This will certainly not be “the definitive guide to happiness”.
There are far too many people who have written on this subject to condense it all down into a few hundred words. What you will walk away with when you’re done reading this article are enough tools to start your own journey on the clichéd “pursuit of happiness” (no better cliché out there!)
I’ll write this post like I write most of my posts: phenomenal resources intertwined with eye-opening personal stories.
I’m going to show you the path, or rather several paths, to happiness but it will be up to you to choose one (or many) and follow it, or them, through on your own personal journey.
The Not-So Definitive Guide to Happiness in 17 steps
To me, being happy is a mindset.
It involves a variety of actions and habits. Among other things, it means knowing what your core values are and waking up every day ready and excited to carry out the tasks that bring you in line with those values. It means finding the good in all the people who you meet and interact with and acknowledging those positives every day. It means having balance in all areas of your life (balance as defined by your core values). It means growing, and learning, and finding fulfillment each and every day. It means being ready to make mistakes and learn from them while simultaneously being ready to fully and completely accept success into your life…
Step 1: Core Values
When I work with clients, I like to begin by having them decide their core values.
This exercise, created by Dr. John Demartini at the Demartini Institute was life changing for me. It allowed me to set up what my core values are, decide what is most important to me, and discover what gets me out of bed in the morning. I come back to this exercise every 3 months to reassess what matters most to me. It’s a simple exercise so if you apply nothing else from this article, apply this.
Step 2: Achieving
Many people find themselves achieving for the sake of achieving. They don’t really enjoy the journey to reach their goals but they do it anyways for the prestige, the recognition, or the self- satisfaction of having accomplished whatever they set out to do. This isn’t normally a bad thing but it is often used to fill a void in our lives that we have chosen not to acknowledge. I suffered from this state of chronic achieving for years and it is only recently, due in large part to completing the above mentioned exercise, that I have begun to take great care in choosing what goals I set for myself. I choose goals that will bring me great personal satisfaction (not only to have completed them but on the journey to completing them) and not choosing goals that I believe “society” wants from me or that I feel I have to do to be a “man”.
A turning point for me was a couple of years back during my time as a Canadian Special Forces Operator. I had contemplated putting my name in to apply for R.A.S.P (Ranger Assessment and Selection Program). This is a grueling several month course held by the U.S. Army Rangers. The course is punctuated by extreme physical exertion, ongoing sleep deprivation, exposure to the elements, and the constant scrutiny of the Ranger Cadre.
Is it a worthwhile endeavor? Certainly.
But at that point in my life, the only reason I wanted to do it was so that I could claim the badge at the end. I would have spent months doing a job that would take me no closer to any of my core values, all so I could proudly say that I had completed the course. Big deal. I have a great amount of respect for anyone that has completed this course, but for me, at that time, it did not fall in line with my core values and thus was not something I decided to focus my time on. Not an easy decision, but I’m happy that I made it. There are many roads to travel down in this life, and any time you say yes to one, you are by default saying no to many others.
Step 3: I’ll be Happy When…
Ever heard this? Have you said it yourself?
Well then put down those binoculars my friend and be happy now! Avoid envying your future self and obsessing about the mistakes of your past. There is only one time in your life that you can be happy, and that is in the exact day, hour, and second of the present moment. There is no past you, and there is no future you. There is only you now. Sure, you can set realistic, timely, and precise goals for yourself. I won’t discourage you from that. But know that, especially if you are a high achievers, as soon as you get over that hill in front of you, you will discover a bigger, better hill in the near distance. Be happy with what you have and enjoy your journey.
Step 4: There's an App for that
There is indeed an app for that. You knew this was coming. While I don’t think you ‘need’ these, I always recommend leveraging technology when possible. If you find this strategy only adds more noise to your day-to-day, then ditch it. To each their own. Here are a couple of apps which I enjoy, check ‘em out when you get a chance:
Take a Break: This app allows you to choose a 7 minute or 13 minute (I don’t know why they chose those times, but I like them!) period of ocean, rain, stream, or music background noise while a soothing voice guides you to a state of relaxation. Find a quiet place, pop some ear plugs in, and recharge your batteries.
Daily Quotes: There’s a reason quotes produce the highest engagement on social media. We are innately drawn to inspirational or poignant messages that give us a sense of purpose, motivation, or realization. This app sends one new quote a day. I like to take a moment each day to read the quote and contemplate on its meaning for a few moments. It brings me an alternative view to things and allows me to engage my creative brain for a moment every morning.
