“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything that it is.”
— Many Hale
Even though I practice self-reflection daily, I focus even more on it at two times of the year: Around December when the new year is approaching and during my birthday month, May.
For the past few years, I spent many hours asking myself who I am, who I want to be, and what I want my life to look like.
This year, I’m turning 23, and compared to the previous years of my life, I feel quite clear about what I want my future life to look like. And in fact, with everything that I’m doing day in and day out, I’m pursuing one single goal: Being happy.
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Even though we set smart goals and convince ourselves to find a meaningful purpose for our lives and businesses, I believe what we all ultimately seek is happiness and a joyful life.
Now, there are tons of things we can do to be happier. And we all have a different definition of being happy.
Yet, in this article, I won’t tell you to meditate, keep a gratitude journal, or make more time for your hobbies. Instead, I will share five extremely simple yet powerful meta-habits all joyful people have in common, no matter what precisely they are aiming to achieve.
From building your own business, making it to the top of a Fortune 500 company, to owning your own farm, these principles work for everyone and at any time of their life.
They prioritize spending time with their loved ones
Did you know lonely people usually die at a younger age than those who are surrounded by a loving community?
Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s the scientific truth.
We were not created to be lone wolves. We need other humans to unfold our full potential and enjoy life to the fullest. Yet, too often, we find ourselves being so busy that we neglect to spend time with those who truly matter.
We postpone family dinners, don’t catch up with our high school besties in years, and end up wondering why we feel so lonely on a Friday night when our endless to-do list suddenly doesn’t matter.
In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, Bronnie Ware, a former palliative worker, summarizes the most common regrets of those who were close to death. For several years, she spent the majority of her life working with people who were in their last days, and after some time, she realized all these people have very similar regrets when looking back at their lives. And one of the five regrets named by many is the following:
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
At the end of our lives, it’s not the paycheck, the size of our house, or the number of email subscribers we care about. It’s all about human connections and love.
More precisely, it’s about how we spend our days and if we take enough time to be around those we love and who appreciate us just the way we are.
One of the most common misbeliefs humans have is that our loved ones will be around forever. We keep delaying quality time with our friends and families to fit in one more meeting or to get one more task done, thinking they will wait for us forever. But wouldn’t it make more sense to prioritize precious moments over anything else?
In the end, what’s the point in owning a fantastic, massive apartment if you can’t throw parties with people whom you love from the bottom of your heart?
For millions of people across the globe, the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, who dedicated the majority of his life to his basketball career, was a significant eye-opener. For decades, he worked on his career to become a living legend but had to neglect his friends and family in order to be better than anyone else. And one day, he left home together with his youngest daughter, and they never came back due to a helicopter crash nobody could’ve expected.
How to improve:
Be aware that spending quality time with your loved ones is always more precious than answering a few more emails or staying a bit longer at work.
You’ll never know how much time you’ll be able to spend with someone, so instead of delaying the fun time for work, do the opposite. Prioritize the things that make your soul sing and your heart dance.
Most of us are so busy fighting for our dreams that we too often forget what really matters, namely the people we are surrounded by and the precious experiences we make together.
That’s why I actively schedule quality time on my calendar. I make sure I spend at least a few days per month doing something fun with my parents and siblings, no matter how busy I am.
It might sound weird, but sometimes you just have to schedule fun-time to make it happen. Don’t wait for the right time to have a good time, free your calendar, and enjoy life to the fullest.
They nourish their bodies as if it’s the only one they have
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”
— Jim Rohn
The second commonality I see in many happy people is their level of fitness.
Those who are full of joy and energy are healthy, fit people. They take care of themselves by investing in their physical and mental wellbeing regularly and, more importantly: They do so before feeling sick or uncomfortable.
Even though our nutrition is the foundation of our lives, we often behave as if it’s just a must-have. The majority of the world’s population takes more care of which fuel they put in their cars than asking themselves what they put in their bodies.
Consuming junk food that harms your health leads to lower energy levels and a decline in the quality of your life. And even though that’s what we all want to avoid, we ignore this part of our lives too often.
How to improve:
Contrary to common beliefs, healthily nourishing our bodies doesn’t need to be complicated, costly, or time-intensive.
In fact, it can be quicker, simpler, and even cheaper than going for instant meals or junk food. And the crucial part is that your health and fitness affects all other areas of your life.
You can’t perform effectively if you feel ill or lack energy, neither can you have strong, nourishing relationships if you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin.
The reality is there’s no single area of life that is not affected by your health. Consequently, winning in this part of your life comes with many wins in other categories, such as your emotional, social, or financial life.
And the simple reality that most people don’t understand is that there are only two simple rules for being healthier: Eating well and exercising. That’s all it needs to nourish your body and increase your energy level.
