Finding the joy in life after the year we’ve had sounds like a pipedream, but for Kate de Brito, it was simply a matter of asking the right people.
As we take stock of what’s been a truly terrible 12 months, it feels more than ever like now is the time to talk about the flip side of doom and gloom. Let’s discuss happiness.
The good news is that the more I talk to experts and read books on the topic, and the more people I interview for the podcast How To Be Happy, it becomes clear it’s not the unachievable goal people make it out to be.
To get the ball rolling, here are nine things happy people keep top of mind – because happiness only increases when shared.
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1. Follow your heart
This is crucial. For some people this equates to having a purpose or going after a dream. But it doesn’t have to be that “big”. It just means you should move in the direction of things that spark joy (like a Marie Kondo for your life). No-one but you knows what those things are. For me, it’s reading on my back step while drinking tea with honey. So I do it. A LOT. Do the things you like to do as often as you can.
2. Be responsible for your own happiness
Most people fight this one because as humans we like to blame other people or circumstances for our unhappiness. And we like to imagine that if things changed – our boss was nicer, we were thinner – then we could be happy. But it’s not true.
Research shows circumstances actually account for a very small percentage of your happiness. Until you recognise it’s the way you look at what happens in your life – not the actual events themselves – that decide your happiness, you’re on the wrong track.
3. Focus on being grateful
Gratitude is a cliché because it’s as good as the brochure makes out. It will get you on the superhighway to happiness quicker than almost anything else. The more you focus on what you do have, instead of what you don’t, the more tapped in you become to joyfulness, opportunity and positivity.
And don’t fool yourself that there’s nothing to feel grateful for (see the previous point).
4. Put out good energy
Yes, bad things do just happen to people – it doesn’t mean you caused them (like rain on your wedding day). But there’s no doubt the energy you put into life determines a lot of what comes back to you. Walk around sour, angry and resentful, and this becomes a mirror of what you get back. Not only is it what you’re drawn to, but also what people react to in you.
5. Don’t judge or compare yourself to other people
Living up to anyone else’s standards or believing someone is better than you is a fool’s game. The only person you need to answer to is yourself. Besides, you’ve got no chance of being a better version of someone else, but you do have a good chance of being the best version of you.
6. Know your mind
Our brains are incredible tools and really useful for working out how to get things done. But the rest of the time they can be a real drag. Most people’s minds are filled with critical and negative thoughts about themselves and others. Recognising these are just thoughts – and not real – and then working out a good process for moving past them is probably one of the most crucial steps to happiness.
7. Be present
You’ve heard this before, but if you’re like most people, you spend a lot of your time living in the past. Your brain is a roiling mass of chatter, which distracts you from what’s happening right now.
As often as you can every day, become aware when you’re lost in thought and return to the present. Do it over and over until it gets easier and easier.
8. Seek happiness inside-out
The paradox of this can be hard to grasp, but once you do it’s a huge relief. It also goes against everything we’re taught.
Happiness doesn’t come from forcing the world to conform to your expectations. It comes from making the decision to be happy inside. If you let yourself feel safe, loved, joyful, wealthy and abundant on the inside – even if circumstances don’t align with that – the likelihood that they will turn out that way increases, much more so than if you just push and pull at the outside world. Start with your inside first.
9. Ask what you’re ‘for’
As much as possible, focus on what you’re for rather than what you’re against. Make a list! That doesn’t mean you can’t oppose injustice or try to change things, but there’s more energy in working for peace than against war. Focusing on what you’re for in life will keep you in the happiness headspace and will ultimately lead you back full circle to point number one.
Kate de Brito hosts the How To Be Happy podcast, available on Google Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.