“If I didn’t think, I’d be much happier,” wrote the melancholy poet Sylvia Plath once. Soon after, she put her head inside an oven and committed suicide. What would make a young and beautiful, vibrantly talented and hugely successful individual to give up on life so violently? She certainly had reasons to be sad. Her husband had left her for another woman. But she had many more reasons to be happy, including the two little children she had. Though Plath died in 1963, her life and works are a huge inspiration to millions of mere mortals who take solace in her writings. What is more puzzling of the two? That modern generations find empathy in the bitterness of a woman who lived and died half a century ago or that people today are so sad to begin with. If you are a naturally chipper person, content with life on all fronts, then please share your secrets with us. This article is not for you. But most of us, though generally blessed with supportive family and friends, worthy jobs and partners, find ourselves susceptible to a dark cloud that threatens to shower doom on particular moments of happiness. We longingly think of our simple, fuss free childhoods when being happy took so little and lasted forever. We are constantly wishing ourselves back into that paradise of life when stress, tension, finances, relationships and threats didn’t laud over every occasion and death was utterly inconceivable.
Here’s a little secret. Being an adult need not be so challenging. Take Plath’s words to heart and don’t overthink it. When you were a child, your desires were simple and thus happiness was easy to come. For an adult, materialism takes centre stage. The moment certain desires get fulfilled, a hundred new are born. Technology, travel, home, living, success, prestige, appreciation, equality, safety, status, fame….. Need I go on? When January 2013 came around most of you swore, like every year, that this year was going to be different. That you were going to do things differently. That you were going to prioritize the important things and let frivolous desires take a backstage. Now that almost half the year is over, how has the progress been? Is your soul satiated with the flush of a well-kept promise or has the ennui of modern living stripped you down to your bare bones? Do you feel disheartened at the depression overtaking you when every move you make meant for a happier life? If so, then know that you are not alone. Everyone you know has felt stirrings of depression at some point in their life. The key to happiness is the simplest answer of all- simplify. You don’t need as much you think you do in order to be happy. Here are ten tips that critical thinkers and philosophers have gathered that will equip you to face the challenges of a hectic modern life head on and emerge a triumphant winner!
Here are the secrets that you must follow in order to be more happy in your life.
10. Focus on the Positive
If you open up your heart to jealousy, then there is no going back. Someone else is always going to be thinner, richer, better looking, more accomplished or happier than you. If you keep comparing your deficiencies with someone else’s blessings, you will always end up short. Instead, try this little trick. Think if the fourteen year old you would have been proud of the adult you today. Back when you were a teenager, you had certain dreams and ideals. Have you put yourself on the path to accomplishing those? If the teenage you would have considered the adult you “cool”, then you should be supremely happy with that. When you think this way, you will realize how far you have come, how much you have grown these past years and what immense things you have achieved. It will also help you reflect on the friends you have made over the years, whom you treasure today, and the foes you are wary of. You will realize the importance of changed relationships and how much the support of your loved ones has helped you become the person you are today. You will examine your professional and personal achievements and realize that in the game of life- you are a winner. After all these epiphanies, comparing yourself with others will seem so trivial and petty that you will likely put be ashamed of admitting you ever did it in the first place!
9. Drink Water
Happiness is as much a biological factor, as it is philosophical, spiritual or mental. A healthy person will retain cheers and good spirit much more than one who is plagued with aches and pains. In today’s hectic technology driven lifestyle, our bodies tend to get neglected beyond measure. Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy lifestyle in the maintenance of your happiness long term. Ensure eight hours of sleep. Have lots of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and avoid fried food, alcohol, tobacco, etc. Not only will the ensuing good health put you in a much better mood, you will look fantastic which will increase oodles of confidence.
However, the main crux of this tip is to drink water. Lots of it. Make it an unfailing habit to have at least three litres of water a day. A study conducted by the University of Connecticut found that the slightest dehydration caused the moods of its participants to alter low. The more water you have, the happier you’ll be!
8. Don’t Be Selfish
When you uttered your first word, took your first steps or came back home with a glowing report card from nursery school, your parents had the widest smile. Their pride shone through so fiercely as if you had conquered the world. More than taking pride in your own achievement, your happiness stemmed from that bright smile of your parents. You felt happier when they were happy. It is this feeling that sustains us humans. The smile and happiness of our loved ones far outshines the materialistic benefit of a shopping spree.
The editor of Forbes magazine gave forty six random strangers five dollars to twenty dollars. They could spend it as they wished. Those who spent it on others reported feeling far happier than those who spent it on themselves. The amount of the money, five or twenty dollars, didn’t matter. The feeling did. I am not asking to deprive yourself of anything. By all means, fulfil all your needs. But learn to distinguish between want and need. Instead of drowning in excesses to impress others, splurge on those around you. Guaranteed you will take delight in their smiles.
7. Value Your Relationships
The day you take the good things in your life for granted, they will start slipping from you. A famous anonymous quote goes along the lines of, “God doesn’t give you the people you want. He gives you the people you need.” Instead if hiding in shame from embarrassing parents, annoying siblings or moaning about the fact that you don’t have many friends, turn to the people you do have. Analyse the ways in which they are always there for you, how they help you on a daily basis and think of what you would do without them. Nurture your relationships with love, care and understanding. Give back as good as you get. Focus on each other’s needs instead of their fault. They do not deserve your judgement, only your understanding. The more you do this, the less you will find yourself being judged. Drawing absolute completion from personal relationships can be the most satisfying feeling in the world.