Step 5: Meditate
When people imagine themselves meditating, they often picture themselves draped in robes, sitting cross-legged in an ancient temple, and humming melodically to a giant, chiming gong. If that’s your cup of tea I’m not going to knock it but I think there’s a more practical version of meditation that’s a little more manageable to carry out. Personally I like to lay back on my couch or outdoors somewhere and simply focus on my breathing while clearing my brain of any thoughts. I focus on nothingness and take deep, full breaths.
I’m always cautious to recommend people to plan something else into their day. Based on your personality you can either set aside a few minutes each day or just meditate as the urge arises (although it’s usually best to make this a regular habit to gain the full benefits of meditation). My favorite part of meditation is the breathing. I have a bad habit of not breathing as fully as I should throughout the day which is probably why I yawn and sigh so much! Which brings us to our next point…
Step 6: Learn to Belly Breathe
We know how to belly breath as infants, but whether due to poor posture, stress, or lack of awareness we forget to breathe through our belly as we get older and instead take fewer, shallow breaths through our chest. Belly breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing) draws air down by expanding the diaphragm. This action allows us to take in a deeper, more complete breath which in turn allows us to oxygenate our body and, more importantly, our brain so that we experience higher energy levels and increased mental acuity.
If you notice that you often sigh or yawn more than usual, it may be your body’s way of telling you that you’re not getting in enough oxygen. If so, take a few minutes each day to lay on your back with one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach and practice breathing in with your diaphragm first, until you can no longer draw in any air, and THEN breath in through your chest, and up into your throat. Do this slowly for a count of 4-5 seconds in, hold for 4-5, out for 4-5, and lastly hold out for 4-5 before beginning anew. A quick 5 minutes of this will recharge your batteries and have you ready to hit your next challenge with a fresh mind and body.
Step 7: 5 Things To Be Grateful For
Think your life sucks? Guess again. I have yet to meet someone who could not come up with 5 things to be grateful for. Every night before you go to sleep, take out a pen and paper and write down 5 things that you are grateful for. They can be as simple as “my socks don’t have any holes in them” or as exciting as “I landed my dream job today and I can’t wait to start!”
The key is picking 5 things that you are legitimately grateful for, writing them down, contemplating on it for a moment, and repeating this exercise every night. You will be surprised at the difference it will make in your mood and overall well-being. After a few months, take a moment to reflect on all the things that you’re grateful for. You will surprise yourself at how far you've come!
Step 8: 3 Things You Enjoy About Someone
This one can be difficult to do at first, while you try to remember their name, listen to what they’re saying, and carry on your conversation all the same time. So it’s best to wait until after your interaction is over. This is very similar to step 6. Simply choose 3 things that you genuinely enjoy about each person that you interact with, from your local barista, to your co-workers, to your husband or wife….although you should probably be able to come up with more than 3 for the latter or you might want to reassess that situation 😉
Too often, we as human beings get caught up in the gossiping and complaining of those around us. I’ll be the first to say I enjoy poking fun at other people’s oddities and quirks, but I try to do it in a fun and good-spirited way. As soon as we delve into bringing others around us down, we are not only wasting our own time but we are forgetting the principal that there is some good in everyone. You have GOT to believe that. This is not Hollywood, there is no good and evil. There is a whole hell of a lot of grey though. So find the good in everyone, it will make you a much happier person when you do.
Step 9: NEPA – a must ‘know' acronym
NEPA is one of the great tools that I learned about during my life coaching module with James Fitzgerald. It stands for:
- Noticing: Notice something about yourself, the way you think, the way you interact with others, the way you react to a situation, your environment around you and how it makes you feel. No judgment, just notice.
- Explaining: Explain what biases and filters cause you to be the way that you are. Are you okay with this? Are you not okay with this? Simply explain the why behind the what.
- Prescribing: If you’re not content with the things as they are, what step are you going to put in place to change your actions, thoughts, feelings, mood, etc.?
- Actioning: Put into place that which you have set out to do. Make it habitual. Set a time where you will look back and begin the cycle anew.
It is a cycle that can be applied regularly to any area of your life. Do not have judgment of the outcome. Use it simply to notice some things about yourself and the way you interact and deal with yourself, events, and those around you.
Step 10: Listen
Do you spend a lot of time talking, doing, and creating?
Try listening more. Listen to others, listen to your own internal dialogue, listen to the environment around you, and just be. There is so much satisfaction to be derived from simply listening; listening without any judgment or energy spent on your next thought.
