A long time ago I thought I needed to be in a relationship to be happy. I thought that getting married and having a family was the only way.
I was wrong.
After a number of failed relationships, I made the decision to embark on my “Single for a Year” journey in 2020 (of all years…). Now that I’m down to the last three weeks of my journey, I look back on what I’ve learned over the last year, and writing this blog on the most important lesson: focusing on happiness.
I learned how to turn to myself for happiness, specifically in my hobbies, interests, and work, and it turns out, I couldn’t be happier. Here’s what I have learned and how to build your own happiness plan.
What is Happiness?
The truth is most people have a distorted view of what happiness actually is. Maybe it’s having a lot of money, a family, a partner, six cars, their own island…
Other people will say “I want to be happy”, but aren’t willing to actually do anything about it. Like losing weight. It’s easy to say, “I want to lose 20 pounds”. But if you don’t commit to eating better or exercising, then you aren’t going to succeed. Rather than blow it off as yet another failure, take the time to think about what you need to set yourself up for success. And if you want it bad enough, you’ll figure out a way.
Happiness is a mindset. If you aren’t willing to change your mindset, or do your part to make changes in your life, then you will be stuck on the unhappy track for the rest of your life. Sorry.
My advice? Take some time to think about what happiness means to you—and by that I mean literally the word “happiness”. Break out the Thesaurus and look up different words that mean happiness. Once you’ve jotted down a few, think of what allows you to experience those emotions or descriptors.
The Two Types of Happiness
There are two types of happiness: temporary and permanent.
Experiencing happiness in a “temporary” state is also known as “sensory” happiness. This essentially refers to moments of happiness or satisfaction we get from eating our favorite foods, watching a good movie or reading a good book, or hanging out with family or friends.
However, after we digest our food, the movie or book ends, and our friends go home, the guilt, grief, sadness or loneliness return.
“Permanent” happiness, as you might have guessed is feeling overall content or joy, regardless of the situation. Permanent happiness allows you to do the following:
- remaining positive
- recovering from a negative state
- desiring to help others and be generous
One of my primary principles is happiness, and I define it as striving for greatness and being grateful for what you have.
The Two Types of People
Through my experience, I read The Happiness Plan by Carmel McConnell (great book, by the way!) It’s very interactive with many exercises and activities helping you to think—and rethink—your own life. It really helps you look deep within yourself and pull out what truly makes you happy.
Psychologists like to classify and put labels on different personality types. For example, the Myers-Briggs indicates that there are 16 different personality types. The DISC assessment indicates there are four personality types that impact the workplace. Those are just two examples, of course, and they aren’t incorrect. Regardless of what you score on a personality test, there are really only two different types of people: optimists and pessimists.
Optimists are obviously the people who are super positive about life, regardless of the situation. They are always open to new opportunities, and say “yes” more than they say “no”.
Pessimists are more cautious. They live in their own misery, turn down opportunities—both personal and professional—and are content with living in a state of unhappiness.
In The Happiness Plan, the author details an interesting case study involving a project with an equal number of optimists and pessimists. The goal of the project was for the two groups to create a film (but the real, underlying goal was to see which group would create the best film, based on their natural views).
The optimist group took a very positive and casual approach to the project, which often lead them to overlooking and addressing key details and risks in the project. When things went wrong at different phases of the project, they laughed together and shrugged them off as “normal parts of the project”.
On the other hand, the pessimists took a very cautious approach, addressing the project at various angles, considering all risks and details, and thinking about all the things that could go wrong.
So, which group had the best project outcome? Believe it or not, both groups organized a unique, creative, and successful project, but for different reasons.
How to Build a Happiness Plan
To build your own happiness plan, you have to get in touch with several sources of “power”. Each one will look a little different depending on who you are, but here they are…
Power #1: Be True to Your Core
The first step is to learn about who you are. And I mean really get down to your core. Every individual is unique in his or her own way (personality type, learning habits, working style, intelligence level, belief systems, experiences, and so on) all of which go into shaping who you are, what you are, and how you approach life.
Referring back to the case study described in The Happiness Plan, I pondered on what I had read for a while, and then asked myself some questions related to how I approach different areas of my life, specifically relationships and my personal life and professional projects.
Whenever I ask myself the question: Why am I better at business relationships than personal? I finally found the answer…
I discovered that I’m an “anti” or a pessimist when it comes to personal relationships or activities. I have a difficult time trusting people and happiness in this area is very “guarded” for me.
On the other hand, I am a “pro” or optimist in all things professional. I say “yes” to nearly every client, every new project, and every new learning opportunity. Even though saying “yes” often leads me to feeling overwhelmed and stressed about my workload, I still love every second of it.
So what does all this come down to? Mindset.
Power #2: Presence
The present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.– Frank Lloyd Wright
Much like mindset, presence is a CHOICE.
Remember, life only happens and exists in the present. So, if you get into the habit of living in the present with a sense of gratitude, then you will experience a sense of peace.
For example, if you are someone who is often anxious or worries about the next meeting, the next phone call, the presentation you have to deliver next month, the family get-together with that obnoxious aunt or uncle, paying that heating bill—fill in the blank—rather, try shifting your mindset to focus on what you enjoy about those things.
