“Happiness is not a goal… it’s a by-product of a life well-lived.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Not going to lie – I’ve experienced a fair share of moments in my life where I felt that my existence had no meaning and that there was no point in even trying. At different points in life, my main concerns, as I can remember, were our broken and selfish society and the extreme difficulty in securing a job I dreamed of. However, once I stopped watching and reading the news regularly and finally managed to get the job I thought I wanted, I found my lost motivation to live and find a way to enjoy life more.
Eventually, this led me to several years of researching and testing new things to craft a life as good as it can be so I could achieve a sense of happiness.
Now, happiness is, of course, quite a subjective matter and how I imagine my best happy life might not be how you imagine your best life to be. However, I do believe that certain things, once applied, can easily improve anyone’s life, especially if you share certain personality traits with me.
What is happiness for you?
Or how your life should look like for you to feel happy/content with it…
There are many different perspectives on what happiness is and everyone can have their own philosophy about it. Typically, happiness is measured through subjective well-being, which includes overall life satisfaction, constant positive emotions and affective experiences. Some psychologists also emphasise that one’s strengths, virtues, purpose, pursuit of a meaningful life, absence of negative emotions, accomplishments and relationships contribute to the feeling of happiness.
There might be many other factors worth considering but the truth is that even though there is a certain way that happiness can be defined as, you will still have a very personal and subjective opinion of what happiness is to you.
Happiness for me, as I eventually found out (and it might change in the future), is feeling that my life is balanced and that all areas of life that are important to me are being taken care of at the level that I desire. The absence of negative emotions/feelings and the presence of positive emotions/feelings also play a key role in my sense of happiness. in addition to feeling positive or at least natural emotions towards what is happening in my life (in other words, have little to no negative feelings and emotions).
While the latter can be quite difficult to control (you’re either lucky not to be experiencing anything that draws negative feelings or emotions but you can work on your attitude and understanding which can help accept things as they are easier and thus control these negative emotions), the former is much easier to control as long as you allow yourself to think about it and create an action plan to work on it intentionally.
Below are the things that I have been putting my focus on in the last few years that really helped me create my best life and achieve a sense of happiness.
1. Setting goals, building systems and focusing on the process instead of achievements
Sounds unnecessarily long but they all build off each other and thus are tied closely together.
First, I’m an absolute goal-setting addict – I just love dreaming about the future and setting both, very reasonable and achievable small goals and also ridiculously large goals that I’d maybe like to achieve sometime in the future but I’m not at a stage in life where I can actually start planning how to achieve them yet. The first ones are important because they give meaning and direction to my life, and the latter – because they show possibilities and what my life could be which makes me excited about the future.
Now, to achieve these goals we set, it’s best to build systems by splitting your goals into small daily tasks and changing yourself in the process. For example, let’s say your goal is to write a book by the end of the year. It’s a decent and challenging goal and there are several ways you can approach this to achieve it on time. The best way to do this, though, is to commit to writing a set number of pages for your book every single day. You need to make yourself become a writer, having a consistent habit of writing daily. This doesn’t only maximise your chances of reaching your goal but also changes you as a person. With positive change, you become a happier, more fulfilled person, capable of reaching your full potential.
Finally, focusing on the process instead of achievements minimises the fear of failure. Your end goal will no longer be the achievement itself but the process of getting there, which should be enjoyable – and if it isn’t, then maybe you should rethink whether that goal is really worth wasting your time on. For example, I imagine that many people have a goal of getting rich. If you need to spend 10 years doing things you dislike and also live a miserable life – you’re unlikely to become happy and fulfilled even after achieving this goal. Similarly, if you feel driven and motivated, if you enjoy the time you spend towards achieving that same goal at least most of the time, then even if you don’t become rich in the end, you’ll find that your life has been interesting, fun, exciting and enjoyable, which will make you feel happy regardless.
2. Having more positive habits & routines in my daily life
After reading many books and interviews, I naturally started introducing the most commonly promoted new habits into my life. The key ones I picked up include daily morning meditation, daily book reading, daily planning & gratitude, and regular exercise.
I get up around 3 hours earlier than I need to before work to complete all of these habits. However, I have actually never been a morning person and when I tried to do them in the evenings in the past I had little luck! It also took me a few months and failed attempts until these habits became a part of my essential morning routine and thus a part of life.
Now, when I travel or go somewhere for longer periods of time where I find it hard to follow my morning routine, I really miss it. I eventually start dreaming about going back home just so I could complete my routine and start my days the way I want to. Crossing 3-4 things off my day’s to-do list first thing in the morning also sets a very positive tone for the rest of the day, I’m not going to lie.
Positive habits & routines of course differ from person to person but these are mine and I feel happier doing them daily because they make me feel as if I’m the person I want to be.
