This past holiday season, my wife Angel and I stayed at a hotel near her parent’s house in South Florida. On Christmas Eve we met a family of six who were staying at the same hotel. We saw them relaxing in the lobby by the Christmas tree, sharing stories and laughing. So on our way out, Angel and I wished them a happy holiday season and asked them where they were from. “Oh, we’re from here,” the mother said. “Our house burned down to the ground yesterday, but miraculously, all of us made it out safely. And that makes this a very merry Christmas.”
Her words and her family’s optimistic attitude made me smile. They reminded me that the most fulfilling moments in life come when we finally find the courage to let go of what we can’t change. And that when life gives us every reason to be negative, we must think of one good reason to be positive, because there’s always something worth smiling about.
Truth be told, when people are perpetually unhappy it’s often because they are searching for happiness in the wrong places. They look for it…
1. In the fantasy of an easy life.
Life is tough, but you are tougher. Pain makes you stronger. Facing fear makes you braver. Mistakes and heartbreak make you wiser. Sometimes things have to go very wrong before they can be right. Sometimes you have to go through the worst, to arrive at your best.
Your journey isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be worth it. To never struggle is to never grow. It doesn’t matter what’s happened or what you’ve done; what matters is what you choose to do from here. Accept the circumstances, learn from them, and move on. Letting go is often a step forward. Sometimes you have to walk away from what you thought you wanted to find what you truly need and deserve.
2. In a past that no longer exists.
You are changing. The universe around you is changing. Just because something was right for you in the past doesn’t mean it still is. This could be a relationship, a job, a home, a habit, etc. Giving things up doesn’t always mean you’re weak; it may simply mean you’re strong enough and smart enough to let go of the old to make way for the new. Don’t stress about the closed doors behind you. New doors are opening every moment and you will see them if you keep moving forward.
As the Dalai Lama once said, “A new way of thinking has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting. If we maintain obsolete values and beliefs, a fragmented consciousness and self-centered spirit, we will continue to hold onto outdated goals and behaviors.” (Read Buddha’s Brain.)
3. In a future that isn’t guaranteed.
Too often we spend our energy stuck in the maze of life, thinking about how we’ll escape one day, and how amazing it will be. And imagining a future like this keeps us going, or so it seems. But we never escape. We simply use thoughts of the future to escape the present, over and over again, until we’ve reached the end of our lives without ever having truly lived.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what you do today.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. Do something today! You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to live is to press play. Go ahead and press play! The clock is ticking – the hours are going by. The past increases and the future recedes, possibilities decreasing and regrets mounting… but only if you hesitate to accept and enjoy your life right now while you’re living it.
4. In their own excuses for procrastinating.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to stop saying “I wish,” start saying “I will,” and then go do something about it. The world isn’t going to dominate itself. You just have to wake up one morning and decide that you don’t want to feel like this anymore, ever again. And then make a change, just like that.
In all walks of life, luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. And opportunity dances only with those who are already on the dance floor.
If something doesn’t have space in your day, it probably won’t happen in your life. Knowing isn’t enough; you must apply. Willing isn’t enough; you must DO. If all you can do right now is a little bit, do it. Those little bits will add up quickly. Value that is built over time, in small increments, tends to be value that also lasts for a long time. Doing something, even if it is just a little bit, is infinitely more productive than doing nothing.
5. In their super comfy comfort zone.
You may feel comfortable bobbing around in the little lake that you’re used to, but if you don’t stretch your comfort zone and venture out into the adjoining waterways, you’ll never discover the beauty and immensity of the ocean – you will never even know it exists. Holding on to what’s comfortable may be the very reason you often feel like something is missing in your life.
Remember, just because you venture out into the world doesn’t mean you can’t return home whenever you want to. It’s okay to come back to where you started, but it’s NOT OKAY to never leave. (Read Start: Punch Fear in the Face.)
6. In material possessions they don’t need.
You can never, ever get enough of what you do NOT need to make you happy. Think about it. It’s nice to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s also important to make sure you haven’t lost track of the priceless things money can’t buy. You don’t need a lot of money to lead a rich life. Good friends and a loving family are worth their weight in gold. It really is the little things that mean the most… like a long hug at just the right time.
Instead of focusing so intently on what you want to get, consider the things you can let go of. Eliminate some excess baggage, lighten your load and feel a weight lifted. So many of the things you think you need you do not need at all, you simply want them. And as your wants diminish, your freedom and abundance grow. Challenge your impulses, and free yourself of needless needs.
7. In waaaay too much of one good thing.
As Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Eating too much makes you obese. Spending too much money makes you broke. Working too much leaves your family at home missing you. Playing too much leaves important work undone… and so on and so forth.
Happiness depends on the proper distribution of applying your positive resources consciously to the hungry deficits in your life. All details aside, the important thing to remember is this: Long-term happiness is never found in one good thing; it is a combination, it is a balanced lifestyle.
8. In the wrong relationships.
Know that it’s less important to have more relationships and more important to have quality ones. Spend time with people who make you better. Surround yourself with those who are going to lift you higher. You will only ever be as great as the people you surround yourself with, so be brave enough to let go of those who keep bringing you down. Find people who respect you as much as you respect them. Nurture your relationships only with those who are happy and proud to have you in their lives.
You deserve it. Don’t settle.
9. In the endorsements of those who don’t matter.
Keep up your dignity and always be true to yourself. You can’t let other people tell you who you are. You have to decide that for yourself.
There will always be people who don’t approve of you – the way you look, the way you talk, the things you care about, the styles you like, the music you listen to, etc. But the truth is these people’s opinions don’t matter one bit. It’s up to you if you let them ruin your day, or if you decide to stand up for yourself and accept yourself just the way you are. Just be sincere and do your best. And if it’s not good enough for someone, it will surely be for someone else. You’re not here to please everyone. Be nice, be yourself, and the right people will eventually find you. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the“Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
10. In the blame game.
Sigmund Freud once said, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” Don’t let this be you. When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility – you surrender full power over that part of your life.
In reality, the price of happiness and greatness IS responsibility. And no one else is responsible for you. You are in full control of your life so long as you claim it and own it. Through the grapevine, you may have learned that you should blame your parents, your teachers, your mentors, the public education system, the government, etc., but never to blame yourself. Right? It’s never, ever your fault… WRONG! It’s always your fault, because if you want to change – if you want to grow and move on with your life – the only person who can make it happen is YOU.