This article was last updated on November 1, 2014
“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” ~Unknown
Even though I couldn’t possibly care less about oil-based raincoats, I listened to him talk for about fifteen minutes one rainy morning last week.
This little guy, with his colorful button-down shirt and funny-looking hat makes my day most mornings. He works at the 7-11 where I get my coffee. And he always seems happy.
At first I thought he was just putting on a good face, making the best of a tough situation. After all, he couldn’t possibly enjoy working at a convenience store, right?
Then I realized I was missing the biggest part of his appeal: he does enjoy his job, and that’s why he seems so happy—because he is.
Man, that’s awesome. I aim to be like him.
My life doesn’t always look exactly like I want it to. I spend many days writing alone in my living room when I’d rather work from a beachside office space I share with friends. I drive a beat-up old Toyota when I’d far prefer something that doesn’t have roll-up windows or a cassette player.
But the world doesn’t change all that much if I have more money, a different space, a better job, or a nicer car. The wrapping paper is different, but the gift inside stays the same.
The way I feel about myself, how much I open myself to new people and experiences, how often I choose to smile simply because it feels good—none of these things depend on my life situation. Colorful shirt guy knows that. I suspect he knows these things, too:
1. Enjoying the present moment is a habit that takes practice.
If you always look toward tomorrow for happiness, odds are you will do the same when you attain what you’ve been dreaming of. As strange it sounds, the ability to appreciate what’s in front of you has nothing to do with what you actually have. It’s more about how you measure the good things in your life at any given time.
Practice wanting what you have and it will feel even sweeter when you eventually have what you want. Look around—what’s in front of you that can enjoy?
2. Finding reasons to be happy now can benefit your future.
Dr. Dacher Keltner of the University of California claims she can predict a person’s future by judging the strength of their smile. Researchers examined yearbook photos of 111 female students taken between 1958 and 1960.
Subsequent tests revealed that the women who expressed more positive emotion in those photos became more mentally focused, had more successful marriages, and enjoyed a greater sense of well-being.
From the article:
“While positive emotion tends to broaden thought, negative emotion tends to narrow it and hold back development….The findings of Dr Keltner and his colleagues, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, are among the first to show that differences in the extent to which people express emotion may be stable throughout their lives and dictate personal and social success.”
3. Tuning into joy can improve your health, something that affords you many possibilities in life.
Something that most people take for granted until it’s compromised.
Christopher Peterson, Ph.D of the University of Michigan, who has studied optimism’s link to health for over twenty years, shows optimistic people have a stronger immune system than their negative counterparts. This may be due to their tendency to take better care of themselves.
Choose to be happy now and you’ll have more days of good health to enjoy.
4. Consistent, long-term happiness depends on your ability to notice and appreciate the details; you can hone that skill right now.
Once you get everything you want, you will still be subject to life’s highs and lows. If you haven’t learned to enjoy the little things, your well-being will parallel your life’s circumstances. Every time something goes wrong, you’ll feel deeply unhappy (as opposed to disappointed, but determined to make the best of things).
Think about the things that fill you with the most joy—spending time with your pets, listening to the rain, and running on the beach, for example. Focus on those things right now, and let them brighten your day. That way, no matter what changes, you’ll have a variety of simple pleasures to help you through.
5. Every day is a new opportunity to be better than yesterday; that pursuit can increase your self-esteem and, accordingly, your happiness.
I used to be obsessed with being perfect. If I wasn’t the best at something, I couldn’t sleep at night. Becoming great never felt as good as I imagined it would because there was always room to be better. I was constantly dissatisfied and disappointed in myself.
I now look at the things I do as opportunities to get better from one day to the next. It’s more satisfying to set and meet an attainable goal, like focusing better and writing an extra article tomorrow, than it is to obsess about perfection, stressing because I’m not a world-famous author.
By focusing on small improvements and mini-goals, you’ll naturally move yourself toward your larger dreams. And you’ll respect the way you’re doing things.
6. You can be who you want to be right now, no matter what your situation looks like.
You may think life needs to change dramatically for you to be the person you want to be. That you can’t be giving unless you make more money. Or you can’t be adventurous until you sell your house. The truth is, you can be those things at any point in time.
So you don’t have money to share. Be generous with your compassion, and listen when your friends have problems. So your house hasn’t sold, pinning you in one place. Create adventure in your day by trying new things and introducing yourself to new people.
You never know when your nows will run out, so ask yourself, “How can I be that person I want to be in this moment?”
7. Finding joy in the present moment, no matter how inadequate it may seem, makes a difference in other people’s lives.
Though we all have different lists of dreams and goals, for most of us this is at the forefront: the possibility of living a meaningful life that affects other people for the better.
Happiness is a moment-to-moment choice, one that many have a hard time making. Other people willnotice if you make that choice. And you will motivate them to do the same. As the research above indicates, this motivation has a substantial impact on their health and future happiness.
I know this isn’t your usual reasons-to-be-happy post. It didn’t start or end with “count your blessings” and I didn’t delve into your relationships or good fortune. There’s a very good reason for that.
I don’t think happiness is so much about what you have. What you have changes; your “blessings” evolve. Happiness is about how you interpret what’s in front of you. How proud you are of the way you live your life. How willing you are to enjoy simple pleasures, even if things aren’t perfect.
Though I have’t always done this well, today I choose to focus on the good—both in the world and myself—to feel happy right now. How will you tune into happiness today?