Twenty Personal Choices Determine How Happy You Are

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Twenty Choices You Can Make to Increase Happiness

Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Counselor and Author of Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery

In our pursuit of happiness we must first realize and accept that being happy is a deliberate choice; a choice we make every moment of every day. There are many strategies to help make attaining that goal possible. Following is a list of twenty:

Have a Positive Outlook

The first and most obvious way to increase happiness in our lives is to have a positive outlook. For the most part, being happy is less about circumstances and more about attitude. What we think about most we become. If positive thinking does not come naturally, and it doesn’t for most of us, this will take some effort. The good news is that optimism becomes easier the longer we apply it in our lives. Rather than complaining or ruminating over things that go wrong, we should put our energy into doing whatever we can to make things better; adopt the “this too shall pass” and the “everything happens for a reason” attitude. It may sound idealized, but trying to find the silver lining in everything that happens really does work.

Believe in Yourself

Another way to increase happiness is through self-belief. Get to know yourself; and when you do, always stay true to yourself. It is wise to take what others say into consideration, but don’t be an approval seeker. What other people think of you does not matter. There is no right or wrong way to be as long as no one else gets hurt. Focus less on impressing others and more on trying to be authentically you.

Accept and Celebrate Your Reality

It has been said that “The difference between the images you have had for your life and the reality of your life is the amount of unhappiness in your life.” Accept and celebrate the reality you are living. If you don’t like that reality and it is possible to change it, change it. Just don’t hold yourself to an unattainable image. If you do that you will never be happy.

Take Charge of Your Life

Be the one in charge of your life. Don’t allow others to dictate the standards for you to live by. When we are in charge of our lives we gain great satisfaction and happiness from the things we do.

Take Responsibility For Your Life

Take responsibility for your life. This is different than taking charge of it. Those who take responsibility for their lives do not play the blame game. They don’t make the problems in their lives the fault of others. They don’t make excuses or blame others for their failures. They just accept what is and are sure to do things different or better the next time. Taking responsibility for ourselves and our lives gives us a feeling of empowerment. When we are empowered we are happy.

Set and Pursue Goals

Another way to achieve happiness is to figure out what we are looking for, what we truly want for ourselves. It is about setting goals and pursuing them. Research shows that the achievement of goals is not what matters; it is the pursuit of them and the focus toward them that increases one’s sense of well-being.

Focus on Your Strengths and Talents

Identify your personal strengths and use them to their fullest. Each of us has a unique set of personal resources. We each possess talents and skills. We should use these gifts as tools for obtaining personal achievements. We often see people with disabilities doing this. Someone may be wheelchair bound and still be a champion athlete. Someone else may be blind, yet be a phenomenal musician. Focusing on success by utilizing our strengths and talents is another great way to achieve happiness.

Give of Yourself

Finding opportunities to give of ourselves is a very important way to bring authentic happiness to our lives. When we engage or volunteer in causes or organizations that we are passionate about or believe in; religious organizations, community or civic minded causes, charitable causes, or social clubs, we gain great fulfillment. Endeavors that allow us to unselfishly give of ourselves to others bring tremendous meaning, and therefore happiness, into our lives.

Live in the Present

The only moment that we have any control over is the present one. Regretting the past and worrying about tomorrow only distracts us from the happiness that exists right now. The past already happened; it is only a memory that we can’t change. What we can do is extract the lessons from the things that have happened; we can learn from hindsight. And, just as living in the past keeps us from living a happy life, so does worrying about the future. Events we fear will happen may never happen. If or when they do they probably won’t happen the way we imagined they would. Happiness doesn’t exist in the past or the future; it exists in the now. Living in the present moment is the only way to be happy.

Don’t Allow Fears to be Obstacles

We all have fears—fears of what might or might not happen, fears of failure, fears of being judged by others. These fears hold us back from fulfilling our dreams, starting a new business, changing careers, embarking on a new relationship or ending one. Our fears keep us stuck in places we don’t want to be and with people we should move on from. We can’t let our fears become obstacles. We can’t cling to the safe and the familiar just because we are afraid to venture out. It is easy to put things off, to wait for the perfect moment, but when we do that time is wasted; days, months, and years pass us by. We don’t have to take huge leaps; only tiny steps in the right direction. As we let go of our fears we can embrace the happiness we deserve.