3. Making more time to do the things I love
I’ve always been a multi-passionate person which, weirdly enough, makes things very difficult for me as I simply couldn’t find the time to do the things I loved. This made me feel unhappy and unfulfilled for a very long time…
To be honest, I still don’t have enough time to do all the things I love as frequently as I’d like and I still need to prioritise some over others. However, I learned to live with intention and schedule my beloved activities into my days as something that must be done.
For example, when I set my monthly or weekly goals, in addition to all the must-dos and nice-to-dos, I also schedule the time to do my hobbies:
Wednesday: DIY things
Thursday: Working on a passion project
Friday: Digital Illustration/design
Saturday: Hiking or other outdoor activities
Sunday: Working on my passion project again
And then I swap different hobbies each week as there are more things I love to do that I’m able to fit in one week.
Honestly, I’m a little envious of those people who only have 1 or 2 main hobbies that they can just focus on several times a week. Unfortunately (maybe not) I’ve never been that person. Instead, I had to learn how to fit them all in as frequently as I could in the hours I’ve left each day.
If you’re also a multi-passionate person and find yourself procrastinating due to your inability to decide on what hobby to do when, then planning ahead and scheduling your fun time could be the thing that helps you do more of what you love more frequently.
4. Finding balance in all areas of life
We all have several life areas that are important to us: work/career, hobbies, relationships, finances, health and fitness, projects, etc. Chances are that we mainly focus on some 1-3 key areas and neglect the rest of them (e.g. many people will focus on career and finances but neglect health and relationships or vice versa).
I’ve always been a very career/work-oriented person who felt that I must prove something to myself and others (as in that I can achieve something in my life without having a head start). Because it’s not easy, it has always taken most of my time, meaning that I had to sacrifice pretty much everything else in my life, especially health and relationships.
Again, I had to read a lot of books written by smart people to discover that happiness is not about proving anything to anyone or being obsessed with achieving one thing but about finding balance and giving attention to all life areas that matter to you.
There is an exercise called The Wheel of Life that can help you evaluate all your life areas and understand which ones are absolutely starved of your attention. This is very eye-opening and the first step in creating a plan to balance all of them out.
So, evaluate your life, decide where you want to be in each area of your life, set relevant goals and create systems to achieve them to achieve balance in your life.
5. Continuous learning and self-improvement
When I was a kid, I had never seen (or noticed) examples of people continuing to grow after they reached a certain age (usually around 25). It seemed that everyone had a set mindset and a way of living that they didn’t want to change even if they were not happy with it. It might just be a culture that I grew up in or maybe the growth mindset and continuous improvement at that time was simply not a thing yet.
As I grew older, and with access to a vast world via the internet, I came across the idea that people can continue growing, developing and improving basically for their whole life. Then I became a little bit obsessed with growth… and I thought that it’s never enough and that I could (and should) always continue trying to be better. This sped my life so quickly that it started to worry me that it’s likely I will die before I manage to read all the books that interest me… which is, of course, not the most positive thing, BUT…
This made life extremely exciting and limitless for me and I feel that it’s a very fun obsession of mine even though it did develop some negatives too – such as a feeling that I never know enough or that I’m not yet good enough because I haven’t mastered this or that yet or because I haven’t read this or that yet… However, these negatives do not affect my sense of happiness in a negative way at all but the excitement of knowing that there are still so many things to learn and do does!
You may not find happiness in continuous learning and self-development (many people don’t) but try finding something in life that you’d like to learn more about and develop an intense desire to become really good at something – maybe some hobby or a skill. Having something like that leaves very little time and energy to care what other people think, what bad things are happening in the world, etc. allowing you to feel happier and more fulfilled.
6. Trying new things
As I’m absolutely obsessed with learning and becoming the best version of myself, I, of course, have also developed a little obsession for learning new skills and trying new things and hobbies frequently.
I want to know and be able to do a little bit of everything which means that I find myself trying different activities, hobbies that I’m bad at, and enrolling in a wide range of courses from business to arts, to astrophysics to coding, etc. Of course, the newly discovered but unused knowledge and skills of a wide range of different things do not stay with me for long but this gives me such a huge thirst for life that I can’t even describe… There are so many interesting and weird things to do, experience, and try that I know I can’t even do them all in one lifetime.
Boredom and disinterest can affect your sense of happiness massively, so try opening your heart to learning and trying new random things in life and see how it changes you.
7. Self-love, self-compassion & accepting challenges/obstacles for what they are
When I was a teenager I hated myself… It was such a hard period due to a very poor mindset that made me feel that my life was miserable and useless. Now, I’m not sure if I just naturally grew out of this or if being interested in self-improvement since a fairly young age fixed this issue for me.
No matter what it was, the important thing is that I managed to develop strong self-love and self-compassion. And it’s such a beautiful thing! When you love and take care of yourself, nothing that others do or say to you matters as much anymore. Criticism, judgement, negative opinions and aggression from other people can still touch you but it matters so much less and for a much shorter period of time because you know that others do not know and understand you the way you do. Even if you’ve really done something wrong by accident and feel upset about yourself or your behaviour, self-compassion ensures that your self-loathing doesn’t last too long – you learn what you need from it, pick yourself up and keep going.
