I woke up this morning and reflected on a meeting I had last night with John (name has been changed), a very smart, successful businessman and father of two young children who found out last year he had a tumor and that he might only have a week to live. To make a long story short, further testing revealed that the tumor was treatable and with chemo, he would most likely make a full recovery. The moment John found out the new prognosis, he felt like he had a new lease on life and vowed to live different from that point forward. He promised to no longer procrastinate on doing the things that he loves or has always wanted to do and to focus more on the people and activities that bring him joy. This made me reflect on what brings me joy and especially what brings my children joy.
Upon completion of six months of chemotherapy, John realized that getting the horrific news was the best thing that could have happened to him. On the work front, he changed things in his company and started only doing business with clients he actually wanted to work with. He also invested more time with his family and friends and started focusing on causes that are close to his heart.
As I was reflecting on John’s story it got me thinking about how it took a life-threatening diagnosis for him to decide to make a change and dedicate more of his life to the people and things that truly make him happy. Do we all need to get bad news before we do what makes us happy? What if we stop everything we are doing right in this moment and think about what happiness really is?
Clearly, I’m not the first one to ask this question -- this is an age-old story. But the more I thought about what this means in my own life, the more I wanted to share my conclusions with others and inspire them to think about feasible changes that could start right now. All too often we put off happiness because we wait for external forces. How often do you think, “If only I had more money, I could travel more and vacation more with my family.” Or, “I never have time to relax. I would be a happier person if I just had more time in the day to spend focusing on me.” The truth is, we all probably know people with more money or who seem like they have more time or who get to go the places we always dream about. But are those people actually happier?
I interviewed 100 people across the country about what makes them happy for an initiative I created called Project Happy Teens and the responses mostly centered around connection and deriving happiness from within. The World Happiness Report 2019 found that the top domains for happiness are Connecting, Being Active, Taking Notice, Learning, and Giving. In reviewing this research, I realized that seeking happiness ultimately starts from within and is not necessarily based on what society tells us will make us happy. The best thing to do then is to come up with a clear understanding of what actually brings joy to our lives. So, a great first step is to meditate on what truly makes you happy internally. I encourage you to close your eyes for a few moments and try this guided mediation.
Then, create a list of things that make you happy or a list of goals that you want to achieve. For some it helps to think of this as a bucket list -- what would you do if you only had a short amount of time to live? I took a break from writing to meditate and create my own list and here’s what I came up with:
Spend more quality time with family and friends
Get my book published and help inspire and empower others with my story and coaching method called KARMA
Invest in my health and wellness (work out more/do yoga/eat healthier)
Help people on a larger scale (more talks/presentations)
Work with people, groups, causes on the prevention of mental illness and promotion of wellness
Travel to India and Thailand and other countries and learn as much as I can about other cultures
Empower at-risk youth with skills and tools that can help them become more successful in our society
I think I could probably spend hours coming up with more to add to this list, but I figure this is a good start. What did you come up with? I’d love for you to share what’s on your happiness list in the comments section here on the blog or on Facebook.
Then the question becomes: how can we make this list actionable? I suggest reviewing your list and focusing in on one thing that you currently do, but not as often as you like. What would it take for you to do more of that tomorrow? The next week?
What if we set a reminder on our phone to remind us to do one thing each day that makes us happy. It can be a very small thing like getting your nails done because you know that will relax you or reading a book with your child (without thinking about your long to-do list or looking at your phone every few minutes). The point in actually doing what makes you happy is to FULLY be present while doing it. If achieving your happiness goals seems impossible, break a larger goal into smaller, more manageable ones first! Feel free to share your goals and contact us to speak with a professional if you need some guidance and support.
I will end with one of my favorite quotes:
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
— Abraham Lincoln
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