Many people are looking for the answer to the basic question: how to be happy?
We all want to enjoy life and avoid suffering, but there's more to it than just that. So here are my 10 secret keys to happiness:
#1: Make A Difference To Other People
No man is an island. We're all biologically wired to live in community, and to make a contribution to the greater good. Of course we're also wired for self-protection and to get our personal needs met, but millions of years of evolutionary development living in tribes means that we can't do this in isolation. Loneliness is one stark reminder of this that motivates us to reconnect with our fellow man.
If you make yourself the center of the universe, and your life solely about meeting your own needs, you create personal misery. At the other end of the spectrum, martyrdom will make you bitter and resentful. The primary key to happiness is to find ways to make a positive difference to other people in a way that energizes you without depleting you.
#2: Use Your Gifts, Talents and Passion
To be energized in the long haul while you're busy making a difference to other people, you need to be utilizing your unique gifts and talents in ways that you feel passionate about. If you don't know what your gifts and talents are, it's because you haven't developed them yet. Start exploring your creativity and developing your intuition in your work, hobbies, relationships and recreation activities.
Passion is important because life includes challenges that can only be overcome by persistence and perseverance. If you don't feel passionate about what you're doing on some level, you'll give up too easily when the going gets tough and end up feeling like you're just meandering aimlessly from one thing to the next. If you don't feel passionate about anything, it's time to start exploring a wider area of life so you can discover what you are passionate about.
#3: Let Go of Your Expectations
I was out fishing with my brother-in-law Malcolm recently, and he reminded me of this key to happiness. In a traditional hunter/gatherer society, Malcolm would be the medicine man and I'd be responsible for telling stories around the fire, or something like that. Needless to say, we didn't catch anything. For a while I felt depressed about this, and lamented how fishing was a little like desperately seeking a relationship with a woman: when you just can't seem to catch one, you really notice and it's frustrating as all hell.
Then Malcolm started extolling the virtues of our fishing trip which didn't involve actually catching fish: getting outdoors, feeling the wind and the waves, powering along in the boat, walking on the sand, joking with the other fishermen about how unsuccessful we were. And I was reminded of the need to let go of my expectations.
Most of the extraordinary times in my life have come along when I wasn't expecting them. The experiences I'd really love to repeat happened almost by chance and simply couldn't be duplicated no matter how hard I tried. Set goals and take action to create the life of your dreams, but then let go of your expectations of how things should go as you work towards it.
#4: Go With The Flow, Not Against It
The ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy is spot on: life is easier when we go with the flow, rather than against it. Continually resisting what happens to us in life is a recipe for misery. Don't waste time and energy fighting areas of life that aren't the way you want them to be. Instead, break them down into small manageable steps that have you working with the grain of life rather than against it.
Life tends to have a natural way of unfolding, but we've been trained out of noticing it by our hyperactive individualistic we-can-conquer-anything western society. Slow your life down and spend more time smelling the roses. Study the conditions in which they flourish and plant more seeds of happiness in your future life using what you discover. Learn to let go as your happiness grows.
#5: Realize That Life Is A Game
Stop taking life so damn seriously for goodness sake! Life is a game. Your existence is an absurd and miraculous quirk of cosmic fate. We don't even know why we're here; the people who think they do are kidding themselves. Others are lying to you about it. The truth is that your life has no meaning other than the one you give it. Learn to play life as a game with ease and grace. Adopt the intention of playing the game full out, while recognizing that it's just a game. Have fun with it. Look for joy even in the painful times, and learn to laugh at the absurdity of a life we habitually take way too seriously.
#6: Stop Pretending To Be "Perfect"
Drop the act that you use to try and trick other people into loving you. It's not fooling anyone, it's just pushing them away and preventing you from have real relationships with them. Relationships are the heart and soul of a worthwhile human existence, and perfectionism makes them untenable.
Stop trying to be someone you're not. Learn to accept your shadow side and begin exposing it more and more to other people. They'll relate to what you're going through because they have a shadow side too. Share your true self with other people. The irony of dropping all our efforts to project a perfect image to other people, is that we end up discovering that deep down we've been perfect all along.
#7: Practice Gratitude
Be grateful for all the good things in your life. Don't fall into the trap of believing the stories you tell yourself about all the problems that you have. That's just your brains way of problem-solving in an attempt to help you. Spend some time consciously focusing on the good things in your life, and expressing gratitude for them. If you don't feel grateful for anything, it's because you're out of practice at expressing it. Start saying "thank you!" and meaning it. Be grateful for even the tiniest little thing that makes your life easier. Work your way up to the really big stuff, and be grateful for everything in your life; even the really big challenges that expand you and force you to grow.
#8: Ditch Your Emotional Baggage
It's hard to be truly happy when you're still attached to emotional baggage from the past. That junk keeps coming up in the present as a way of reminding you to deal with it, so that you don't have to carry it into the future. Get yourself the emotional healing you need. The key to dealing with emotional baggage is to break it down in a safe environment and allow yourself to feel the emotions that you've been avoiding in manageable chunks that don't overwhelm you. Realize that you are an emotional being, and that freely flowing feelings are a part of an authentic life. It doesn't mean you have to always act on them, just that you should stop repressing them and start expressing them constructively and letting them go.
Emotional mastery is a massively important topic, so see Part 2 of Confident Man for more.
#9: Learn to Forgive and Say "Sorry"
Forgiveness is a much misunderstood concept. It's about freeing yourself from the emotional attachment to hurts inflicted on you by other people and by yourself. It's not about letting someone else off the hook; it's letting yourself off the hook. Learn to let go of your emotional attachments so you can forgive both other people and yourself. This is not something you can force or fake. Just adopt the intention of forgiveness, do whatever emotional healing work you need to let go of the attachment and it will happen almost automatically. Avoid intentions like "I'll never forgive them!", which just enslave you to your pain permanently and hurt you much more than the other person. Forgiving yourself becomes easier once you've learned to forgive others.
On the flip side, forgiveness is easier when the person who has hurt you apologizes. For other people who you've hurt, that person is you. Learn to say "Sorry" and to make amends for the pain you routinely cause other people. Don't beat yourself up about this; we can't help causing pain to others sometimes and often we're not even aware of it. Be the kind of person that other people find it easy to forgive by dropping your defensiveness and learning to apologize freely. Help other people let go of their resentment towards you while you let go yourself, and watch your relationships blossom.
#10: Build True Inner Confidence
Ultimately it's hard to feel really happy when we lack confidence in who we are, and what we stand for. If you're being buffeted by the winds of everything in life that happens to you, you'll have a hard time being happy when stormy weather approaches. The antidote to this is a strong sense of inner confidence in who you are. Everything else in life hinges on this: your emotional stability, your relationships, your success with women, in business and life generally.
The secret to building confidence is to take action that extends your comfort zone safely, on a regular basis. I can't stress highly enough how important taking action is in building confidence so you can experience true inner peace and happiness. The alternative is a life spent chasing your tail trying to please other people, who you probably don't even really care about. What particular action you take will depend on your personal circumstances and some actions will have a greater impact on your self-confidence than others. For the fastest, easiest and most effective course of confidence-building action I know for men, grab The Confident Man Program.