As Viktor E. Frankl insists in his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, happiness can’t be pursued, it must ensue. When I reflect more and more about this golden question, I think about how right Frankl got it. After all, life isn’t a race, in which crossing the finish life merits a trophy of “happiness.” Happiness is something that occurs naturally when you’re living a life that aligns with your purpose. But what if we’re not there yet? What if we’re stuck at a dead-end job we hate? What if we’re slowly repaying a mountain of debt and the end is nowhere in sight? What if we’re stuck in a life situation that we’re less than thrilled about? Well, there are actionable steps that we can take in the present while working towards our ideal life. It may not happen tomorrow, the day after, or the day after that, but by taking small steps in the right direction, we’re able to maximize our present condition to its fullest — to appreciate the good that exists here and now.
1. Get Rid Of Clutter
“Maybe everything you want is underneath everything you don’t.”
— Joshua Becker
We tend to overlook the physical items that weigh us down. The ten pairs of jeans. The twelve pairs of shoes. The hundreds of DVDs that are stuffed into a drawer of your TV stand that you haven’t watched for years. We often forget that just surrounding yourself with stuff can cause us to feel suffocated and bogged down in life. I always strive to incorporate aspects of minimalism into my everyday life, from the number of cards I keep in my wallet to the number of clothes that I own. I simplify whenever possible, as much as possible. Once we’re able to erase the amount of clutter that fills our environment, it’s uncanny how much room that leaves for the things that matter. Maximizing happiness is understanding that less is more. Giving yourself breathing room to inhale and exhale. Looking around and understanding that we are not our things. Eliminating, rather than reorganizing, the mess in our life.
2. Figure Out Your Enough
Happiness is a byproduct of progress. But, in order to feel like we are progressing, we must have a goal of which to measure against. For most of us, it’s to achieve financial success. The only flaw is that we never stop to figure out just what financial success entails. Is it a six-figure salary? Is it $500,000 in your bank account so you can retire early? Or is it as simple as being able to afford an average income by doing what you love? Unless we set a concrete goal for ourselves (based on actual math), we’ll never feel entirely satisfied. The point of the exercise is to know when you’ve “made it.” When you can take your foot off the pedal and give yourself permission to stop chasing money that you don’t really need. The best gift we can give ourselves is an overarching goal and the opportunity to realistically achieve that goal.
3. Give Pause to Your Choices
Do you remember the Goosebumps book series that you read as a kid? At the bottom of each chapter, you’re able to choose how to proceed next. Flip to page 100 if you want to investigate where the rattling noise is coming from. Flip to page 210 if you want to retreat back into the house. It was awesome. Well, I believe that’s a lot like life. Each day we’re faced with multiple options. Should we stay an extra hour at the office or go home and spend time with our partner? Should we start a new series on Netflix or lace up and go for a run? These choices, no matter how insignificant they seem, define who we are. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with lounging on the couch (god knows how many time I’ve done that), it’s about what you need at that point in time, rather than making it a habit of something. When you think twice about the options before you, you’re able to check in with yourself to see what’s really the best thing for you at the moment. Should we breeze through life unchecked, we may be doing more damage to our mental health than we think.
4. Make self-care a priority
If you couldn’t tell by the subheading: I’m a big advocate of self-care. With the constant pressure to do more more more, we end up doing less less less. This is a very bad thing and will most likely lead to an impending breakdown (that might be a bit dramatic, but follow me). In order to sustain a level of comfort, peace, and yes, happiness, there must be things that we can turn to in times of stress. Is it taking an hour-long bath? Cracking open a new book? Going for a walk with our pooch? Figure out the things that you need just for you and make sure you do them on a regular basis.
5. Turn Off Your Laptop and Put Away Your Phone
Sorry, but social media won’t make us happy. When I think about the day where I was the happiest, I was enjoying my surroundings and nowhere near my phone. I was working on a creative project that really fired me up. I was laying on the beach with my friends with no set plans for the rest of the day. I was taking my dog to the park and watching him explore all the sounds and smells. I didn’t think about the work that was waiting for me. I was in the moment, appreciating that it was more than enough. We need to remind ourselves that although the internet is a wonderful tool, it’s still just a tool. Go outside. Be in nature. Explore.
In order for us to maximize our happiness, we need to identify all the moving parts in our life: career, money, personal relationships, our relationship with ourselves. Breaking things down, we can see how much we have to be grateful for and what really doesn’t matter in the long run. It becomes a shift in mindset from just aimlessly wandering through life and letting things happen to you to living intentionally and making deliberate choices that will get you closer to the life you envision. It’s taking a step back and recognizing that money and ephemeral pleasures aren’t the only things that matter. It’s living a life of purpose, rather than the accumulation of material things. Once you commit to that journey, you’ll begin to feel a deeper sense of happiness rooted in love and peace.
Jennifer Chan is a lawyer and blogger. You can find her at jennifertchan.net where she focuses on connecting the dots between work, money, and happiness. She resides in Toronto, Canada with her girlfriend, full-figured rabbit, and a deaf & blind cockapoo.
Image via Unsplash