Focus on the people you love working with, the research and creativity you can put into your presentation, how you have the intelligence to deliver an awesome presentation; how you will visit your cousins whom you haven’t seen in awhile; and no matter how much money you make or spend, bills will always be there, but you have a warm home for you and your family.
Be present while interacting with others. Slow down, listen, and absorb what you’re learning and experiencing. If you learn how to do this, you will find those moments much more meaningful.
Of course, all those are just examples, but you get the idea. Even if you figure out how to live more in the present, thinking more in the present is entirely different. Our minds always seem to be focused on some point in the future. It’s about shifting that mindset to where the present captures your total alertness. In that state, all your attention is in the HERE and NOW—not daydreaming, thinking, remembering, anticipating. There is no tension in it, no fear, just alert presence. Something could happen at any moment, and if you are not absolutely awake, absolutely still, you will miss it.
Celebrate today while it is still today.
I won’t lie, it’s VERY hard to do and it will take practice and developing habits, but it’s possible.
Remember, the basis of life is freedom, and regardless of what your unique purpose is in life, your goal should be to find peace and joy, in whatever you do.
Power #3: Self-encouragement
Self-encouragement rather than self-criticism is the core of any happiness plan. Enough said.
Power #4: Develop Personal Happiness Habits
This list will look different for each person, but here are some examples to get you started:
- Use Mindful Focus – The most important thing is to get immersed in your presentation, and not to get caught up in thoughts, worries, or emotions about how you are doing. If you notice your mind running rampant, return to the present moment.
- Let Go Negative Beliefs – As you likely know, relationships have the power to drag us down or lift us up. Think about the people in your life. Who lifts you up? Who drags you down? Spend more time with the people who are motivating and encouraging, and avoid those who thrive off negativity.
- DON’T Strive to Meet Expectations – This is an important one: NO, living for yourself is not selfish. Yes, everyone has opinions and expectations of what is best for you, and everyone is judgmental. Don’t give into them. Focus on doing you, because only you know what your happiness plan can and should look like.
- Ditch the Negative Self Talk – Your mind can run out of control with negative self talk unless you take control and feed your mind with encouraging thoughts instead. Those thoughts will then feed positive emotions, which in turn boost your focus.
- Harvest Positive Habits. Positive self-awareness is cultivated through positive habits. The more positivity you fit into your life, and the more you prioritize it, the happier you will be. It’s that simple.
- Focus on the Little Things in Life. I’m a HUGE believer in this. Find the little things that make you happy. Maybe it’s a warm cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Watching your roses bloom in the Spring. Snuggling up in front of your favorite, dumb movie during a snowstorm. Picking out a new pair of shoes. Putting on a warm pair of socks. You get the point.
- Schedule Time for Those Little Things. Once you’ve honed in on those little things that you might be embarrassed to admit that you love (don’t be!), the next time is schedule time for them. If it helps you, literally schedule them on your calendar as “read your favorite book”, “make homemade pizza and ice cream”, “go for a walk”, and so on.
So think of something that makes you happy and schedule time to do it. Invest in your mental health, your YOU time, and your future.
- Think Back to a Year Ago… I love playing this game. Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, discouraged, or defeated, I try to remove myself from those emotions and think back to where I was a year ago.
For example, a year ago right now was the beginning of the pandemic, I was in a romantic relationship that wasn’t right for me, I was living in a town and state I hated, I was sick with kidney disease, and my business was earning half the gross revenue we are today.
If I can’t remember or recall a specific event, sometimes I go through old emails, blog posts, or social posts to see what I was dealing with at the time or what was on my mind. Nine times out of 10, I will recall an event, read an email or social post and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I was dealing with that, or feeling that way, and got myself through it.”
Power #5: Purpose
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs—or lack thereof—every individual has a purpose. And if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll find it. Every person has a unique purpose, and every journey to get looks a little different. Some people are lucky enough to find it early in adult lives, others spend most of their lives looking for it…
Depending on where you are in your own journey, here are some questions to ask to either help you find your purpose, or further define it:
- What do you have to give?
- What would your book be about?
- What is your value?
If you take anything away from this blog, make sure it’s this: The biggest mistake you can make is denying your true self worth by listening to others’ thoughts, opinions, expectations, and judgments. Adapting or suppressing yourself to align yourself with others’ beliefs or to make them happy will NEVER work. So, if this is you, stop it right now.
What Does it Take to Be Happy?
If you’re at all like me, then you tend to overthink everything. And if you’re starting to overthink everything you just read in this blog, here’s a quick summary that you don’t need to overthink at all: Simply focus, do you, and what makes you happy, and the universe will respond.
Finishing the Journey
Do you remember when I wrote my first “Single for a Year” blog in May 2020? I was in such a rough place… Sure, I was grateful for what I had—my home, food in my fridge, and a thriving business.
However, after taking the last 10 months to heal, grow, and re-discover myself, I was able to achieve those four happiness points mentioned above. In fact, now I don’t even want a relationship because my life of independence, focus, fulfillment, success, self-esteem, and spirituality have brought me more joy and happiness than any relationship I’ve ever been in.
So, does this mean that I will never be in a relationship again? No. But when the right person comes along, and I feel the time is right to begin a relationship, I will be a much stronger and confident person.