Life is a precious gift from God. Accept it, cherish it, embrace it and relish it day by day, with happiness and gratitude. —Dina Al-Mahdy
Photo credit: Dina Al-Mahdy
The funny thing about happiness is that it’s more about recognizing what we have than achieving what we don’t. Sure, goals are crucial; a significant component of happiness is having something to work toward and look forward to each day. But those things don’t bring happiness. Because once we achieve what we exert ourselves to work toward, if our focus is on what we still don’t have, that’s all we’ll feel—emptiness and discontent.
This means that we always self-sabotage our personal happiness, at any given moment, if we don’t feel completely happy. We mistake this for dissatisfaction or unhappiness because we are so far from accepting that happiness is not a continuous sensation of joy.We are so unaware of the fact that we are happier than we think we are.
“We are so unaware of the fact that we are happier than we think we are.”― Jane Austin
Happiness means interest, it means mastering the art of learning to just be. Sometimes we’re doing this and we don’t even realize it, and we let our minds talk us out of our own contentment with trivial complaints and minor issues that we unreasonably talk about. Part of overcoming this is coming to terms with the little ways our lives show us we’re happy even if we’re not conscious of it.
“I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that it’s not the answer.” ― Jim Carrey
And the answer, of course, is awareness, gratitude and reverence for what is—for whatever is.
Honestly, this is hard to exercise most of the time as we’re basically hardwired to search for problems, and then try to resolve them. This mindset is what has kept our species going for so long and it isn’t something we can change easily but it’s usually a simple matter of refining your ability to be grateful and honing your skill to count your blessings.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”
Pain isn’t something you can opt out of, but suffering is. If you were to take a good, sharp look at your life, you would probably find that you are happier than you realize. Sounds insane, but it’s true. And it’s one of the most wonderful and heartbreaking realizations you can have (firstly because you see you have all you really want and need; secondly because you realize you weren’t being grateful for it all this time).
No, please don’t sulk over the lines above, they are not there to tell you what you should or should not be doing. Instead they are intended to help us understand why we think that we are not genuinely happy. Maybe your life is becoming more complicated, but there are signs that you can still be genuinely happy thanks to the simple and free (almost!) things in life.
And if you need a reminder, here is my list of the happiness-inducing simple things in life for the keeps, for the weeks and for the eternal times to be.
1. When you learn something new everyday. You may not realize this, but with everything that you learn, good or bad, you learn something new. Even though you might feel it’s just a part of your routine or something you had to do, learning new things can make you happy and strong. It might be something that you had been yearning for a long time but never had the time to actually do. It could be something you have not yet heard of or something unique. It could be simple things like swimming, driving, or learning a form of dance, or something major and unfortunate like a heartbreak or passing away of a loved one.
“Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.” ―Robert Gary Lee
2. When you look back and feel gratitude and pride for going through hard times. After something traumatic happens, we sometimes get into defense mode and remain there, as if we’re waiting for the next terrible thing to occur. It is a naturally effective coping mechanism to come to terms with what has happened, if we were still dealing with fight-or-flight survival issues. But in modern life, it sabotages the time you have to spend being content and happy.
“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” ― Henry Ward Beecher
3. When your default is being “satisfied” but because you’re not thrilled you think you’re not happy. As I’ve said a hundred times before, if you are waiting for sheer bliss to sweep over your life, you’ll be waiting forever. Happy really means that you’re accepting of whatever comes your way, you experience things, you let the universe give and take what it needs to. At the end of anything, you’re still okay. We all feel bad for this of course, but if you can honestly remind yourself how good your life is, if every once in a while you can look around and feel bad for not being grateful for everything you have, you’re much happier than you’re letting yourself believe.
“What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree.” ― Sigmund Freud
4. When everything surrounding you is frustrating but you still do the work you know you love, even if it’s just once in a while and even if it’s just as a hobby. If you can make time for the things that make you happy, and more importantly, if you know what those things are, you’ve uncovered what people spend years seeking: purpose of life.
“To be happy in life, develop at least four hobbies: one to bring you money, one to keep you healthy, one to bring you joy, and one to bring you peace.” ― Stan Jacobs
5. When you have at least one true, healthy relationship in your life. You have an ear to listen to, a shoulder to lean on, genuinely, no matter what. At least one. Not everyone has that privilege. It does not necessarily have to be romantically. But if you have one or two amazing, unconditional friendships or other relationships in your life, you are more lucky than you even realize. All it takes is imagining your life without these people to realize how little attention you give to all the times you enjoy being with them.
“As you remove toxic people from your life, you free up space and emotional energy for positive, healthy relationships.”― John Mark Green
6. When you offer advice to those who are in the shoes you were in. It means you have the wisdom, knowledge and experience to share. It means you have actually gotten through something and now retain some kind of clarity or insight from it. It means you are able to see in retrospect, and to be far enough away from it that you want to help others who are still there.
