If you had told me 10 years ago that I would create a company called Happier and dedicate my life to helping people realize their greatest potential by cultivating more joy and meaning and boosting their emotional immune systems, I wouldn't have believed you. I never expected that it would take me until I turned 40 to find my life's purpose, nor did I expect that this would be it. What I expected even less is that my life purpose would emerge out of some of my most painful struggles.
But that is the magic of becoming genuinely happier, as I've discovered. It's a journey within yourself, one that is likely to take you on a path you didn't expect. It can be difficult and at times seem impossible, but you have to keep going and learning, because it's the most worthwhile path there is. On the eve of my 40th birthday a few years ago, I decided to make a list of the lessons I'd learned about what it truly means to live a happier and fuller life. As I was writing it, I realized that I kept thinking about my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time. I started by writing the list for myself; by the time I was in the middle of it, I was writing it for her.
What we all wish for our kids and people we care about is to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled and to live a life that brings them joy and meaning. It took me a long time to realize this, but the best way we can help them do this is to do it for ourselves first. I used to think that focusing on becoming happier was selfish. I'm now certain that it's the least selfish thing I can do. In fact, I think of it as a great responsibility I have to my daughter, my family, and the people I love and care about.
So here it is: my list of things I learned about living happier and more fully (aka a letter to my daughter). I hope that by sharing this list, I might inspire you to create your own and share it with someone you love.
- It's really all about love.
- Don't wait for any one human to give you all the care and love you crave. No one can be your all, but some people can be your a lot. Cherish them.
- Stop trying to be fearless. If you're trying and learning, you'll feel fear. It's OK. Remember your bigger why, the reason you're taking this journey, and hang on to it. It will guide you through the fear.
- Read the entire recipe before you start cooking.
- Be grateful for the tiniest things. They all matter. Even if you feel sad, you can find some beauty around you to appreciate. It will elevate you.
- You deserve the gift of your own kindness. Treat yourself as you would a good friend, even when you make mistakes. It won't make you complacent; it will help you be better.
- Most things are better after a good night of sleep.
- Don't save your nice dishes, nice clothes, nice shoes for special occasions. Every day you're alive is a special occasion, so use the good stuff!
- When in doubt, go for a walk.
- You can only change yourself — not other people, not relationships, just you. If you want to change anything — including the world — start within yourself.
- One sweater you really like is better than five sweaters you kinda, sorta like and bought because they were on sale.
- Be. Here. Now. Don't rob yourself of living today because you're lost in yesterday or leaning into tomorrow.
- One spoonful of the real stuff is better than one cup of the low-fat stuff.
- Happiness isn't the absence of negative emotions. You're not failing at happiness because you feel sad or angry. Let yourself feel what you feel, but don't lose sight of the little moments of warmth, kindness, or beauty that are always there, even if you have to wipe away your tears to see them.
- Hiding your unique gifts from others isn't humility. It's stealing. True humility is to accept your responsibility to share your contributions. There may be someone whose life will be changed by them.
- Sweat the small stuff that makes you even the tiniest bit happier. Fill your shelves with books you love. Rush to the farmers market for the season's first strawberries. Buy pens you like to write with. Move your desk to catch the morning sun. These make up the texture of your life.
- There is no such thing as a wrong emotion. Give yourself a chance to feel what you feel, even if it's difficult. The less you try to fight or avoid a feeling you don't want to have, the easier it will be to move through it.
- You. Are. Enough. You're lovable and amazing and deserving of true, genuine happiness exactly the way you are. You don't have to do anything more to earn it. You're a being, not a doing.
- People care a lot less about what you do or how you look than you think. Mostly we're all focused on ourselves, so stop worrying about perceptions and live your life.
- You experience 100 percent of the emotions you give to others. If you feel angry at someone, you experience anger. If you experience kindness, you feel kind.
- It's OK to have a mess of a day. Sometimes you do need to eat too much, watch too much TV, and hide under the covers away from it all.
- If you do something and it makes you feel spectacular, don't ignore that feeling. It's the universe trying to tell you: This thing you just did? Do it more often. Yes, this applies to what you do for work too.
- Be more honest. Being vulnerable doesn't make you weak; it makes you real. Be real. It's a gift not just to yourself but to everyone around you.
- You're not your thoughts. You're not your feelings. They're part of you but not the entirety of you. Learn to be aware of them rather than become them.
- Make things with your hands as often as you can. Cook, paint, plant, play an instrument, anything. You'll get a break from living in your head.
- When you're having a horrible day, even the tiniest achievements feel amazing. Clean your desk, do a handstand, write things down on your to-do list that you have already accomplished.
- Be intentionally kind and expect nothing in return. The kindness boomerang will come back to you.
- Give up your ideas of how something should be. Life is unfolding as it is, and you have a choice to either be awake to how it is and go from there or to suffer, wishing it were different.
- Most things taste a lot better right out of the container: ice cream, milk, sardines.
- Find time for stillness and silence every day. Don't be afraid to spend some time alone. Alone = ALL ONE.
- The greatest moments in a friendship often come when you text a friend, "Hey, I'm feeling awful, and I need you."
- If you don't know what to do, do something. Don't wait to figure it out; start doing and you'll be able to make any decision better, later.
- Travel more and often. This may be one of the only ways to buy happiness with money. Also, take time to travel on your own. You'll discover more about yourself than the places you visit.
- Break your own rules as often as possible. Try spicy food even if you're "not into spicy food." Wear something bright if you usually wear black. Read things that you're normally not into. Give yourself freedom to explore.
- Take care of yourself. It's not selfish; it's your responsibility to the people you love. There is no glory in being a martyr.
- Laugh loudly and often.
- Never be too busy for a hug. Or too grumpy. Or too proud.
- Just because you can't see it right now doesn't mean the path isn't there. Keep taking steps.
- If you have to force it — an idea, a piece of writing, a job, a relationship, a shoe — it's not meant to be. Working hard and forcing something are two different things. Learn the difference.
- It's all really about love. Not romantic love, not any specific kind of love, just love. It's within you. Find it. Nurture it. Share it. Grow it. Swim in it. It's always the right answer, although sometimes you'll have a hard time seeing it. Keep looking.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones) by Nataly Kogan.