Why aren’t we happier? When I looked at some stats the other day, I wasn’t all that surprised to find out that 33% of Americans report being less happy today than in 2008 and 2009, when 35% reported being very happy. And what about optimism? Why is it that 75% of Americans reported being optimistic about the future in 2011, but only 67% reported the same feelings in 2013?
We have to blame this on something or somebody, don’t we?
Even our Declaration of Independence says we’re supposed to be happy. It says, “Americans have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
What’s up with this? Why aren’t we happier?
Why do so many of us struggle to be happy, even while making big decisions based on our condition of happiness? As an example, a friend of mine broke up with her partner last week for just that reason – she was no longer happy in their relationship, and since he didn’t make an effort to change some of his behavior, she decided to break it off in order to seek romantic happiness elsewhere.
There are many roads to happiness, but today I’m going to focus on just one – a phrase I heard recently that I’m going to talk about now. “Happiness grows naturally in the hearts of those who are inwardly free.”
So exactly what does this mean? What does it mean to be “inwardly free?” To me, it means that my happiness is not dependent on what other people do or don’t do. It has to do with me – and how I am on the inside – not outside.
Most of us think our happiness is dependent on outside forces, such as, “if only my partner would change this or that, then I’d be happy.” Or, “once I find the perfect job, then I’ll be happy.” Then there’s this one, “When I’m married to my soul mate, I’ll be truly happy.” We can go on and on, such as “As soon as we get a new house or car, we will be happy.” And so on. Every one of these pursuits place the burden of being happy on some outside force, which then means that we can’t be happy until outside forces change. No wonder why so many of us aren’t happy. We’re always waiting for something to change before we can be happy.
We’ll be writing a lot more about happiness in future posts, because the true pursuit of happiness is a deep, inside job. But for now, let’s start with some simple things that you can control in your own life, starting now. These things won’t necessarily bring you deep happiness and contentment, but they absolutely can open your path to the deeper discovery of the happiness you seek.
Simplify your schedule
Do you find yourself running all over the place, doing errands, working long hours, and managing all of the other crazy busyness of life? You’re probably stressed, anxious, and tired. The truth is, you don’t need to have such a hectic life. One big way you can soothe your busy life is to make it less busy! A simple schedule leaves room to do the things you love, such as hobbies, relaxing, and even taking time away to travel. Take a good, long look at your schedule from the past month and assess each event or activity, asking whether or not it’s a must. Can you plan one day each month to do all of your errands, to make more efficient use of time? And while you’re at it, take note of what’s going on inside of you – if you are always overly busy, what are you running from? What don’t you want to face? Yourself? The surest route to happiness is by getting to know “you,” and you can’t do that while being crazy busy most of the time.
Simplify your stuff
Freedom from clutter allows you to appreciate the possessions you have, while reducing chores and creating more free time. A simplified approach to material things is also likely to minimize your spending, leaving more funds to spend on things you love (like travel). Think about this: Every single item in your home should be there because it brings you joy, security, or because it performs a needed function (such as cooking utensils). Think about it. If you feel burdened every time you walk in your door because you have so much stuff, your happiness meter goes down several notches. But imagine how you’d feel if your house contained ONLY things that you love, things that bring you joy, or things that support your life and needs. As an experiment, spend 15 minutes standing in one part of your house, say a bookshelf, and look at each item on the shelf. While looking at every item, take note of how you feel – does the item bring you joy, or does it make you feel burdened or take you to the past? Get rid of everything that doesn’t bring you joy or supports your life, and your happiness meter will increase – I promise.
Try this – be grateful for everything in your life. The next time you’re eating dinner, don’t rush through without even noticing what you’re eating. Instead, intentionally savor moments and pleasures to get more happiness out of enjoying them. Also, when you make your decisions based on what you love versus what you should do, you will definitely experience more enjoyment and happiness. This could be as simple as choosing to say ‘no’ to a big dinner party in order to spend quality time with your spouse. I make similar decisions often, and while I sometimes feel guilty in the beginning, the result is far more happiness than if I had forced myself to do something I didn’t truly want to do. Don’t allow yourself to compromise what you want just because you feel undue pressure to meet everyone else’s expectations or wants – remember, you can only control your own happiness, not theirs!
We’ll be writing more about happiness in future posts, and we’d also love to hear how you’ve increased your own level of happiness and contentment. Please write.