It blows my mind how people in some cultures can be happy in the harshest circumstances, while people in other cultures remain miserable while living lives that are easy by comparison. How is it that people who have almost nothing can be as happy as those who are rich, powerful and influential?
Last year I worked with a guy named Henry, and he always seemed to be happy. I’m sure everyone knows someone like him; the type of person who is unwaveringly positive at all times, never complains, and always tries to make the best of things. I was in a terrible mood one day, and I asked Henry how he managed to do it.
Turns out, Henry decided to be happy.
Henry told me about his life before moving to Canada, when he lived in an area of Africa ripped apart by civil war. Rebels burned down the entire town he lived in, and killed anyone who refused to leave the area. For a year and a half he lived in the countryside with his wife and two children, surviving in a makeshift shelter in the woods, foraging for food and drinking dirty water.
He was devastated by the loss of his home, his property, and by the murder of his friends in rebel attacks. He went through months of feeling desperate and hopeless before he decided to accept his circumstances and be thankful for what he had.
I felt absolutely ridiculous for complaining about whatever petty thing I complained about that day. Here’s this guy who lost everything he had in a vicious civil war, yet he’s one of the happiest people I have ever met. How could he be so happy in spite of his circumstances while I struggled to be positive even with more opportunity and less hardship?
What I realized is everyone has a subconscious checklist of requirements that must be met before they allow themselves to feel happy and satisfied. For people like Henry, the checklist is limited to being alive and having his loved ones around him. For most North Americans, material possessions and having social status are high on the list, things like owning a house or the newest iPhone, and having a position of power and prestige at work.
The good news is you can change your happiness checklist. You can eliminate some things, and you can change others. The biggest changes come from accepting the things you cannot change, like rush hour traffic or the weather. If you can’t change it, don’t worry about it.
Another big mistake people make is waiting to be happy. Wanting a Ferrari, a house, or an executive position at work are all great goals, but being miserable until you reach those goals is a bad idea. Being you will still feel the same whether you’re in a Ferrari or a Honda. You will always have major goals, and when you achieve them new goals will take their place. If your happiness is based on achievement, you will only ever be happy in short, temporary bursts.
My business, my condo, my car, these are all things I get happiness from, but they aren’t the reason I’m happy. I’m happy because I have people in my life who I love and who love me. I’m happy because I have great friends, people in my life who I know I can depend on and make memories with. Find out what’s really important to you, and find happiness in that rather than in the superficial.
1) If you can’t change it, accept it
2) Write down the things that make you the happiest. Is your list a good one?
3) Is there anything you’re waiting for to feel happy and satisfied? If so, why?
4) Eliminate or change the things on your list that interfere with your ability to be happy on a day to day basis
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