When it comes to challenges and obstacles in life – they can feel really unfair and even depressing!
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why certain things didn’t happen to me as easily as for others and why I’d encounter certain obstacles that others wouldn’t (because I always thought that everyone’s lives were better of course). Very stupid and unnecessary, and it also helps no one.
I finally reached an understanding that we all have challenges and obstacles we need to overcome and, most importantly, that achievements without any challenges and obstacles are not that sweet!
It helps to imagine that you’re the main character in your life (silly but it works!) and that you need to overcome certain challenges/obstacles to grow your character and become the person you’re destined to be. Love yourself enough to motivate yourself to overcome these challenges/obstacles no matter how difficult they are also be compassionate to yourself when you slip a little bit here and there – it’s all part of your growth and journey towards something amazing in the future.
8. Starting things before I am ready for them
This is one of those things that some people naturally do whereas others (people like me) don’t until they feel absolutely perfect and ready to do something.
I always wanted to do many things and many hobbies but I’ve always felt that I first must become perfect in them before actively actually doing them… Weird? Yes. Possible? Not really as I’ve never managed to actually do anything I wanted because I never felt ready to do those things.
I don’t remember what book or article I read many years ago but I remember a lesson that sounded something like “do the thing you wanna do before you feel ready and then refine it as you go”. Wow! I’m so happy this sentence hit me deep as otherwise I wouldn’t even be writing this article or wouldn’t have done anything interesting in my life (I imagine myself lying on a sofa binge-watching TV series and feeling sorry for myself for not doing the things I’d like to do every.single.day).
The thing is, there is no need to be perfect to do something unless your or someone else’s life and well-being depend on you. Most of the things can be done imperfectly at the beginning and then improved with time. This simple idea enabled me to try many things I’m quite bad at and eventually cured my perfectionism (which at work is not necessarily viewed as a good thing) but it is great in happiness – not being afraid to fail, to be imperfect or bad at something you do is honestly life-changing.
I do recommend you to try this if you’re a little bit of a perfectionist and especially if you worry that you’ll receive criticism from others for doing something you are visibly bad at – don’t let the fear of judgement and imperfection stop you from doing the things you want to do – the best way to become great at something is by starting first and then by doing it.
9. Creating and building positive relationships
This was actually one of those things that I never paid much attention to when I was younger and just allowed them to happen naturally. This meant that I was surrounded by both, positive and negative relationships and didn’t think much of it.
Eventually, after something major happened in my life and I had a long period of time to concentrate on myself, I developed a strong desire to distance myself from people whom I didn’t feel had my best interest at heart. Month after month and year after year I now find myself naturally connecting only with those people whom I feel good with and avoiding those that negatively impact how I feel unless it’s absolutely necessary for a short period of time.
Distancing myself from people whom I feel are toxic to me has insanely improved my quality of life although it does mean that I have a very small circle of friends that I hold dear to my heart and want to spend my energy and time trying to keep a strong and deep connection with.
You probably already read this but one 85-year Harvard study on happiness has revealed that the number one thing that makes people happy in life is having/building positive relationships and I do really believe that this can be the key ingredient in one’s sense of happiness. I’m not extremely people-oriented and enjoy spending most of my time alone doing my things, but I find that knowing that I have people I care about and who care about me gives me a sense of ease, fulfilment, and happiness.
If you haven’t already, this might be your sign to re-evaluate your relationships and quit the ones that do not make you feel good so that you have more time and energy to spend on relationships that truly matter to you.
10. Finding a meaningful career, work, project or hobby…
As I’ve already mentioned earlier, I’ve always been very career-focused and desired to work somewhere awesome doing something meaningful. That’s why I always thought that I’d find myself working in a charity, non-profit or social enterprise of some sort. Well, this is not where I found myself in the end as I joined a small for-profit company that I thought would be super fun to work at and where I’ll pick up some amazing skills from.
I actually managed to enjoy and find meaning in my job although I still felt that there was something missing in my life – I wanted to work on something bigger than myself, something life-changing, something… that would give my life purpose and meaning… So I ended up creating my own side projects that were meaningful to me. Although I still have an idea of joining some fantastic non-profit or social enterprise in the future, I discovered that each of us can create something meaningful for ourselves, too.
The point I want to make here is that if you do feel stuck, somewhat unhappy or uninterested in life, finding (or creating) something meaningful to work on regularly could be just the right thing that gives your life meaning and makes you feel happy.
I do realise that not all people are as goal or life-design-focused as I am and that some people feel naturally happy and satisfied with their lives by living without much additional planning or consideration which is absolutely fantastic! But if you’re the kind of person like me, who always wants something a little extra, then I hope that the tips I shared will be useful to you, too.
Thanks for reading!