The Fundamentals of Happiness


Take a chance and really live!

I’ve been reading about happiness lately, and I’ve come across quite a lot of research, advice and pointers that are supposed to help us all get happy. So what’s holding us back? Why do happiness, satisfaction and contentment often seem out of reach? It occurred to me that for many of us, taking the advice that’s out there, and putting it into action, would require stepping out of our comfort zones; taking a chance. Here’s how:

Be an Active Participant in Life

Happy people get more out of life because they put more into it. They are not passive, but invest their energies, emotions, and being into their activities, relationships, work, play… into living. They have lives rich with variety and engagement. They don’t just watch the game, they play it. Their activities are productive, meaningful and purposeful (even when the purpose is to have fun). They are organized and they plan ahead, but their plans are flexible. They set goals and work towards them, but are also able to savor the moment and enjoy the journey. Happy people express themselves more openly, tackle problems head on, and actively pursue solutions to conflicts.

So what would hold people back from throwing themselves into life like this? If you think about it, there are a lot of risks that might make a person hesitate. Being fully immersed in living means you are going to experience the full range of emotions, including some that are painful. What if you put your all into something and you fail? Worse still (for some)… what if you succeed? What if you take a stand and later find out you were wrong? What if others don’t like your goals, opinions or ideas? Being an active participant in life means taking these chances, making deliberate decisions, and putting them into action. This takes effort, but working towards meaningful goals leads to a longer lasting happiness than the superficial indulgences and quick fixes we so often choose.

Connect with Others

According to research, social interaction is one of the most important sources of happiness, while social isolation is a primary cause of depression. Happy people tend to be members of clubs, groups and organizations; they smile more and they’re more likely to strike up conversations. It’s a simple formula: the more time spent socializing, the happier a person seems to be. Additionally, people are more likely to be happy if they balance taking care of themselves (independence) with asking for help and helping others (inter-dependence).

So what’s the risk in connecting with others? The most obvious is that some people might reject you, judge you, criticize you, or be downright mean and abusive. We tend to expect what we’ve experienced in the past, and that may have been painful. These are real risks, and you will get hurt sometimes. But you’re not going to be happy if you’re always worried about what other people think or how they will react. You’ve got to take the chance anyway, and be prepared for some bumps in the road! It is worth it to spend time, energy and effort to work on your relationships; whether you’re repairing old ones, maintaining current ones, or building new ones. If you keep at it, you will eventually find the people who like you for who you are. Consider it a happiness investment when you spend quality time with someone.

And remember, you’re not the only one taking a risk here. People who form lasting and close relationships tend to be kind, grateful, fair, considerate and courteous. So let your loved ones know that you appreciate them, even if doing so may cause you to feel vulnerable. Take a chance, reach out and connect!

Take an Honest Look at Yourself

Whoa! That’s a big one. Don’t know if I want to look there. But once again, research shows that happy people are able to acknowledge their shortcomings and inadequacies, as well as their strengths. This makes it possible for them to keep working on themselves, so that they can continue to learn, stretch and grow. They realize that we all have our faults, and that being aware of them is not the same as disliking yourself, putting yourself down, or loading yourself with guilt. Happy people spend time reflecting about their lives, and foster insights about their personality, motivations, needs and goals. As a result, they develop a clarity that helps them make better decisions. They understand themselves, which helps them accept themselves more than people who shy away from this sort of reflection.

“But what if I don’t like what I see?” you might ask. Well then do something about it!  (You’re the only one who can.)  Be an active participant in life, and steer it in a direction where you can feel good about what you are doing. Choose to do things that are worthwhile (or take note of what is meaningful in the things you already do), set realistic goals and work on them one step at a time, recognize your strengths and build on them, and develop skills and interests that you can feel proud of. Living according to your values, with integrity, is essential to happiness, whereas repeatedly doing things that cause remorse, shame or a heavy conscience tends to drag people down. After all, the foundation of a good life is to choose what is good. Virtue is something you can really feel good about.

Many people have been on guard their whole lives, trying not to see their own weaknesses or faults. Others have been holding back, trying not to see their strengths or potential. If you are one of these people, take a chance, and take an open, honest look at yourself. You just might like what you see once all the smoke screens are removed.

Stop Worrying

Happy people seem to know that not only is worry unpleasant, but that 90% of people’s worries never come true, and even if it might come true, worrying will not stop it from happening. Now don’t confuse worrying with planning. Worrying is useless fretting, stewing and obsessing, while planning and action may help prevent future problems. So don’t worry… do something. Similarly, happy people don’t worry about things not turning out perfect, because they have more realistic expectations and aspirations. That’s right! Contrary to common belief, research has found that having modest expectations leads to greatest happiness and life satisfaction. If you are a perfectionist, you will always be disappointed. You know there will be problems along the way, and you know that sometimes life will hurt… a lot. But when you accept this as normal, it is more manageable. And when life exceeds your expectations, that’s all the better.

Stop and Smell the Roses

So what are you going to do with all that extra time you used to spend worrying? Why not notice and be grateful for the pleasant things in life, the silver linings, the things you have rather than the things you don’t have… the positive side of events, people, and yourself? Practice replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, look on the bright side, and appreciate the simple pleasures.

“But it’s scary letting your guard down like this!” Okay, I’m not saying you have to be a bliss-ninny. You should have your eyes open, in order to prevent, prepare for, and deal with life’s challenges. But obsessing on life’s challenges causes people to miss out on all the roses life has to offer along the way.

As you can see, in order to be happy, you’ve got to take a chance! After all, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” But I hope that doesn’t stop you from enjoying a taste.

Here is a music video of Dave Matthews Band singing about the need to take risks in life in “You Might Die Trying.”


  1. […] life fully, despite life’s risks.  In this sense, it matches my post on the fundamentals of happiness. Categories : Other Good […]

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