Understand That Pleasure is Momentary

Pleasurable moments are just that—moments. They are temporary—they will come and go. And they will never be as exciting or intriguing the second, third, or fourth time around. We need to allow ourselves to enjoy the pleasures of life without feeling the need to cling to, capture, or cage the things that bring us pleasure. No one can be happy when they are waiting for the next thing to make them happy. We will never be fulfilled with what is if we are always waiting for what will be.

Practice Gratitude

As the popular quote says, “The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.” Be someone who practices gratitude. Be someone who expresses appreciation for the simplest of things. Make time each day to reflect on what you have to be thankful for. Look at life from the perspective of what you have rather than what you don’t have. Contentment comes when we count our blessings, not when we focus on what we don’t have.

Reflect on Positive Outcomes

Compelling research shows that reflecting back to the enjoyable aspects of our day can significantly boost our feeling of well-being. Our natural tendency may be to focus on all the things that went wrong or frustrated us, but when we do that we leave little room for reflection of the positive things that happened. It’s fine to reflect on ways to correct what went wrong or think about how we can do things better next time, but if we want to be happy we should give equal time to the reflection of the positive outcomes of our day.

Manage Time

It has been psychologically shown that time affluence, “the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful, to reflect, and to engage in leisure,” is a factor in achieving happiness. We are never happy when we are rushing or under the gun. So it is important that we allow enough time to do whatever we need or want to do; that we under-schedule instead of over-schedule, under commit rather than over commit.  

Don’t Try to Control Everything

We are much happier when we don’t have the weight of the world on our shoulders. To accomplish that, we need to give up trying to control everyone and everything in our lives. We have to let go of the beliefs that we are the only ones who know what is right and that we are the only ones who know how to do things. Engage competent people in your life and then hand off some of your responsibilities.

Set Yourself Up For Success

When the challenges in our lives are attainable success is a realistic, predictable outcome. And along with success comes contentment. What this means is that when seeking challenges for ourselves we shouldn’t set the bar unreasonably high. We cannot be happy if we are constantly stressed and overwhelmed. We should always set ourselves up for success, not failure.

 Find Joy in Simplicity

Joy can be extracted from the most basic things in life; simple pleasures and breathtaking moments. As the expression goes, “the best things in life are free.” Happiness comes from quality not quantity, simplicity not complexity, and moderation not excess. When our lives and our surroundings are cluttered with too much stuff it stresses us out. The less we have the freer and happier we will feel.

Create Closure Whenever Possible

The way we end an experience greatly influences our perception of that experience. If we want to create positive, happy perceptions of all our experiences we should do our best to end everything on a positive note rather than a sour one. We should create closure whenever possible rather than leaving loose ends untied. It’s difficult to be happy when we have nagging thoughts about what we have left undone. When we clear away that unnecessary debris we free our minds, and happiness is the byproduct.

Manage Conflict

When I tell you that conflict brings negativity and unhappiness into our lives, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But being aware of the part we play will help to reduce the amount of conflict we willingly subject ourselves to. When others try to goad us into arguments we need to take a deep breath and think before we speak. Conflict takes two people—we don’t have to be one of them. People often quarrel over trivial, unimportant matters. Learning to listen well, communicate well, and let things roll off our backs will keep us from being sucked into that nonsense. And when conflict does arise, we should always practice forgiveness.

Lighten Up

And last but not least, probably the easiest ways to keep happiness in our lives are to lighten up, not take ourselves so seriously, and to laugh often. Life is painful enough. We don’t have to be so serious. We don’t have to make things harder for ourselves. We can be deliberate when choosing how we view and react to everyday occurrences. Realize that every moment is exclusive, every moment should be cherished. Once it is gone it is gone. Asking ourselves if something problematic will matter in a year from now will help us put things into perspective. So laugh at yourself and laugh at life. There is no better stress reducer or formula for happiness.

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