Here are five tips for achieving greater happiness in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. For more insights on happiness and character development, check out my e-book, The Character Cure: Four Cornerstone Virtues for a More Fulfilling Life.
Tip number one: Focus your time and effort more on building your character than securing your happiness. The idea of striving for greater happiness can be paradoxical. Sometimes the more you strive for happiness, the more elusive it becomes. When you try too hard to achieve a perennial state of happiness, you can actually end up more vexed and disappointed than you would otherwise be. You probably know overly anxious people who are constantly asking themselves why they’re not happy. It’s important to study and reflect on the meaning of happiness, but there’s no question that we can overdo it. Find your purpose, build your character, do noble things, and most of the time happiness will find you.
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau. Near the end of Walden, he declares, “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Happiness is about confidently and steadily living the life we’ve imagined and then finding an unexpected success.
Tip number two: Understand that adversity can refine your character and make you more capable of experiencing happiness in the future. During difficult times, remind yourself that your character is built to manage those very difficulties. Generally speaking, happiness is less about what happens to you and more about responding to your own life’s challenges in a way that builds your character and confidence.
A quote from an unknown author sheds some light on this point: “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” If we allow it, adversity can give us two invaluable gifts. First, it reveals our character strengths and weaknesses, showing where to direct our self-improvement efforts. Second, adversity can be a refining power, giving us confidence and stability in successfully facing future challenges.
Tip number three: Find joy in the simple, quiet, everyday moments with family and friends. You should by all means dream big and stay motivated for achieving great things in your life. But if you ever feel like family responsibilities are preventing you from fulfilling your true purpose, you probably need to sort out your priorities. There’s no higher purpose than reaching out to family and friends, supporting them in ways that only you can. More than anything else, genuine happiness is about finding joy in these ordinary, unremarkable moments.
Tip number four: Strenuously avoid the two unmistakable adversaries of happiness, blame and self-pity, especially during moments of intense disappointment. We know that happiness depends to some extent on other people. But one of the surest paths to unhappiness is to blame others for your lack of good fortune and to feel sorry for yourself. On avoiding self-pity, I admire Thoreau’s encouragement: “However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names…. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.”
On finding happiness when those we love and depend on fail to meet our expectations, I appreciate the wisdom of Confucius. His key to “banishing discontent” is “to demand much from oneself and little from others.” Be generous and forgiving of other people’s shortcomings. And while striving for lofty personal goals in terms of your own character development, be charitable to yourself too. So much of life is about moving forward with hope, avoiding negativity in spite of frequent failure. When life knocks you down, pick yourself right back up and keep going. Refuse to allow yourself to wallow in self-pity and to blame others for your lack of good fortune.
Tip number five: When the happiness odds seem particularly stacked against you, make the conscious decision to be happy anyway. Make the best of whatever circumstances you find yourself in. Remind yourself that even winning the lottery would not endow you with happiness for more than a short period of time. You have great power in choosing happiness now, in any situation, if you’re willing to cultivate the characteristics that are conducive to happiness.
In summary, use these five tips to discover greater happiness: First, focus on building your character and happiness will follow naturally. Second, allow adversity to refine your character by revealing your flaws and providing invaluable experience. Third, uncover joy in the common, everyday moments of life. Fourth, find greater happiness by avoiding blame and self-pity. And fifth, practice making the conscious decision to be happy, under any circumstances.