What makes us happy is pretty simple: connection, meaning, balance, creativity, etc. (By happy, we mean fulfilled in a well being way, not in a fleeting lollipop way.)
Likewise, the pathway to happiness isn't complex either, at least not in theory: Do what you love where you love with whom you love.
What is complex? Life! That's where the rubber of good intentions meets the hard road of reality, and a tough road it is. We are bombarded daily by the Four Horseman of Chaos: choices, change, complexity and competing agendas.
So what's our hero—you—to do? Start by taking a deep breath. (Good to do whenever you think of it.) Now write down three to six personal happiness goals, that which makes your life shimmy and shine.
1. My relationship with my partner.
2. Helping people through my work.
3. Being connected to friends and the community where I live.
4. Keeping healthy.
5. Having fun and being creative.
What if you have more than six items? First see if there is a big juicy goal that encompasses several smaller ones. In our example, keeping healthy may include things like a daily yoga practice, eating well, and getting eight hours of sleep. Still have more than six? It's time to prioritize what is most important in your life right now. A lack of focus is a common source of distraction and hissy fits.
Next up, how are you going to pursue these things? While goals are tremendously important, the vast majority of our time and energy is spent on the how, also known as the means or the journey. Crafting the how is the art of life. It's the difference between making do and thriving, between just okay and Zowie!
Let's take another deep breath here. Good. What the heck, one more. Great.
But wait a minute, you say. I'm too busy to create the good life. I've got a crushing To Do list, whopping responsibilities, bills to pay, etc., etc.
We thought you might say that, so we did some research:
~ Counter to popular opinion, we are not busier these days than people were decades ago. In fact we have on average an hour or so more of leisure time a day, with the exception of families with kids where both people work. The rest of us choose busy, perhaps as a mantle of esteem, a kind of keeping up with the overachieving Jones'.
~ Busy does not mean productive. There is good busy—being meaningfully engaged—and then there is busywork. Apparently a lot of our time is taken up by busywork.
~ People prefer to be busy rather than to be idle. Most people prefer doing something over doing nothing. People will even make stuff up to do when faced with a blank slate of time.
Ready for another deep breath? Go ahead.
The upshot is that most of us have the time to pursue happiness. This may not be the story we tell ourselves and we may fill our lives with busyness chasing after who knows what, but at the end of the day, we have the time to be happy. Not someday. Today.
Here's another factoid in your favor. People who study this stuff say that personal change involves 50 percent awareness, 25 percent motivation, and 25 percent skill development. This means you not only have the time, but given sufficient self-reflection you have more than half of what you need to successfully beat a path to happiness' door. So right now, you've got most, if not all, of the pieces. The joy, the thrill, and some of the skill are in how you put it all together. This includes grappling with the daily onslaught of choice, change, complexity and competing agendas. It's challenging, but creativity is your best defense. By imaginatively engaging with the chaos and keeping focused on your real goals, you have what it takes to craft a life that is infinitely fascinating and deeply fulfilling.
If you are stuck writing your list of three to six personal happiness goals, think about what you found most fulfilling over the past year or two. Or try recording the two or three things that make you happy at the end of each day. Look for patterns. Check out What is the Good Life? for more ideas.
Talk to friends or family members about what makes them happy. Ask them about their pursuit of happiness. How do they do it? Children and older people have some great wisdom in this area. Take a look at the How of Happiness for more practical inspiration.
Wishing you an Inspired New Year!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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