I spent so much of my life working so hard to achieve happiness. It started when I was a teen, working harder and harder in school (adding more and more homework) so that I could hopefully get a “great” job someday in the future. And then when I got that job in the corporate world, I worked really hard so I could hopefully one day retire from all of that working. More recently, I worked really hard to try to become the “perfect” mom, which was the most impossible goal of them all!
I knew for sure that I wanted to be happy. I wanted my friends and neighbors and coworkers to think I was happy.
But in all of the frantic goal-setting, I forgot to ask myself one question:
What is TRUE happiness?
It’s an interesting and important inquiry that I’ve focused on lately. What is happiness, really?
I’ve found that when I think about the ultimate purpose of anything I do, I always find a desire for a feeling at the root.
Here’s a quick and simple practice I’ve discovered that you can try for yourself right now:
- Think about a goal you’ve set.
- Then ask yourself, “why do I want that?”
- When you figure out the answer, try peeling away another layer and ask again, “but why do I want that?”
- Keep going (you may have to peel away 5 or more layers) until you get to the very core of your desire.
I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll always find the same desire at the center: to feel more happiness.
Here’s an example:
“My goal is to get a big raise at work.”[But why do I want that?]
“Because then I can buy all of the things I want.”[But why do I want all those things? ]
“Because then I’ll be happy.”
Here’s another example:
“My goal is to book a vacation on a tropical island.”[But why do I want that?]
“Because I’ll finally be able to sit out and relax and enjoy the sun.”[But why do I want to relax and enjoy the weather?]
“Because then I’ll be happy.”
Clearly, all of our goals involve getting to that feeling of happiness.
But here’s the problem I’ve found in my own life: I hold myself apart from the very thing I want with all of the rules I’ve set up in my mind about, “I can’t be happy until…”
I’m always putting off happiness for another day. I keep thinking, “I want to get outside and play with my son, but let me finish my to-do list first.” Or, “once I get through this really tough week, then I’ll focus on more fun.”
THIS 3-STEP ACTIVITY WILL HELP YOU FEEL MORE HAPPINESS
It’s okay that we’ve lost our way in terms of following our joy. Because we always have another chance to change our minds and start practicing a new way of being in this world. We can replace the intention of endlessly pursuing happiness with the intention of being happy now.
Here’s an easy and quick practice I came up with recently. I created the Happiness Sheet below so you can try it for yourself. At first glance, the sheet may seem extremely simple. But here’s the thing: happiness is simple, and we’re completely missing it!
I’ve found it’s necessary to work through an activity like this one because those intrusive thoughts that tell us we need to “work really hard” and “do more” – at the expense of happiness – are deeply ingrained and very habitual. We have to take daily action and practice new habits to overcome those limiting beliefs.
It’s really helpful to take the physical action of printing the Happiness Sheet below and filling it out. Or at least save the pdf and type in the answers.
What I’ve learned is that if I don’t take physical action, nothing changes. So please resist the urge to just skim over the sheet. It’s not enough to just think about it for a few seconds. Instead, take just a few minutes to fill out the Activity Sheet now, while you’re thinking about it:
STEP 1: BRAINSTORM ACTIVITIES THAT YOU MIGHT ENJOY
We spend so much of our lives working hard to earn happiness one day in the future, that we find ourselves well into adulthood with no idea what actually brings us happiness! Our days are spent rushing from one obligation to the next, one goal to the next, one to-do-list to the next.
The first column of the Activity Sheet helps you put all of your attention on happiness! When you fill out the first column, try to have a completely open mind and let go of judgments. This is a brainstorming activity, which means that all ideas are allowed. Try to think of activities you’ve done in the past that brought you fun or laughter. Or a sense of peace, fulfillment or contentment. It often helps to think back to early childhood too. What activities did you gravitate toward when you were young and probably much more open to happiness? You can write down as many ideas as you can come up with, but try to think of at least five.
I’ve done a very similar exercise in a group meeting, and here are all of the activities we brainstormed together. Hopefully this list helps to inspire you:
- Taking a bath/shower with candles and music
- Reading an uplifting book
- Dancing to uplifting music
- Painting, coloring, or sketching
- Taking an art class
- Visiting a nearby garden or park
- Walking on the beach
- Going swimming
- Going to a yoga class
- Going for a boat ride
- Playing sports (with a local team or with your child)
- Going for a bike ride
- Going for a hike at a nearby trail
- Sitting or walking outside in the sun
- Going to a museum
STEP 2: SCHEDULE TIME IN YOUR CALENDAR TO TRY THE ACTIVITIES YOU LISTED
I know it sounds counterintuitive to schedule happiness, but here’s the reason for the second column of the Happiness Sheet:
Unless our intentions are solidly scheduled, we tend to put things off into a nebulous future that never actually arrives. We think we’re putting off happiness for another day … and then months … and then years slip by…
Make it as easy as possible to stick to your decision to add more joy to your day by scheduling it in. This way, you’re making that drill sergeant aspect of your mind work for you!
After you’ve brainstormed activities you might enjoy, fill out the second column of the Happiness Sheet. Circle about three activities that you’d like to try from the first column and schedule them into your weekly calendar.
Again, take the physical action of blocking off time on your mobile or desktop calendar. To start, try scheduling about 12-15 minutes to devote to your chosen activity.
Over time, as you try different activities and discover what brings you happiness, you won’t have to schedule them. They’ll become deep-rooted and ingrained (just like our modern-day practice of avoiding joy is deep-rooted and ingrained!)
STEP 3: RECORD HOW THE ACTIVITY MADE YOU FEEL
The purpose of the third column is to help you shift your mindset around the ultimate goal of each activity you try. Instead of fixating on a “successful” outcome, this step helps you focus all of your attention on how you feel during each activity.
We’re trying to swap out the mindset of “getting” or “attaining” or “achieving.” Instead, our new goal is to let go of all expectations and discover what that freedom feels like!
If an activity brings you a sense of calm or joy, you know you’ve found something that you should incorporate into your daily (or weekly) routine.
Filling out the third column is a practice in changing your mindset. It helps you accept that we’re not looking for any other outcome other than a feeling such as:
CONTINUE THIS HAPPINESS PRACTICE EACH WEEK
Come back to this Happiness Sheet each week to brainstorm and schedule time to try new activities.
And check in to make sure you’re slowly increasing the number of days and length of time allotted for the activities you most enjoy.
As you get more practiced at focusing on happiness, you’ll experience all of the benefits of feeling better more of the time. And you’ll naturally find yourself devoting more and more of your time each week to the activities that uplift you the most.