This article summarizes much of what I’ve learned thus far on my journey to self-discovery and positive growth. Along the way, through many of life’s ups and downs, with the help of many awesome teachers and mentors, I now most often live in a state of happiness and contentment. I still have lots to learn but I wanted to share with you what I’ve found most helpful thus far. I truly believe that all people have the capacity to choose their mental attitude. Therefore, if happiness is what you desire, then you must choose it. Here are some helpful ideas to help you do just that.
Self-worth—without it, happiness will always be just beyond your grasp. Self-worth is, of course, something that can be measured along a continuum. It isn’t like you either have it or you don’t. You can possess varying degrees and those degrees can themselves vary depending on the circumstances of your life.
Generally, the person who is happiest has a healthy amount of self-worth without an inflated view of their own self-importance. This is the fine line that must be walked between confidence and arrogance.
Confidence implies a certain sense of surety while recognizing that each of us is just a different cog in a very big wheel. No one person is any more important than anyone else. Those with high self-worth know their life’s purpose. They are in tune with what their mission is and proceed to make it their life’s work. They also recognize the value of everyone else with whom they share space.
Those who are arrogant recognize their own self-worth but then proceed to look down upon those they deem as unworthy. Then at the other end of the continuum, there are those who recognize the importance of others but don’t believe they are worthy to breathe air.
A healthy balance of self-worth is the key.
The second key to happiness is gratitude. It is human nature to enumerate the things that are NOT the way we want them to be. We are programmed to notice when things are off, and not necessarily appreciate when all is as we want it. This makes maintaining an attitude of gratitude a challenge but nonetheless something we should strive for. I have mentioned before that Universal Law tells us that we attract those things we think about most often. When we are grateful for what we have, more is bestowed upon us.
I know someone who believes, “No good deed goes unpunished” and lives his life accordingly. Another person I know always says, “I have the worst luck. Nothing good ever happens to me.” And you know what? They are right! The Universe delivers to them exactly what they expect. There are others who have similar bad luck but who persevere or find the lesson in the situation. These people find more happiness and contentment in return.
Another point about gratitude is to be thankful for what you have. I love the line in the song that says, “It’s not having what you want; it’s about wanting what you got!” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do better than you are as long as you are grateful along the way. Even when things are bad, there is always good to be found in it. Life is in perfect balance and order. Anything with a great deal of pain associated with it also has a tremendous positive side if we are of the mind to see it.
3. Positive Life Framing
The third key to happiness is positive life framing. There are three ways to view any piece of information—positively, negatively or neutrally. Viewing information as neutral is the best way to go through life. It allows us to accept everything as it comes and to stop resisting what actually is in any given moment. However, many of us have great difficulty with that one.
As an incremental step, it is helpful to find a way to reframe life’s negative events into positive ones. Even in life’s tragedies, there is a way to find something positive about the situation. Almost always, in hindsight, we can see the benefit. The real benefit comes when we are able to see the benefit as the tragedy unfolds, or at least stay open to the thought that there is a benefit even if you are unable to see it in that moment. Just as in physics where there can be no neutron without a proton, so it is with life where there can be no negative event without a corresponding positive one.
4. Internal Locus of Control
The fourth key to happiness is possessing an internal locus of control. People who have an internal locus of control believe that they are responsible for their own behavior and its results based on their own personal decisions and efforts. This is contrasted with those who have an external locus of control. These individuals believe that their behavior is determined by external circumstances such as other people, fate, luck or circumstances beyond their control.
Having an internal locus of control produces a “can do” attitude. An external locus of control generally results in a helpless attitude. Even though people with an internal locus of control still have situations that occur that are beyond their control, they will seek some action that can be taken by them to improve the situation. They do not spend time bemoaning the fact that something bad happened to them. They look for decisive action opportunities to turn things around.
In this way, a person is more in charge of their own destiny. They can reject the role of victim and take definitive action to create greater life satisfaction.
5. Lifelong Learning
The fifth key to happiness is to adopt an attitude of lifelong learning. Your goal each day should be to learn something new. As you encounter new people and situations, look for the wisdom that can be extracted from them. Particularly in areas where we believe we made a “mistake”, seek to uncover the lesson. There is always a lesson to be learned.
When we believe we know all there is to know, that is when we are in dangerous territory. When we think we know all, then we stop learning from the people and situations in our path. When we stop looking for the lessons, we begin to blame things external to ourselves for the pain we experience instead of seeking to learn whatever we need to know for our life’s journey.
Love is the sixth key to happiness. I am not talking about having a significant other in your life who loves you. I’m talking about having love inside of you that is just bursting out of you to touch others. Unconditional love is a concept we all strive for—unfortunately, most of us are looking to receive it rather than give it. You are truly fortunate and blessed when you have the unconditional love of someone—whether it’s your life partner, your mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, foster parent, friend or puppy!
Truly unconditional love is rare and a gift to be cherished. However, ask yourself the question, how many times have you extended unconditional love? Do you have unconditional love for your fellow human beings? This is the kind of love that will lead to happiness. It doesn’t matter if that special someone doesn’t love you back, it’s what’s in YOUR heart that matters. Are you someone who only loves as much as you feel you are being loved in returned? That certainly isn’t unconditional! If you are seeking love in your life, then you must be loving in order to attract the love you seek. This will lead to the ultimate happiness—loving, expecting nothing in return. Try it.
The last key to happiness is contribution. This is a combination of knowing and following one’s life purpose. When people understand their divine purpose in this life and then go about fulfilling that purpose, they are making an awesome contribution to the good of mankind. Having meaningful work and leaving a legacy is an important key to happiness. When we do the work we were meant to do, we touch lives. It doesn’t matter whether one’s purpose is to clean the public restrooms or to find the cure for AIDS, following your divine purpose will bring about a strong life fulfillment that cannot be experienced any other way. Contribution is critical to happiness.
Implementing these seven keys to happiness in one’s life is not an easy task. Personal coaching can be helpful as you are attempting to change some old, harmful habits into more productive, happiness-inducing ones. Jack Canfield says, “Of all the things successful people do to accelerate their trip down the path to success, participating in some kind of coaching program is at the top of the list. A coach will help you clarify your vision and goals, support you through your fears, keep you focused, confront your unconscious behaviors and old patterns, expect you to do your best, help you live by your values, show you how to earn more while working less, and keep you focused on your core genius.” Why not give it a try?