“Do what makes you happy, be with who makes you smile, laugh as much as you breathe, and love as long as you live.”—Author Rachel Ann Nunes
“Do what makes you happy” sounds like great advice at a time when so many of us are feeling unhappy thoughts, like loneliness, isolation and uncertainty.
Before you can do what makes you happy, though, you have to know what makes it happy. Do you know? Can you name it off the top of your head?
It might sound like a crazy idea to make a plan for your happiness, but it can work. A successful plan will get you to where you want to be. But that plan has to begin with a search for where, exactly, that is.
Another favorite quote, this one from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
The point is that your first step toward happiness is defining what “happiness” means to you.
Your Happy Place
Think about your answer to the question, “What makes you happy?” But instead of answering in a broad, general way, like “being married to my husband” or “taking a vacation,” drill down to something more specific.
To get there, let your mind wander back to a moment in your past—just a moment—that made you smile, laugh, feel physically perfect or become so engaged that the rest of the world seemed to disappear. Think of an activity you participated in that you look forward to doing again.
For example, have you ever taken a run under the trees on a crisp summer morning right after it has rained? Can you recall the cool air, the physical movement, the solitude by choice, the way it cleared your head? Did you feel happy then?
Or perhaps you have gotten lost in creating papercrafts, like cards or a scrapbook, surrounded by beautifully patterned papers and awash in the creativity that you never get to exert at work?
Have you found happiness in baking, with its warm, sweet aromas and the promise of sharing what you loved making with those who will love eating it? Or reading a novel that shut out the world beyond the story on the page? Or snorkeling on a warm day in an unfamiliar spot where the fish and underwater plants put on a non-stop show just for you?
Think about an experience you had that made you so happy that you can’t wait to do it again. Then start planning to do it again.
Remembering it, planning for it, looking forward to it and then repeating it can bring you happiness for days, weeks or even months.
Your Happy People
Surrounding yourself with people who are happy, fun, funny and positive is one of the best ways to cheer yourself up, even if you have to do it virtually.
Like finding your happy place, search your memory for your favorite moments—the ones that burst you into a belly laugh, touched your heart, made you feel so very special, or left you with feelings of trust or love.
Who were you with?
How long has it been since you have seen those people, or even chatted with them on the phone?
Even as we stay home and feel like there’s not much to do, we can get so busy—doing something or even doing nothing, like binge-watching a favorite TV show—that we don’t get around to keeping in touch with the people who we used to love to spend time with.
Maybe that’s because we haven’t been able to spend much time with anyone outside of the people we live with—and work with if you’re back at your workplace.
Of course, a virtual meeting or phone call won’t be as fun or last as long as a weekend at the beach with your favorite couple or a happy hour spent with a friend you can always count for a few laughs.
Still, it’s better than not connecting with those treasured friends at all.
Make a plan to see the people who make you happy. It might be a plan for “after the pandemic” or “after we’ve had the vaccine,” but planning equals hope. Hope leads to happiness. Get that meeting on your calendar and look forward to it.
And in the meantime, schedule phone calls with friends every week—and stick to it. Keep yourself social, and watch your mood improve.
Your Happy Pause
While happiness often finds us when we least expect it, it’s still a good idea to go looking for it in the meantime. But you won’t find it if you don’t have time for it.
Even if you’re working remotely, skipping your commute and wasting less time since you’ve been stuck at home, it’s possible that you feel so busy with work, home-schooling and taking care of your family that it seems there’s no time left for the pursuit of happiness.
A good bet: A vacation from work and from your routine could make you happy.
The constant meetings, deadlines and interruptions can leave you feeling the opposite of happy: stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, overbooked, overworked. Make a plan to step away from it.
A week off from work literally can rescue you. Research, based on science, shows that leaving work behind for even a brief spell reaps you all sorts of benefits, from lower blood pressure to less anxiety to simply feeling refreshed—and happy.
Longer vacations are better than short ones, research shows; in fact, an eight-day vacation will leave you with peak positive effects, according to a report in The Journal of Happiness Studies. But even one extra day off of work could do you a world of good in a world of uncertainty. In fact, in a poll by human resources firm Cornerstone, 87% of employees said they find a three-day weekend even more relaxing than a week-long vacation.
That’s because your emails and voicemails don’t have so much time to pile up and overwhelm you when you get back to work.
Every quarter, plan a four-day weekend. You’ll only spend two days of vacation time on a long weekend, and you’ll get so much back in return. Segment the days: Day 1: Tie up loose ends. Day 2: Chill. Day 3: Find the most un-work-like thing you can do to stimulate your brain and your senses. Day 4: Rest and wind down.
And if you don’t have any vacation time to spend, schedule a half-day for “you” time every weekend. Close your door, take a nap, soak in the tub, drink a glass of wine.
Find what makes you happy, and then be happy..
Dr. Cindy McGovern, known as the “First Lady of Sales,” speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership. She is the author of Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. Dr. Cindy is the CEO of Orange Leaf ConsultingTM, a sales management and consulting firm. For more information, please visit, www.drcindy.com and connect with her on Twitter @1stladyofsales and on LinkedIn.