If I had a penny every time I heard someone saying, “I don’t like to read much”, I would be very rich indeed. Why do you think literature exists? Forget about reasons of academics, intelligence, elitism or any such. It exists to make you happy. For hundreds of years people from all over the world have been experiencing the same joys and sorrows that you- the 2013 human- find yourself engulfed in. They might have experienced it in different terms, but to be human in universal. To lead a full life is fraught with challenges of all kind. The books hold the answer to those challenges. Find time in your busy schedule to curl up with an insightful favourite and a steaming cup of coffee. Immerse yourself in the pages of wisdom. You will be surprised at how much you identify with the character’s pains and gains. Anything from Shakespeare to Hardy, Poe to Plath will do. One book that will unnervingly set you on the path to happiness is the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Reading even a chapter of this great book will shake your soul.
5. Stop Chasing Happiness
If your sole goal is to be happy, then that is going to be mighty difficult to achieve. It is like swimming after a ball in the water. The faster you swim, the more out of reach the ball will be. Instead if you relaxed and swam leisurely in your own pace, the ball would eventually linger in towards you. When you chase happiness, you are actually chasing a very difficult to define metaphysical concept that may or may not exist. Each time someone asks you, “What make you happy?” you will have a slightly altered answer. Moreover, you cannot know for sure what will make you absolutely happy. Certainty is not a given in humanity. Instead focus on living each day as it comes, complete the tasks and duties that are your responsibility, have a hobby that you enjoy and spend time with family and friends. Watch movies, read books, listen to music. Set short term goals like weight loss if you are obese, fitness if you are unhealthy, etc. Once you have stopped hankering after something so vague, the concrete things in your life will give you direction. A few short months will bring such a positive change in your life that the ever elusive happiness will be in your palms.
4. Reaction versus Pro-action
This is a tip by Stephen Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Refer to point number six for more on that genesis. This is an astoundingly simple tip that, if applied effectively, will yield tremendous results very soon. Whenever we are faced with bad situations that make us sad or discourage us, negative reactions are inevitable. Self-pity, melancholia, anger, sadness, apathy and the like will take over our minds and constantly prey on our good emotions. Rather than giving into this negativity, ignore it completely. Don’t think about the unfairness of life. Just concentrate on proactive actions that can be implemented right away to address the damage that has been done. Focus only on the remedy. This will take you forward, instead of making you linger in the black corner of time. Don’t play petty blame games. Accept what has happened with an open mind and do the best thing you can. Once you make a habit of this, you are on your way to becoming one of the titular highly “effective people”
Peer pressure is such a common term today. Parents are increasingly worried at the ways their children act out under the influence of friends. Some of the things they do to impress their friends is downright horrifying. Sad thing is high school doesn’t at eighteen. Most people let outside forces direct their life. They let others tell them what the need to be happy. Then they work furiously at getting those things for themselves. Regardless of whether they do get then or not, true bliss will always be out of the reach. Truly introspect oh how much you let others dictate your choices for you. Are societal expectations, clever advertisings, manipulative branding or inherent socialisations influencing your choices and paths in life? Try meditation, even if for only fifteen minutes a day. Be brutally honest with yourself. Paolo Coelho has said that being completely honest with oneself is the only true path to success. Strip away the glamour from concepts that you hold dear. Get in touch with your soul and let it guide you. Examine and analyse all your beliefs and convictions. If something is very important to you, question yourself why it is so. The key to your happiness lies in the answers to these questions.
2. Express Yourself
An uncomplicated and fuss-free way to be happy, that doesn’t require too much thinking on your part, is creativity. Your mind is a stronghold of tightly pressed emotions and feelings that bear down on your existence. Try immersing yourself in the arts to relive yourself of this burden. Find an outlet for this energy build up. Painting, writing, crafts, collections, knitting, cooking, dancing or anything that strikes your fancy. Stop thinking too much and let your sense overtake your emotions. Just focus on getting it all out. After an hour or so of rigorous self-expression, the most liberating feeling of exuberance will fill your limbs. Your heart, body and mind will be uplifted beyond measure. And who knows, maybe you will get really good at your hobby and it will, one day, become a way of life.
The top tip in this list is very predictable, I’m afraid. It is the one thing I mentioned in the intro and have been ranting at for the past nine points. But it is so important that it does deserve its own space. Declutter your life. Empty it of superfluous things and negative people. Toxic relationships are a huge emotional drain and you deserve to be happy. Life is short. Make the most of it. The latest iPhone is not going to make you happy. It is only a substitute for the hole cause by the absence of things that actually matter. Focus on being a kind and nice human being with passion and integrity. Follow your heart and dreams. Don’t attach too much importance on worldly items. The soul is a free bird. Let it fly. Don’t cage it in with a whole host of unnecessary, yet all too humane, flaws and weaknesses. Stop thinking about what the outside world expects you to be and focus only on what’s right for you. Live the life you were intended to live, not one that a marketing campaign says that you should. You decide your worthiness.