How many moments of your life are happy? If you’re like most people your life is a mix of up and downs. Happy moments, interspersed with lots of boring moments, and probably a few periods of absolute misery.
It’s unrealistic to expect that you can create a life that is 100 percent happy moments. Chasing a problem-free life actually makes you unhappy because every bump in the road is viewed as evidence of failure. A better goal is to increase your happiness by 20 percent. Here are three ways to do it:
1. Be honestly grateful
One thing you’ll notice about unhappy people is they’re always pointing to advantages that others received. Yet they rarely reflect on the advantages they’ve received. For example, the successful businessperson who constantly complains about the slackers, with little gratitude that they have the skills to be a top performer.
If you want to be happier, be grateful for what you’ve been given. That means acknowledging the fact that you may have been born with more advantages than most. In my own case, I was born to healthy college-educated parents, in America, who sent me to great public schools and expected me to get an education and do something with my life. On the scale of global humanity, I won the lotto. I could complain about my family’s dysfunctions, and trust me, they’re real. Or I can be grateful that I was born in a time and place where I can buy books, eat healthy food, and create an amazing life for myself.
As my friend author Mike Robbins says, “Gratitude and victimhood can’t coexist.”
2. Own your ambition
Our society has an odd relationship with ambition. You’re supposed to have some, but not too much. One way to increase your happiness is frank self-honesty about your personal goals. What level of achievement do you truly desire? Not what you think you should want, or how much money you’d like to have, but what is or is not burning inside of you?
It’s OK to admit that you’re happier at midlevel. I have a friend who says it’s taken him forty years to admit he’s not ambitious. Not everyone wants to conquer the world.
But if you are hyper-ambitious give yourself permission to give voice to your desires. If you have that burning energy inside you, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When I decided I’m no longer going to apologize for my own fierce ambition, I quit framing my language around imaginings. I created concrete plans. It made me happier and brought me closer to my goals.
The secret to happiness is to be simultaneously grateful for where you are, while also striving for where you want to be.
3. Stay present
Unhappy people are always wishing for something else. They play the “if only” game: If only I had a better house or a different boss. If only I were married or single, then I would be happy.
Years of the “if only” game amounts to wishing your life away. Happiness is found in the present moment.
It’s your one and only life; you’re not going to get another one.
Show up for it every day with gratitude. Be honest about who you are, and stay present for the moment you’re in. Your life won’t be perfect, but it’s totally within your power to make it 20 percent happier.