I'm often asked about the secret to living a happy life. As a life coach and author of two best-selling books on happiness, my quick response is to follow your heart.

But the truth is that many of us don't know what the heart wants. We spend years listening to others tell us what's best for us, only to find that when we get the corner office, the hefty bonus check, the perfect body or dream home, we still feel as if something is missing.

On my own journey to happiness, I spent years cycling in an out of depression. At one point, I was addicted to drugs and suffering from eating disorders. I hit rock bottom, and in my complete surrender, I could sense a shift. My inner voice said, "Follow your heart." So I picked myself up off the cold bathroom floor and dedicated myself to my dreams.

Five years later, I'm living my ideal life as one of the happiest people I know. I won't lie; finding your purpose and passion isn't an overnight thing. But dedicating yourself to happiness is a choice, and when you commit to it, your entire life will transform.

I'm focused on making this New Year my happiest year yet, and you can too. It requires a subtle attitude shift and dedication to joy. Instead of cheating on your future by rehashing the past, focus on what's going well. Many of us are so busy trying to reach a goal, or get to some destination, that we forget to pause and enjoy the moments of excitement and awe.

ADVERTISEMENT

For me, I knew I was happy when ...

1. I let go of expectations.

Life, relationships and your career are all full of ebbs and flows. The most brilliant moment of my life was the day I realized I could be and do anything I wanted. It's never too late to start again. I went through a masters program for advertising, and after a decade in the industry realized how unhappy I was.

So I walked away without regret. It didn't matter that I had student loan debt. It didn't matter that I didn't know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that what I was doing wasn't working. So I let go of expectations and decided to change course.

That led me to my dream job: an author, life coach and travel writer. I released my expectations on how my life was supposed to go, which opened up new possibilities to live a life far more fulfilling than what I originally planned.

2. I stopped focusing on how my life looked, and instead focused on how it felt.

For decades, I was obsessed with how I looked. "Will they like me? Do I fit in? Is this outfit OK?" I spent years trying to be someone I'm not, all in a desperate attempt to fit in and be accepted. I was vegan, vegetarian, dabbled in Paleo, juice cleansed, attended weeklong meditation retreats, met with spiritual gurus, hired my own life coach, worked with personal trainers, and even did 30 days in a row of hot yoga — all because I was obsessed with how I my life looked. After all, these are the things you are supposed to do to be healthy, happy and to look good.

But at the end of it all, I was still miserable. It wasn't until I stopped focusing on the outside goals and shifted to the inside that things changed for me. Today, I focus on how I feel, and that becomes my guidance system for true inner peace. I still do yoga, eat healthy and enjoy great meditation sessions, but I'm no longer putting pressure on them to save me. I know I'm enough as I am.

3. I became great friends with my parents.

My parents are no longer just my parents. I've crossed over into adulthood, where I'm sharing life triumphs and goals with them. Sure, they still give advice: what I should be eating, who I should be dating or where I should live. But all of their little comments that can cross over into jabs are meant with love.

Once I recognized my parents are just doing the best they can with what they know, I felt closer to them and accepted them as they are. At the end of it all, love matters most. Life gets a lot more fun when you can be friends with your folks.

4. I started doing what I love for a living.

When I first left advertising, I didn't know I wanted to be a writer. But in my free time, I started to travel and write, and I fell in love with the process. I discovered my ultimate career by exploring and trying new things. It wasn't easy to go from a secure, high-paying salary in advertising to working for minimum wage. But in the transition, I was able to carve out time for my writing, and eventually, after a tedious struggle, I felt fulfilled. I now make a fabulous living doing what I love.

If you don't start, you'll never get to the fulfilling part. Follow your heart and go for it. Your dream job is waiting for you.

5. I started investing in myself.

The day I hired my own life coach, everything changed. I learned new things and adopted new behaviors. I started to attend courses in areas of interest, tried new hobbies and explored my heart's true desires. We're always changing and growing. Investing in yourself — whether it's a life coach, a new book or an online course — can transform your life in powerful ways. Don't be afraid to invest in your dreams.

6. I stopped cheating on my future with my past.

The biggest shift for me came when I stopped looking at past mistakes as mistakes. Instead, I realized how much I'd learned and grown from each blunder. I forgave myself, and realized all is in perfect order.

If you want to make your own happiness list grab this Free Love Your Life to The Fullest Guide here.

Photo Credit: Stocksy