“People who give the best are those who give of themselves – your time, talents, words, knowledge.” ― Omoakhuana Anthonia
7. When you help other people. While giving is usually considered unselfish, providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it. Intuitively, I think we all know that because it feels awesome to help someone who needs it. Helping those in need is not only fulfilling, but also a reminder of how comparatively fortunate we are–which is a nice reminder of how thankful we should be for what we already have.
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
Plus, receiving is something you cannot control. If you need help–or simply want help–you can’t make others help you. But you can always control whether you offer and provide help. And that means you can always control, at least to a degree, how happy you are, because giving makes you happier.
8. When you find yourself smiling while you’re alone. You’re not putting on a front for anybody. If you want to see how you really feel about something, start noticing your facial and other physical expressions when nobody’s there to watch or judge you.
“A smile is happiness you’ll find right under your nose.” ―
9. When you take a vacation all by yourself. Remember the time your dad taught you how to ride a bike? Well, you actually learned the skill when you figured it out all by yourself, when your dad let go his hands on your back or the handles. Similarly, you learn and experience things best when you are all by yourself. Once you take a vacation alone, you tend to find all the routes and figure out the maps by yourself. You decide on whether to laze by the beach or to take the train or the taxi. This definitely makes you genuinely happy from within. Most importantly, you learn to be fiercely independent, mindful, and enjoy your own company.
“Travel brings power and love back into your life.” ― Rumi
10. When you look forward to the future, but enjoy where you are right now. This is a fine line to walk, but really, what we all need is both an appreciation for the current moment as well as hope that there are things worth hanging in there for. You can’t have happiness without a sense of both, and more people do than they realize.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
11. When you spend time with nature. You would never realize how much sheer happiness this one can bring you. Whether it’s the rainy season and the leaves are all drippy droopy, or the early morning when the dew drops glisten in the rays of sunlight; the sunset that gives you the endearing hope of rising again or the twilight that gives way to darkness. Nature is symbolic of life and takes away all the worries and tensions that we have in this world for a while.
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” — E. O. Wilson
12. When you love your body. Remember the time you were excited to wear your favorite black dress for a date and couldn’t fit into it? Or the time you were trying to fit into your old jeans and got stuck? While you don’t want to be as skinny as a supermodel, start working on those love handles now. If you don’t get much time to exercise, you need to make the time to walk, jog, do yoga or swim in the mornings, evenings or weekends. Try to feast more on fruits, veggies and salads, but do allow yourself little treats at times. You will slowly start feeling more fresh, active and beautiful. You’ll feel happy to love and take care of your body.
“I finally realized that being grateful to my body was key to giving more love to myself.” ― Oprah Winfrey
13. When you start cooking. There is a famous saying “When in doubt, bake!” Studies have proven that food cooked by you own hands is more healthy, tasty and beneficial to your body than that from a restaurant or takeout. Now you may not like the taste of it initially, or find the time for it, but start slow, maybe on weekends. It’s also amazing how much you learn about different cultures just by tasting (or cooking) their cuisine. In fact you can experiment a lot when you cook by yourself and can win over your friends, your partner or your boss. Definitely an underrated pleasure and a sign of genuine happiness.
“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.” ― Giada De Laurentiis
14. When you do something that scares you. Well, it doesn’t sound like a pleasure, at least not in the beginning, but then once you overcome your fears, you may well start slowly enjoying something that scares you, even if you don’t realize it’s happening. I find it hard too, but past experiences have made me realize the reasons why was I was scared in the first place. It could be anything ranging from watching a horror movie, moving out of home, or traveling on a flight for the first time, to bungee jumping, scuba diving or a wild life safari. Studies have shown that the kind of hormones that get released when you have an adrenaline rush give you pleasure and are responsible for your happiness.
“The best view comes after the hardest climb.” ― Author Unknown
15. When you enjoy the little things that truly bring you joy. Your morning coffee made you feel so peaceful and happy, but you brushed it off, because it’s silly for a cup of coffee to make you happy, right? Learning to just feel that, and not let your logic combat it, is what will immerse you in the happiness you unknowingly experience.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” — Robert Brault
We’re not just talking a cruise or tickets to a Broadway play. Happy people look forward to all kinds of smaller events, too, like the sound and smell of brewing a fresh pot of coffee every morning, a dinner date with an old friend, or just having a whole day to binge watch a favorite show. Having a positive sense of future is the hallmark of a happy person.
16. When you have a passion. Sometimes I think that’s all you need to lead a fulfilling life. It’s the one thing that nobody can change in you, the thing that you can keep reaching for even if nothing else works out. The thing that lifts your heart.
