In the pursuit of happiness, it makes sense to start with 10 essential steps to be happier now. If even one of these steps is out of whack, peak happiness may elude you. Once you’ve got the essentials for happiness, there are nine counterintuitive ways to be happier and shake you out of the bluest of funks. My inspiration is from two of the world’s most successful women who made massive life transformations despite being in a pretty miserable place. Yes, you can shift from misery to happiness with these simple steps.
Oprah Winfrey overcame a life of misery to become one of the wealthiest and most successful women on the planet. She has spoken openly about her struggles with poverty, abuse, and her own self-doubt in her early years. Undeterred by her rough start, with hard work, determination, and a willingness to embrace change, Oprah became a successful talk show host, media personality, and entrepreneur. She found happiness by helping others and focusing on her passions and huge goals.
Likewise, the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, didn’t have the easiest start in life. She wrote the first Harry Potter book while struggling with depression, unemployment, and the stress of being a single mother. Despite these challenges, she persisted in writing the book. Eventually, it was published and became an international bestseller. Through her writing, she found an outlet for her emotions and a way to channel her struggles into something positive. The success of the Harry Potter series brought her great wealth and worldwide recognition. More importantly, it brought her a sense of purpose and fulfillment. She continues to write even though she could have retired on the success of her first book. She is also a philanthropist, giving away huge sums to charity, like Oprah.
These two super-successful, generous women didn’t have it easy but managed to build a life most would envy. Luckily, you don’t have to become a superstar to be happy. There are many people who have gone through incredibly tough times and found happiness with a simple life. Some find happiness through their work, others through their family, and friends, or even by traveling. The key is not giving up on your hopes and dreams while you learn and grow stronger from difficult times.
Oprah Winfrey has spoken openly about her pursuit of happiness throughout her career. She “believes that every single event in life happens in an opportunity to choose love over fear.” She emphasizes the importance of choosing love over fear, praising and celebrating your life, finding work you love, not seeing failure as a setback, and facing your fears. Oprah also talks about the process to achieve success and happiness and the role of hard work, determination, and a positive mindset in the journey. Throughout her career, Oprah has been an advocate for personal growth, self-improvement, and life coaching to reach your goals and live your wildest dreams.
So, for your pursuit of happiness, read on for the 10 most essential steps to create a happier life. Remember that missing even one of these steps means you aren’t optimized for happiness. No pressure!
The 10 Essential Steps In The Pursuit of Happiness:
1. Get plenty of sleep.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. Lack of sleep can negatively impact mood and well-being. Without sleep most people feel out of sorts, lethargic, grumpy, and irritable. This is mission-critical. If you think you can get by on six hours of sleep, you might find you do better with seven or eight hours.
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” — E. Joseph Cossman
2. Build strong relationships.
Have more fun times with family and friends, and seek out new social connections. Strong social support is the single most important thing you need for increased happiness, better health, and longevity. The longest-running study (75 years) by Harvard on happiness has confirmed that having great relationships with friends or family is by far the biggest indicator for happiness above all other factors, even success, career, wealth, and fame. Read The Good Life by Waldinger and Schulz for more.
3. Write a thank you note every day.
One of the best ways to practice gratitude is to write a daily thank you note. Reflect on the things in your life that you are thankful for to shift your focus from what you lack to what you have. This will instantly increase feelings of happiness and contentment. By taking the time to think about who you can thank every day, you’ll start building an ever-increasing feeling of appreciation for the good people and things in your life. And, by taking five or ten minutes to actually write a thank you note and express your gratitude, you’ll be making someone else feel happier, too! This single action has the potential to transform you from feeling miserable to feeling full of love, gratitude, and appreciation.
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” — William James
4. Play and have fun.
This is an obvious one, but you’d be amazed at how often we don’t make the connection between doing something that is likely to make us happy and our happiness. Engage in activities that are likely to bring you joy and fulfillment. If you are an introvert, then focus on solo activities, and if you are an extrovert, then take that group class. Even introverts need friends. So consider joining a small group with an introverted activity, such as a creative writing class, and find one person in the class with whom you can develop a deeper friendship.
5. Exercise every day.
Most people know that regular physical activity can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase overall well-being. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to join a gym. Just get in those 10,000 steps a day! While technically, you only need to exercise three times a week, if you try to start a new habit three times a week, you are likely to fail. Why? It is hard to develop a routine doing something three times a week. Make it a daily commitment and it will simply become integrated into your life by the end of a month. If you aren’t exercising every day, despite your best intentions, then find a walking buddy, hire a personal trainer, or build exercise into your daily commute to work. I stopped taking the subway to work when I lived in NYC when I realized I could walk to work in an hour. This was much more refreshing than cramming into a subway!
6. Do a good deed.
As Mother Teresa said, “The good you do today will often be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.” If you’ve been feeling down and sorry for yourself, you’ll get an instant boost by shifting your focus from your own problems to helping someone else, whether they are in dire straits or just need a helping hand. Studies reveal that we are happier if we spend money helping others rather than spending money on ourselves. So don’t be afraid to donate both your time and your money to a good cause. How do you find the charities that make the most difference in the world so you know every dollar is being used as efficiently as possible and not being wasted? Givewell.org has done the research for you!