- Be aware that the primary purpose of food is fueling your body: Contrary to common belief, the purpose of food is not its taste, it’s all about giving your body what it needs to perform on a high level.
- Eat the rainbow: Natural food is full of colors, and the more different veggies and fruits you combine for a meal, the better.
- Eat mindfully: Don’t eat out of boredom. Instead, create eating habits and patterns that help you to eat only when your body needs energy.
- Don’t shop without preparation: If you know what to buy, you’ll go for healthier options and avoid emotional buying. Don’t go shopping without your shopping list, instead, create meal plans for your week and buy all the ingredients you need at once. By doing so, you’ll save money and extra calories that often come through unhealthy snacks.
- Make sure to drink enough water: Hydration plays a huge role in our energy levels, so make sure to drink your favorite infused waters and sugar-free teas and coffees in large amounts.
They move their bodies each and every day
“Moving your body is a form of self-care. It’s not selfish, it’s essential.”
— Natalie Garay
Happy people are physically active people.
Regular exercise helps to reduce stress, increase our level of energy, and even improve our productivity and focus. Most people are aware of the effects exercise has on the body, such as losing weight or building muscles, but do you know that it also highly improves your mood and mental state?
One of the reasons why exercising improves our happiness is because of the endorphins that are being released in our bodies. These endorphins trigger a positive feeling in our bodies and minds so that we feel good after moving physically, even if we didn’t feel like going for a run before.
According to New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds, the first 20 minutes of exercising are the most important for our levels of happiness but also for health benefits:
“The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.”
Other than that, exercise allows you to get rid of all the thoughts bustling around your head and to get a clear mind. Many people even report that exercising has a meditative effect on their minds.
It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s most prominent and successful founders, leaders, and CEOs are in great shape and exercise close to every day.
Most people neglect their health and fitness telling themselves they don’t have enough time for exercising or eating healthier. Yet, sooner or later, this approach fires back, and they face severe health problems. At the latest, when you face diseases and pain, you’ll have to invest time and money in staying healthy anyway, so why not do it before facing difficulties?
I never met a person who was not in good shape and wasn’t complaining about it. We all want to feel and look healthy and fit, yet, most people fail to invest enough time in their physical wellbeing.
How to improve:
Fitting exercise and movement into your schedule is not as hard as you might think. In fact, we all have more time than we believe.
What about cutting off half an hour of watching tv or scrolling through Instagram stories and doing a quick home workout instead?
The question is not if you have time, but if you want to make time.
We’re all busy. And you bet people like Marc Zuckerberg and Oprah who exercise almost every day are busy too, but once your health is a priority, fitting some physical activity in your daily schedule suddenly becomes possible.
- Prepare everything you need before the day starts: Put your exercise clothes somewhere you see them during the morning. By preparing everything in the evening, you reduce the resistance, and once you put your gym clothes on, it’s much easier to get the physical activity done.
- Keep track of your exercise habit: For many people, including myself, tracking their progress can lead to greater levels of motivation in sticking with a routine. You can either print a basic habit tracker or download a tracking app that will even remind you of your daily exercise.
- Start really small: The biggest challenge people face when building an exercising habit is their willpower. It just seems really hard to exercise for an hour. Thus, make sure to start incredibly small. For example, you could go on a 10-minute run or do an 8-minute abs workout. Every exercise is better than no movement, and each day, sticking to your habit and increasing the intensity of your workout will become easier.
They make sure to get enough rest
“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
— Eleanor Brown
So many people these days are caught up in a hustle mentality, thinking they’d be more productive and achieve more results if they cut off on sleep and work more hours.
Yet, the reality is the contrary: If you lack a well rest and a good night’s sleep, your productivity will decline, and you’ll need more time to complete your tasks. So it doesn’t make any sense to neglect your body as this will always come with a decline in mental strength.
According to research, our risk for depression increases, and we’re much more likely to experience high levels of stress if we don’t get enough sleep.
And as if that’s not enough, sleep deprivation is also linked to weight gain, an increased risk for stroke and diabetes, and memory loss.
A well-rested brain, on the contrary, helps us to better process feelings and produce healthy, balanced responses during our conversations. Additionally, deep sleep and a well rest equal a healthy brain structure and well functioning of our cognitive skills.
A good rest makes it easier to handle difficulties during work and deal with co-workers and clients, plus it enables you to be more patient and communicative with your partner or spouse.
How to improve:
Instead of reducing the hours of sleep you get, make sure to increase the quality of your sleep and take some time off to fuel up your energy regularly. The better you feel, the more productive output you’ll be able to deliver.