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”― Oprah Winfrey
17. When you learn a new language. Odd though it may seem, this is something simple that can make you very happy, and it rates very high on my personal list. Not only do you learn how to twist your tongue and develop a new accent, it is actually very useful and can take you places. Studies have proven that your brain starts functioning faster, you start feeling accomplished, and you inwardly get very happy once you start learning a new language. You could land a new job, make some friends, or maybe even make a new life altogether. And the amount of pleasure? Infinite.
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” ― Frank Smith
18. When listen to, enjoy and dance to music. OK, maybe you had a break up or a fight with your partner or just a terrible day at work. How can listening to some dumb songs or tunes make you feel better, you say? Well, it can for sure. Just turn on the radio or load you favorite playlist and hum along. Of course it isn’t going to solve any of your problems, but it can lighten your spirits and make you forget things for a while. In fact starting your day with some music is definitely going to give you the right attitude to face your problems. A spring in your step for the day and you are ready! You never realized the power of music before and how much it could make you happy, did you?
“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” ―George Eliot
19. When you feel a sense of purpose beyond just your own existence. There is something unbelievably delightful about giving your life and energy to someone else. It branches you out from your core and your selfish need for survival, renews your sense of purpose and gives something to hold onto other than your own appeasement.
“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” ― Helen Keller
20. When you laugh easily and want to talk to people. This is the oldest trick in the book and you already know about it, so what’s the big deal? Remember the time when you laughed till your stomach hurt? That is a sign of a simple thing making you happy, a big one indeed. But how many of us laugh about things whole-heartedly every day with all the stress and tension going on? Barely a few. The easiest thing is call up an old friend and you are guaranteed to laugh remembering the old times. Those funny times, those awkward times, those not so pleasant times, and the perceived problems that you are facing right now.
“You can’t be beaten by something you laugh at.” ―
Also, most importantly, don’t just laugh, laugh it off. Whenever you do so it not only increases your blood circulation and immune system, you feel better and happy.
“We don’t laugh because we are happy, we’re happy because we laugh.” ―William James
21. When there is no real crisis in your life. You spend your time concerned with trivial things so you think you’re upset but really, things are mostly going smoothly. This is what it all boils down to: we like to infuse meaning into our experiences to feel as though we are more than just existing creatures, but this doesn’t always benefit us in the way we want it to.
“Be thankful for all the troubles you don’t have.” ―Author Unknown
22. When you’re ready to apologize and move on. An apology cannot undo what has been done, but it can help ease the pain and tension of the aftermath. It gives hope for rebuilding, and puts value on the relationship rather than the individual’s pride, or to just walk away peacefully. Learning to apologize is the first and most important step in the healing process. Not only does it show the recipient that you acknowledge their right to feel hurt, but it opens the way to forgiveness. When it’s okay, it’s over.
“Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”
― Robert Brault
23. When there’s nothing keeping you up at night. Good sleep is not only a sign of happiness and health—it’s also critically important to becoming happy. In fact, it should be everyone’s #1 priority (with a special dispensation for new parents, who should be napping every chance they get!). If, at the end of the day, no matter what happened in the hours before, you have the exceptional ability to let it all go, close your eyes, and have faith in tomorrow, you are unknowingly embracing the most important element of happiness: unconditional acceptance.
“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama
24. When there is at least one thing that excites you about your day. Whether it’s your pet, or an aspect of your job, or the place you live, or the fact that you’re still healthy and functioning doesn’t matter. The point is that you can determine at least one thing that you become excited for each day.
“If you always attach positive emotions to the things you want, and never attach negative emotions to the things you don’t, then that which you desire most will invariably come your way.” ―
25. When you have what you once wanted. Even if your sole focus is on what you want next, you can look around and recognize that you already have what you once wished and hoped for.
“Remember, you once wished that you had what you have, so don;t let that go in vein.”― Author Unknown
Most people, if asked a few questions about exactly WHY they want a bigger house, better car, nicer partner or more money, will end up responding with “because it will make me happy”. But even those with millions of dollars are still seeking “bigger, better, more”. Could you really be happy with less money or a smaller house? The answer is: YES. Yes, you can be really happy with anything. Millions are happy living in far less than what you enjoy. Understand that the happiness point is where YOU place it and it moves as you do. All you have to do is to move your set-point.
26. When you have something to hope for. Even if it seems far-fetched or impossible or like it will take a lot of dumb luck to achieve or a simple twist of fate to make it happen, you at least have something that you wish for yourself (a relationship, a home, a job opportunity, a scholarship…etc.).
