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Finding Joy and Happiness

People say Janet was born happy. Nothing seems to get her down. Even though she's had a tough life with complicated relationships, thankless jobs, and a recent health scare, she's always quick to offer a genuine smile and find the best in every person and situation.

Then there's Phil. Phil seems to have it all: good health, a loving family, a lovely home, fun friends, and a good job. But Phil complains all the time. He always seems to be looking for the cloud beneath the silver lining.

We all know people like Janet who, despite their circumstances, exude happiness. Most of us also know people like Phil who, despite having every reason to be happy, never seem to be.

There are more ‘Phils' out there than ‘Janets. 'A recent Harris Poll indicated that only 1 in 3 Americans are happy, with the rest wishing they could find that missing ingredient to their happiness. That's a lot of unhappy people.

The 'new' happiness

Many of us, including Phil, grew up being bombarded with messages from society, culture, and popular media convincing us we'll only be happy if and when we:

  • have more money

  • find the perfect job

  • lose weight

  • meet Mr. or Mrs. Right

  • own the new car

The trouble with these messages is that once we achieve the external stuff, our expectations expand to fit our new reality, and we're back to being as unhappy as we were before we got that new smartphone, car, or raise.

Luckily, like Janet, more and more of us are turning away from money and ‘stuff' as our source of happiness and discovering other ways to find our bliss. According to The Life Twist Study commissioned by American Express, the authors found the top 5 indicators of a happy and successful life are:

  1. Being open-minded and flexible.

  2. Finding time for the ‘important things in life.

  3. Having healthy relationships.

  4. Managing personal finances.

  5. Good work-life balance.

So how do we focus on experiencing more happiness and live more like Janet and less like Phil? By looking for the best within ourselves, others, and all of life's situations.

Here are a few practical tips to help us find our bliss in our pursuit of the truly ‘essential things in life:

Choosing open-mindedness and flexibility by:

I am deciding to be happy. Happiness is a personal choice. Realizing that you are both the source and the cause of your well-being (and your suffering) is the first step to achieving happiness.

Stop judging yourself and others. No one likes the feeling of not measuring up. Judging others and ourselves turns life into a competition, which causes stress and drains the joy from life.

Stop all the complaining. We often complain to influence others to abandon their viewpoints in favor of our own. It's a form of manipulation that fosters a negative attitude. Being more tolerant of others' thoughts and toning down our personal opinions makes us more open-minded. Try focusing on constructive criticism vs. complaining.

Start to practice daily gratitude. The simple act of saying ‘thank you' to a loved one or the clerk who packed our grocery bags can lift their spirits as well as ours. Appreciating what we have – loved ones, a home, clothing, and health- can be a source of happiness.

Spend more time laughing. Tell a joke, watch a sitcom, or spend some time with the office comedian. Laughter is therapeutic. Our bodies release endorphins that contribute to our sense of well-being.

Developing healthy relationships through:

Self-acceptance. Accepting ourselves as we are is an act of self-love. It's hard to be happy if we don't like ourselves. Start by making a list of the qualities you love most about yourself. Learning to laugh at ourselves, accept constructive feedback, and forgive our misdeeds and shortcomings also helps create space in our hearts for happiness.

Forgiveness. Holding a grudge keeps us isolated from others. Practicing forgiveness releases us (and the other person) to move forward. We practice forgiveness by accepting and offering apologies graciously and understanding others by putting ourselves in their shoes.

Manage your finances by understanding your relationship with money. Have you ever stopped to contemplate your relationship with money? How we view money dramatically influences how much we make and save. Is money your friend? Or is it a ‘necessary evil'? Do you deserve it? Or is wealth reserved for others more fortunate than you? Are wealthy people to be envied and hated for their ambitions? And poor people to be revered for their humility? Your relationship with money will determine how much you attract into your life.

Putting yourself in charge. When managing your finances, first and foremost is to ensure that you are managing your money and that it is not managing you. Here are a few tips:

  • Pay your bills on time. Ignoring them doesn't make them go away. Paying your bills on time can prevent late payment charges and improve your overall credit rating

  • Live debt free if possible. Becoming free of debt will benefit your financial and mental health. Even if your get-out-of-debt plan is 20 years, chipping away at it is beneficial. Debt is a heavy load to carry, and lightening it as much and as quickly as possible will go a long way toward more joy and contentment in your life.

  • Save for a rainy day. Knowing you have money in the bank for an unexpected illness, job loss, or significant household repair will help you be prepared and ease your worries about any unforeseen life situations.

Develop a work-life balance by:

Love your career. Most people spend the majority of their days working. If your job is a drag, chances are it'll drag down the rest of your life experiences. Even the worst jobs offer something to be grateful for – learning new skills, interacting with interesting people, traveling opportunities, and paying the rent.

Live in the present. It's hard to experience happiness if our thoughts are anchored in the past or fixated on the future. Try meditation to help you connect to your feelings and ground yourself in the present moment.


Perhaps Abraham Lincoln expressed it best when he said,

People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Happiness is an attitude, not an event. It doesn't just happen by accident. It takes effort. There's no need to wait for things to be perfect to be happy.

Remember Janet and Phil? They each faced challenges in life but interpreted them very differently. Phil focuses on the negative, while Janet finds happiness throughout the good, the bad, and the ugly that life has to offer. You can live like Janet, or you can live like Phil. Once we learn that happiness is a decision, we can choose happiness over sadness, gratitude over bitterness, and forgiveness instead of grudges.

Take a minute to review the above and circle your top 3 doable tips and begin today.

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