- Make sure to get enough sleep: 65% of adults who sleep more than 7 hours report excellent mental health, and only 27% of adults who get 8 hours of sleep report being overwhelmed.
- Reduce bright, blue light exposure in the evening: Blue light is emitted through our screens and harms the production of our sleep hormone. Thus, avoiding screens or at least using a blue light blocking app or glasses can significantly improve the quality of your rest and how quickly you fall asleep.
- Sleep and wake at consistent times: This helps your body to get a well rest and will also make your life much easier as you’ll have fewer decisions to make by sticking to regular sleep routines.
- Optimize your bedroom environment: Keep your bedroom rather cool than too hot. We usually sleep better in cooler rooms of around 70°F (20°C) as increased body temperature is found to decrease the quality of our sleep. Additionally, reduce light and noise to a minimum: For example, get yourself a sleep mask and some earplugs.
- Practice a relaxing evening routine: The quality of your sleep will increase if you calm down before going to bed. Instead of checking social media and your emails in bed, read a good book, listen to some music, meditate or do anything else that helps you to wind down and relax.
They let go of their ego and focus on the good
“There’s no enemy outside your soul. The real enemies live inside us: Anger, Ego, Greed, and Hate.”
Last but certainly not least, ultimately happy people are those who learned how to let go of their ego and instead cultivated a growth mindset dedicated to seeing the good in tough situations.
In his book Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday shares how an egoistic approach in life can actually lead to misery and loneliness. He states that too many of us believe that the world revolves around us alone. However, this belief is precisely what limits our growth and leads to dissatisfaction.
“Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”
— Ryan Holiday
Being egoistic often takes away our rationality and lets us believe that everything is about ourselves. And the main problem in today’s society is that we often confuse terms such as confidence, self-worth, ego, and strength.
While being confident and taking well care of your self-worth are priceless, being egoistic actually means being arrogant. And guess what? Nobody likes arrogant people who think that the entire world revolves around them.
Egoistic people tend to think they’re always right and invincible. While this might seem like strength at first, it’s actually the opposite. Egoists don’t really care about how they reach a particular goal and whom they might hurt while working hard for their dreams. Instead, they blindly follow their path without considering others’ needs. This might lead to the achievement of goals but almost always comes with a downside, which often is misery.
Truly happy people are at odds with themselves and the world. They don’t need egoistic behavior and external appreciation because they are consent with themselves and focus on their inner world instead of proving their greatness to the outside.
How to improve:
Real happiness occurs when you can let go of others’ opinions and stop trying to prove yourself by being egoistic. Instead of fighting others, focus on your inner world, and find peace within yourself.
Once you are clear about who you are and the values that are important to you, you won’t feel the urge to prove yourself to the outer world anymore.
To fight your ego and focus on the good, you could try the following practices:
- Create a morning routine that reminds you of being humble and focusing on the good: The first moments of our day often influence the rest of it, and starting our mornings by concentrating on the good is a great way to raise our energy and stay positive throughout the whole day.
- Take some me-time to learn more about yourself: During our most egoistic moments, we often feel insecure and hurt. As a reaction, we fight back even when there’s nothing to fight about. Spending some time alone, relaxing, checking in with your desires and emotions is a great way to ensure you stay calm and confident instead of letting your ego take control over difficult situations.
- Ask more questions: Sometimes, our ego takes over because we feel offended even though our counterpart didn’t mean to hurt us. Most of these misconceptions can be eliminated by asking more questions, communicating more openly, and trying to understand others instead of assuming they’re doing or saying something out of spite.
Already more than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle stated the following:
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
And while the world and society have changed in significant ways, his words of wisdom are still of relevance for our lives.
We all aim for happiness. Some of us believe they’ll find joy in having more money, some think finding the perfect partner will solve their problems, and some others fight for academic titles or social media followers in order to be happier.
And in fact, it doesn’t really matter how you define happiness. At the end of the day, being happy and living a fulfilled life comes down to some simple rules we all know but fail to apply:
- Being around people whom we love and who love us back
- Taking care of our physical and mental health
- Letting go of our ego
We’ve all heard about these rules a dozen times, but instead of applying them, we read more books on happiness and success, hoping that soaking up more knowledge will change our lives. But it won’t.
You don’t need one more book on how to transform your life. Instead, be aware of these core principles and give your best to follow them daily.
And the good news is that these practices are not even difficult or time-intensive.
We eat anyway, so we can as well eat what serves our bodies.
We spend so much time scrolling through social media, we could as well stop the mindless media consumption and make more time for our loved ones, some physical movement, or some rest.
And we spend so much time worrying about what-ifs and of other people’s opinions that we could as well invest these precious times into self-reflection and fight our ego instead of trying to prove ourselves to the outer world.
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