When asked most people would say that they would like to have a happy life. Many people think that if they win the lottery they would finally achieve happiness. Yet we see many very wealthy people who are anything but happy. Some say that would be happy if they had physical health, but healthy people frequently are also unhappy. So how can we achieve happiness.
Psychologists have found that happiness cannot be pursued directly. Rather, happiness is experienced when we live a fulfilling and purposeful life. That raises the question of what does it mean to live a purposeful life?
Purpose tries to answer such questions as “why am I here?”, “why do I exist”, “what gives my life meaning?” People who are happy tend to build their lives around some organizing principle. They live their life according to a set of principles and values that give direction to their life. They live their lives with intention. Any of the following might be considered purpose: “I want to make a dent in the universe.”, “I want to make a difference in the lives of others.”, “I want to create a business that can employ disabled people.” People who have lived their life with a sense of purpose and meaning tend to be happier and more fulfilled than those who have lived their life solely for the purpose of making money. This latter group frequently finds that once having a ton of money they still feel discontent. However, when they decide to do something meaningful with their money, they then feel a sense of fulfillment and experience happiness. Money alone does not result in happiness.
Let’s begin developing your check list for living a happy and fulfilling life. When reviewing these areas, rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 as to how satisfied you are with each of these. This will give you an idea of where you need to put more effort in order to achieve fulfillment and ultimately happiness. You are in charge of a lot more than you think.
- Create a list of values that you will use to guide your decisions. Commit to living your life according to these values in whatever activity in which you decide to engage.
- Develop a statement of purpose. What do you want your life to stand for? What would you want to said about you at your funeral?
- Design your life with the same care and attention to detail as you would if your designing a custom home for yourself and family. Think about the rooms and areas of your house as sections of your life. People who have fulfilling lives are engaged in more than on area. They develop a broad base with several areas of interest such as the following:
- Relationships. Developing close relationships with family, friends, and a mate, gives you a sense of connectedness. Through these connections you realize that you are not alone. Relationships nurture you just as effective parenting nurtures the new born infant. It gives us comfort. If your relationships are not nurturing, then ask yourself what can you do to make them so. Perhaps it is time to create new relationships as you remove toxic relationships from your life.
- Community service. When we invest some time in making a difference in our community and helping those in need, we keep our lives in perspective. We feel a little better about ourselves when we make a assist others or contribute to something greater than ourselves.
- Health and fitness. Regulating our eating fuels your body and mind. Just as putting high gasoline in a car enhance the performance of the vehicle, putting healthful foods into your system will enhance your performance. Similarly, exercise enhances your body and your brain functioning while relaxing our mind. You are the engine that runs your life. Are you taking the best care of it that you know how?
- Spirituality. Human beings are a comprised of four components: physical, spiritual, psychological, and social. All four areas must be addressed for optimum performance. Similar to a barbershop quartet that creates a fifth harmonic when the four voices are blended, spirituality refers to your relationship to an intangible sphere that goes beyond the physical. Spirituality is a sense of connectedness to a larger whole. It can be developed through meditation, prayer, mindfulness, and many other practices. It is a kind of turbocharge or overdrive that when you learn to harness it, can impel you to higher levels of fulfillment.
- Recreation. Developing a hobby affords you the opportunity to switch your brain to a different channel. A hobby is not merely vegging out in front of a TV set. With a hobby your mind is active, your attention has shifted, and you feel a sense of accomplishment without having to focus on achievement. The very process of engaging your brain in a different way gives you a sense of contentment and relaxation. When engaged, you are in a different world. You may lose track of time and even feel energized. When engaged it is the process that matters more than the outcome.
- Finances. Managing your finances is important for peace of mind and a sense of security. Planning for retirement, setting financial goals, learning to budget, living within your means are important for a sense of well-being.
- Personal & Intellectual Growth. Developing your human potential require personal and intellectual growth. Learning more about yourself, understanding your personal conflicts and resolving them, makes more energy available to you for creative pursuits. Expanding your knowledge stimulates more opportunities for growth. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you are able to change your world. Spending some time each week developing yourself and your knowledge will enhance your sense of self-esteem. Learning something new will keep your brain active just as discovering new abilities will keep you feeling youthful.
- Career and Job. Your career is based on knowledge. You can be unemployed even with a career. A job is what you do for money. Hopefully you can find a job within your career. It has been said that if you follow your passion, you never have to work a day in your life. The work will not feel like work. The task is to figure out a way to monetize your passion. The more your career and job aligns with your purpose and values, the more fulfilled you will be. Many people work in careers and at jobs they do not like despite earning a living. Regardless of the money, they feel disconnected and discontent, looking forward to the weekend or the day of retirement. Since we spend a significant amount of time working, that could amount to a lot of unhappiness. To the extent possible by your situation, find ways to develop a greater connection to what you do for a living or perhaps you can discover ways that you can do your job such that you feel more personally fulfilled. Remember, your identity is not based on what you do for a living.
Remember the 80-20 Rule. Your goal is not perfection. You want to achieve something close to an eight in all of the above areas. People who are able to achieve a score of eight in all of these areas tend to feel more fulfilled and happier. Take control of your life, be patient with yourself, and develop a plan for working on each of these areas over a period of months. Life is a journey, not a destination. In the end, how you live your life is what matters.
By Dr. Ed Dreyfus, Ph.D.
Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. You can also read more about Dr. Dreyfus by clicking here to visit his website.