“But, don’t leave off hoping, or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last!” — Charles Dickens
27. When you want to fix what went wrong in your life. Being aware of what’s wrong with your life is most of the battle, interestingly enough. If you want to change your life, it’s because you love it enough to want more, and because you love yourself enough to want better. Don’t forget that.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” ―
28. When you go shopping till you drop. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean clothes, shoes, accessories or expensive gadgets. It has been tested and proven that shopping is the best mood lifter when people are down. Shop for some cheap items on sale at markets or groceries, or maybe just buy some books or music. It’s not just the amount of money spent on the shopping that matters, it’s the sheer pleasure, the achievement of finding a bargain, or the memories you recall when you use those things that matter and actually make you glad.
“I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.” ― Tammie Faye Bakker
29. When you don’t care (too much) what other people think. The most common regret we all express is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” What other people think—especially people you don’t even know—doesn’t matter. What other people want you to do doesn’t matter. Your hopes, your dreams, your goals—live your life your way. Surround yourself with people who support and care not for the “you” they want you to be but for the real you. Make choices that are right for you. Say things you really want to say to the people who most need to hear them. Express your feelings. Stop and smell a few roses. Make friends, and stay in touch with them.
“Life is better when you stop caring too much.” ― Author Unknown
30. When you actively pursue your goals. Goals you don’t pursue aren’t goals, they’re dreams, and dreams make you happy only when you’re dreaming. Pursuing goals, though, does make you happy. So be grateful for what you have, and then actively try to achieve more. If you’re pursuing a huge goal, make sure that every time you take a small step closer to achieving it, you pat yourself on the back. But don’t compare where you are now with where you someday hope to be. Compare where you are now to where you were a few days ago. Then you’ll get bite-sized chunks of fulfillment and never-ending reasons to be grateful and thankful.
“You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream.” ― C.S. Lewis
31. When you celebrate others’ success. The concept of degrading others in order to elevate themselves is not in their repertoire. In fact, watching the people they care about succeed lightens their mood. Happy people like seeing other people happy. If we celebrated others’ success as if it were our own, we could feel a huge surge in positivity and joy, which can lead to greater optimism, the latter benefiting our own health. By being courageous and selfless enough to embrace others’ success, we also get the benefit of greater satisfaction and we expand our own willpower. We feel fulfilled instead of bitter.
“Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” ―
32. When you use a variety of coping strategies when they’re stressed out. Whether it’s calling a friend, writing in a journal, going for a walk, hitting the gym or simply meditating, they have more than one tool in their stress-relief toolbox. The following are important coping strategies to address the physical symptoms of stress.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Yes, there IS such a thing as sleep hygiene, which includes techniques having a consistent sleep and wake up time (if you don’t, you wind up functioning in a state of “jet lag”), avoiding caffeinated drinks close to bedtime, practicing getting into a relaxed state when you go to bed, and shutting off electronic devices.
- Give yourself regular breaks. Take a walk, stop working and eat a good dinner (not from the vending machine!) or talk with a friend. Give your mind a moment to rest and reorganize. Contrary to many people’s first instincts when they are stressed, taking breaks actually makes you more efficient, more energetic, and better able to tackle the challenges in front of you.
- Regularly practice self-soothing techniques. Think about the 5 senses, and this will give you clues as to how you can give yourself comfort. What works for you? Listening to music, taking a bath, watching a movie, getting a massage, relaxation, yoga are all on the long list of possible ways to self-soothe. Make efforts to include these strategies in your daily routine as they will help you cope with stress and prevent becoming more stressed.
- Exercise regularly. Ironically, exercise is one of the first things to fall by the wayside yet is one of the most important coping techniques in terms of reducing tension and increasing energy! No matter how stressed and frantic you are feeling, remember that a brisk 20 minute walk will likely help.
- Maintain a healthy diet. When your mind is full of worries and pressures, many people find that they slip into “mindless eating” (eating whatever is immediately available…”the vending machine phenomena” or cravings carbs and sweets for a quick, but unsustainable, burst of energy). Maintaining a balanced diet of foods that provide a more constant source of energy (instead of that sugar spike) can be a great first line of defense against the adverse effects of stress. Even more importantly it will help you maintain a connection to your long term goals.
“One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire – then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” ―
Happiness is a state of mind, as a wise person once said. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the list above proves the statement to be true. Life is filled with simple pleasures, the little satisfying effects you never really anticipate, but always take great pleasure in. With very few exceptions, I believe these simple pleasures hold universal appeal. They are the gifts of life that we each subconsciously celebrate in our own unique way, though it’s easy to forget what we have.
- Do you want to be rich, or happy?
- If You Say Yes to Any of These 7 Questions, Science Says You’re Much Happier Than You Think
- 16 Signs You’re Happier Than You Think
- Attitudes of Truly Happy People That You Can Learn
- Behavioral Strategies for Coping with Stress