism train. What’ve you got to lose?
7.) Love Your Work or Choose New Work
We have the power to change our circumstances so that we are doing work we love. If that’s not immediately possible, we can improve our attitude so that we can find enjoyment in the work we currently do. There’s always something to like about your work.
Maybe you can find value in the impact you make on your customers or your coworkers. Or perhaps the value is in knowing that we can take away lessons from this job while preparing for the next and while supporting our families. Dig deep if you must, but there is always a reason to love your work.
8.) Be Intentional and Empowered with Your Choices
Take ownership of your life, your hopes, and your dreams. When you make choices, own them and own the outcomes. It is wholly your responsibility to create your best life experiences.
It is entirely up to you to manage your life, choose your environment, control your thoughts and your actions. You can open doors. You can close windows. You can create or pursue opportunities in your life. Own that and make a habit of exercising your power in all areas of your life. You are more powerful than you know.
9.) Release Your Desire for Perfection
The first point I’d like to make is that there is no such thing as perfection. To decide that a person or situation represents what’s perfect is to conclude that everything else is imperfect.
The reality is that instead of perfection, there is what’s right for you and there is what’s right for me. This thought is coming from a person who has lived her early years in the pursuit of perfection. I eventually learned to let go of perfectionism when I was able to admit to myself that perfectionism frequently led to poor outcomes.
My need to be “perfect” often led to procrastination which meant I’d often be late with my deliverables. And my deliverables were usually acceptable, but they were never perfect.
Why? Because we each define perfection in our own way and the recipient of my work did not always define perfection in the same way that I did. Choose to adopt the habit of choosing progress over perfection.
10.) Acknowledge That You Are Flawed
Flawless? The only time that I feel flawless is when I am listening to Beyoncé’s namesake song, Flawless. At any other time, I am keenly aware that I have flaws. I both accept and own my flaws. My weaknesses are no less a part of me than are my strengths. But I embrace my imperfections.
Admitting my flaws can help other people feel at ease around me. They create opportunities for me to connect with other people. I’ve also found that I am far less likely to be offended by someone else highlighting any of my flaws when I’ve already accepted that I have them. This habit keeps me grounded and helps me shift my thoughts and energy to opportunities for continued growth.
11.) Befriend Your Emotions — Especially Fear
Fear has gotten a bad rap. Each one of our emotions serves an essential purpose in our lives. This statement is especially true when it comes to fear. Psychology Today published an article discussing Three Benefits of Fear, but there are many significant benefits to fear.
Years ago, I decided to make fear my closest emotional friend. Fear keeps me safe by reminding me to exercise caution. It also provides repeated opportunities for me to build courage. And each time I apply courage, I gain confidence in my ability to manage any new challenges the universe sends my way. It makes me happy to know that I can acknowledge my fear without letting it control my life choices.
12.) Choose Quality Over Quantity
It has become increasingly important to me to make sure I am always adding value to my life. In every area of my life, I now make a habit of choosing quarters over pennies. This practice applies to friendships, products, and services.
For example, when it comes to my friendships, I’d rather know that I have four solid friends than I would like having 100 superficial relationships. Like most of us, I enjoy knowing that I am loved, valued and accepted by those in my most important relationships. In all areas of life, choose quality over quantity.
13.) Carefully Pick Your Battles
I am organically a person with strong opinions about many things. I am also someone who can see multiple perspectives on most topics.
Having this type of mind means that I can easily play devil’s advocate — and for most people, nothing is appealing about spending time in conversation with someone like that. I hated admitting this to myself, but it was a truth that I had to face. As a result, I learned to choose when to argue so that I could live to fight another day.
We can all choose to fight anyone about anything as is especially evidenced by the frequent use of social media to fight political battles. But deciding to fight every fight just because we can, leads us down the dark road of emotional distress. And most roads that lead to emotional distress do not lead to happiness.
My newly found happiness habit of carefully picking my battles has been a huge lifesaver. It has dramatically increased my happiness quotient. The happiness habit of carefully choosing your battles is one of the easiest to adopt, so why not start now.
14.) Be Your Source for Your Happiness
We often believe that those around us have control over our sense of contentment. Many of us feel this way in our relationships with our significant others, closest friends, our parents, and our children. But believing others control our happiness is a false narrative. It isn’t reality-based thinking.
Being happy is always a personal choice. We each have a responsibility to seek our path to happiness. We can begin our days committed to making this choice a top priority. Realizing this has led to me taking ownership of my happiness habits. Make a decision today to wake up tomorrow choosing happiness.
15.) Accept That Happiness Is Not Circumstantial
Have you ever noticed that there are people of immense wealth who are miserable and that there are people who live in dire poverty who are incredibly happy? Have you ever wondered why? Having spent the first twelve years of my life in a third world nation, I’ve seen this first hand not only among children but among the adults who bore the heavy burden of providing for those children.
Happiness, for those people, isn’t about owning the newest phone or a huge house. Their joy stems from the value they know they bring to their family members’ lives. It also comes from their appreciation for the small things in life. And it also comes from the value they place on the relationships they have with each other.
So, now that you’ve decided to take ownership of your happiness, where do you begin? You start by first accepting that your happiness has to be personally owned and valued. You have to know that you are empowered to choose it. And you can create new happiness habits by changing your mindset about your daily choices and your life circumstances. Make these changes, and you’ll watch your joy overflow.
Which of these happiness habits would you choose to adopt right now? And are there happiness habits that you’d like to share?
Originally published at medium.com