Step 11: Be Grateful To Be Alive
If you were having trouble with Step 6, here’s a start. Be grateful for the amazing fact that you are alive. You are a fully conscious being able to experience this world for a very finite period. Take advantage of that and experience as much of it as you possibly can, while you can. This life isn't going to last forever.
Step 12: Begin With The End In Mind
Steven Covey popularized this concept in his book: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. You’ll have to get the book for his detailed and very skilful explanation but in its essence it means to visualize how you want to be remembered at the end of your life. How do you want your spouse to remember you, your parents, your children, your friends, your co-workers, etc.?
Write down all the people or groups of people who matter to you in your life and write a detailed paragraph about how you want each of them to remember you. Visualize them presiding over your casket. What do you want them to say about you?
Were you funny, generous, intense, caring, genuine, wealthy, athletic, laid-back? There are no right or wrong answers but once you know how you want each of these people to remember you, you can allow these thoughts to guide your day-to-day actions so that you become the man or woman you want to be.
Step 13: Change Over Time (a must watch TED talk)
If there is any part of you that doesn't think that you can become the person that you want to be, watch this TED talk:
In this short video, Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion”, where we somehow imagine that the person we are now is the person we'll be for the rest of time. Hint: that's not the case. You will NOT be the person you are today, in ten years… ESPECIALLY if you are an individual that applies a conscious effort in changing yourself and affecting the world around you, and not allowing the world around you to happen to you!
Step 14: Be Okay With Failure
I like to say that there is no such things as failure, only lessons learned. Be careful not to start letting your work ethic go because you’d rather learn something than succeed, but when you can frame your mistakes in a positive light of learning and personal growth it makes them a lot more bearable to deal with.
Step 15: Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Don’t let your fear of being fake or insincere keep you from making the changes needed to become the person that you want to be. Everyone has to start somewhere and when you try to apply changes in mindset or ingrained habits it can feel like you’re coming across as disingenuous. Don’t worry. Better to feel disingenuous for a moment than maintaining the things as they are indefinitely.
Step 16: Read! Read! Read!
I could give you a long list of books to read that would all benefit you in your ‘pursuit of happiness’ but instead I will give you just one: The Law of Success, by Napoleon Hill. This is by far, the best book I have ever read in my entire life. I 200% guarantee that if you apply the principles outlined in this book, your life will change for the better, forever! No joke. I know that’s a lot of pressure to put on one book but I am confident that it can live up to my promises here.
FYI, Napoleon Hill is essentially the godfather of self-help. In the 1920’s, he interviewed many of the most successful people of the early 20th Century, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie, in order to distill their secrets to success into 17 principles that anyone can apply to their life immediately. You will never read another book like it – that is a promise!
Step 17: Don’t Try and “Fix” Yourself!
“Nothing is ever broken. It will be serving a purpose and seeing that purpose is KEY. Those words are a red flag… “Better and improve yourself” because that implies that something is broken or not good enough and has to get better. Humans act in the most efficient and effective ways on a subconscious level to get what they need and want. So it's all just a strategy. You can evolve the strategy, but to use the word ‘improve’ implies a judgement.”
A very smart woman named Sharon Prete shared this last pearl of wisdom with me! Lots of truth in it and it’s a good mindset to hold onto as you learn and develop over time.
Will my strategies to be happy change over time? Probably. Will my view on what it means to be happy change over time? Likely. Like anything, we need to be willing to upgrade our thought process and adapt to new circumstances over time. You will continue to go through personal hardships both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our lives are finite, but if you can apply just a few of these tips to your life to make your time on this earth more enjoyable, then you've succeeded.
Hi, I'm Wes Kennedy, Founder of Elite Training Programs. I developed my passion for fitness during my 8 years in the Canadian Forces. I spent the last 5 years as a Special Forces Operator, which required me to develop a high level of physical fitness and mental toughness.
I believe that every person goes through various levels of growth throughout their lives, but they all follow the same general cycle. They ASPIRE to achieve something beyond that which they are capable of in that moment. They then GROW, learn, and develop themselves in pursuit of these goals. And by doing this repeatedly over time, they begin to EXCEL not only at these various skill sets, but at life as a whole.
My goal is to provide a system to coach and mentor people through this process as effectively as possible. As I train people for physical performance goals, I incorporate aspects of assessment, nutrition coaching, stress management and lifestyle practices, as well as individualized program design so that each athlete experiences much more than just great fitness results.
I specialize in ensuring Special Forces candidates arrive as prepared as possible on selection, but have worked with many other police, military, fire fighter, and CF athletes as well.
Keep the conversation going with me on Facebook, Twitter and online.