“Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” —John Wooden
No wonder the pursuit of happiness has become such a profitable business. To be fair, I am a fan of positive psychology. It reinforces many of the principles of minimalism—namely, that the joy found in material possessions is of rather low quality.
But among all this discussion of happiness, I sense a growing frustration. For many people, happiness is hiding around the corner—something that will hopefully be achieved in the future when the conditions are just right.
This understanding is based on the notion that happiness is discovered when burdens have been removed. The thinking goes: I will be happier when my debts are paid off, when I get a different job, when I finally find the man of my dreams, or when I finally get out of this crummy marriage.
But this is unhealthy and unhelpful thinking. It comes from a vantage point that thinks happiness is conditional—that it can only be achieved when all the stars align just right.
If happiness is only a result of the circumstances around me, it will never be fully realized. (tweet that)
It will always remain just out of reach because this world never allows for perfect circumstances. Our world is populated by imperfect people. And as long as it is, pain and suffering and injustice and the consequences of our own poor decisions will continue to surround us.
The truth is that those who are the happiest are not necessarily those surrounded by the best circumstances. Instead, the happiest people are those who have decided to rethink their perspective.
Happy people focus on the things that bring joy into their lives today. This may come easier for some, but it is impossible for no one.
If you are struggling with the circumstances of your life today—whether it be a trial, a job, a relationship, or something else—work hard to shift your perspective. Do not wait for your circumstances to improve before you discover happiness. Decide instead, to embrace it today.
Try asking yourself these 7 questions to intentionally bring happiness closer:
1. What can I be thankful for? Gratitude is most helpful as a discipline. When things are going well, gratitude is an easy and natural response. Similarly, it serves little benefit—it’s easy to be focused on the good when you are surrounded by it. Gratitude is most helpful and life-enhancing when it is needed most. When you most feel the burden of your circumstance, look around, notice the good, and offer a verbal appreciation of gratitude. It will immediately shift your focus from the bad to the good.
2. Who do I know that loves me? There are few things more affirming in life than the realization that we are known and loved by another—whether that be a parent, a spouse, a friend, a mentor, or a child. Whether they live close or far away, remember their faces. Whether you have spoken with them recently or not, remember their voice. If you are loved, you have all you need for joy.
3. What progress have I made? Many of us get down on ourselves and our lot in life because we feel unaccomplished or unchanged. When we focus too much on the things we wish to achieve, we forget to appreciate the progress we have already made. When you are feeling down, take a moment to remind yourself of who you were before and who you are today. Have you arrived fully? Doubtful. But are you closer today than ever before? Probably.
4. What contribution do I bring? Whether you paint, landscape, manage people, or answer telephone calls to provide customer service, thank you. Your work matters to us. Though you may not always see it, you make our world better and improve our society. Don’t view your job as just a paycheck—after all, there is no dollar amount worth the sacrifice of your life. Instead, view your work as contribution. And be reminded that we are grateful for it.
5. What pursuits bring me the most joy? Where in life do you find your most joy and fulfillment? Your kids? Your work? Your hobbies or passions? Look around to see what makes you most alive. Now go do it more often. Your television isn’t making you happier, neither is staring at Facebook. Divert more of your energy towards the things that breathe life into you.
6. Who can I help? One of the reasons we miss happiness in our present circumstance is we get so focused on trying to achieve it by serving ourselves. But we find our greatest happiness and our greatest fulfillment in serving others. The time to be happy is now. And the way to be happy is to make others so.
7. What choices do I have? One thing that can never be taken from you is your power to choose. Remember, we may not be able to change our circumstance, but we can always choose our response to it. To live is to retain the power of choice. Look around. What options still remain? Look hard. There is significant happiness to be found in the simple truth that you can still show up in your own life.
Happiness is not waiting in the future for all your circumstances to be perfect. Happiness is waiting to be discovered today in the middle of them.