7. Take care of your mental health.
Seek help if you’re struggling with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. This isn’t something you should tackle on your own. A trained mental health professional can help you resolve thorny issues from the past and pave the way for a happier, brighter future.
8. Laugh more.
Laughing is a great way to reduce stress, boost mood, and increase well-being. You may need to deliberately add more humor into your life by watching funny movies, going to see a regular stand-up comedy show, and hanging around with friends and family who make you laugh. Distance yourself from people who bring you down. One of my clients had a regular Bonko night and would laugh her head off. Maybe you can organize a game night with friends or family.
9. Try something new.
Take a class or try a new activity that you think will be fun and enjoyable. It can be anything from dancing, cooking, painting, or a new sport. Be open to new experiences. They can help you find new things to enjoy and laugh about.
10. Do work you love.
We spend so many hours of the day working, preparing for work, and thinking about our work that if we don’t enjoy our job, we won’t be maximizing our possible happiness. In fact, if you hate your job, this is one place to tackle sooner rather than later! The good news is that figuring out what sort of job aligns with your natural talents, abilities, and values is easier now than ever thanks to the state-of-the-art computerized career assessments.
“You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job, and not be paid for it.” – Oprah Winfrey
Continuing in the pursuit of happiness, below are nine counterintuitive ways to be happier:
If you’ve already mastered the essential steps in the pursuit of happiness, then you might want to ramp things up with some counterintuitive strategies to live a happier life.
1. Embrace your negative emotions.
Instead of trying to suppress or avoid negative emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, or resentment, try to accept and understand them. Negative emotions are a natural part of life. They can provide valuable insights and opportunities for growth. Burying your negative emotions may cause them to fester over time.They’ll keep popping up when least expected. Instead, confront your negative feelings head-on and write about them. Dive deeper into them in a journal or by talking with a wise friend, therapist, or life coach.
“The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.” – Oprah Winfrey
2. Delegate the stuff you hate doing.
I was scrubbing the toilet one day and realized that I was scowling. I realized that I either needed to find joy in the task or delegate this to someone who enjoyed cleaning more than I do. So, I hired a house cleaner and that freed up time to do more of what I love—coaching, speaking, and writing! What makes me pull out my hair in frustration? Doing my taxes. So I hired a bookkeeper and an accountant. Phew! What do you hate doing that you can delegate?
3. Practice mindfulness.
Instead of constantly worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, try to focus on the present moment. Mindfulness can help you appreciate the present and increase overall well-being. Mindfulness techniques like meditation and yoga can help you focus on the present moment and reduce stress and anxiety, which can lead to increased happiness. If you are new to meditation, try a simple daily 10-minute guided meditation with an app like Headspace or Calm.
A comprehensive guide for beginners and advanced practitioners is The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness by Yates, Immergut, and Graves.
4. Help someone else get happy.
Instead of focusing solely on your own happiness, help others be happier. Helping others can bring a sense of purpose and can improve your own well-being. Plus, helping others can be fun and fulfilling. Try volunteering for a cause you care about, a local charity, or an organization that arranges fun events.
5. Stop striving.
Be content with what you have. Instead of constantly striving for more, try to be content with what you have. Research has shown that people who are content with what they have tend to be happier than those who are always striving for more.
6. Embrace failure.
Instead of fearing failure and trying to avoid it, embrace it. Failure can be a valuable learning experience. It can help you grow and develop. “I don’t believe in failure. It is not a failure if you enjoyed the process.” – Oprah Winfrey
7. Book a real adventure.
Plan a trip of a lifetime or take a vacation to someplace new. Double the fun by going with a group of friends or another couple. Friends of mine just booked three weeks off to go to Thailand with their 18-year-old twins knowing that they might not have this opportunity again. My aunt went to Italy for two weeks with her book club, and their husbands, for an adventure they’ll never forget. The memories you create will last for many years to come!
8. Take a sabbatical or a mini-retirement.
Sometimes we get stuck in a boring rut and just need to do something radically different to refresh ourselves. Why not try something completely different or take time off to do something you’ve always wanted to do? You could take tango lessons in Argentina, study French cooking in Paris, take sailing lessons in Turkey, or volunteer in Africa. The options are endless. So let your dreams and imagination take you on a journey.
9. Laugh at yourself.
Learn to laugh at yourself and your own mistakes. Having a sense of humor and being able to laugh at yourself can make life a lot more fun. Happiness and laughter are closely linked, so surrounding yourself with things that make you laugh, and people who bring you joy and laughter, can help you improve your overall well-being and happiness.
“Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive.”—Elbert Hubbard
The pursuit of happiness is a journey. It may take time to find what works for you. Although many of these tips provide an immediate happiness boost, it takes years to develop deep and lasting friendships. So get started today to ensure a happier, more fulfilling life. Try joining a book club, having friends over for a potluck supper, volunteering in the community, or anything that enables you to increase and build on your relationships. Of course, the point is to enjoy the process and have fun and experiment as you explore what makes you happy. Take note of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom and do something to make yourself feel happier today because:
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”—Dalai Lama