Everyone seems to be at least a little dissatisfied with one area or another of life. When you ask someone what they want most, they'll usually say happiness. And if they say something else, for instance, a good job, a spouse, children, money, they will explain that the reason they want it is that it will make them happy.
The problem with this never-ending quest for happiness is that it takes us in the wrong direction. We travel the world, go on exotic vacations, and spend time (and money) on retreats. But it’s never enough to sustain us. We might find some temporary thrill, a bit of a "high" from the novelty of it all, but then the feeling fades, and we’re back where we started.
There are currently more than 140,600 book titles in the category of "happiness" on Amazon. A quick Google search for "happiness course" yielded 3,900,000 results. We are clearly looking for answers, for guidance, at every turn. So, what's holding us back? What's keeping us from being happy? We have all the advice we could ever use‚ so why isn’t it working for us?
Our attention is drawn to everything around us—all the bells and whistles and tweets and likes and channels and all the distractions modern living provides. We can’t help it.
Or can we?
There are four simple principles of happiness. I look at them as pearls of wisdom—the only insights we need to reach transcendent happiness. Once you take them to heart, you can shift your attention back to the pearl and away from the distraction—the "squirrel," as I call them.
1. Focus on what you have, not what you lack.
The first principle of happiness is gratitude. We have let ourselves be programmed to always want more, to always want whatever is newer, nicer, bigger, better, faster, or more fashionable. We are conditioned to be consumers, so we consume. But let’s pause for a moment to consider just how this consumption is affecting how we feel. When we crave something more, or something different, it puts us in a mindset of scarcity—as if there’s a hole we need to fill.
We feel empty, so we shovel in more food, more stuff, more distractions. But the hole can never be filled with "stuff." This is true for how we feel about ourselves, too. When we look at celebs on the red carpet, we can feel inadequate. Comparing ourselves to others makes us want what we don't have rather than appreciating what we do have.
We have so much to be grateful for. Consider your talents, skills, and capabilities. Think about how you have made a life for yourself from all the choices you’ve made. Look at the love in your life. Then think about how you feel about yourself. Chances are that you'll feel grateful for what you have.
2. Focus on what you're doing, not what others are doing.
There is always going to be someone who seems to be having more fun, making more money, or slaying more dragons than you are. Comparing yourself to anyone else will likely take away from your happiness. If you think you’re not doing as well as someone else, then you'll be disappointed, and you might begin to doubt your capabilities. If you glean your confidence from the notion that you’re doing better than someone else, you're putting yourself in the impossible situation of always staying ahead. The only person you should worry about being better than is yourself, every day.
We each have our own path. We might walk alongside each other for a while, but we make our own decisions and move at our own pace. When we analyze someone else’s actions rather than paying attention to our own actions, we get off track. We get distracted by what we see other people doing instead of focusing on our own progress We can only live our own lives. Having focus is crucial to reaching our goals. And when we’re focused, time flies by, and we naturally feel good and fulfilled.
3. See opportunities rather than obstacles.
The third principle of happiness is fortitude. Of course there are challenges in life. Of course there are obstacles But, contrary to popular belief, obstacles don't mean that we have to give up, or turn around and go back. Looking at an obstacle as an impediment makes us feel like the world is against us, that what we want wasn’t meant to be, or that we are on the wrong path. Instead, we need to look at every obstacle as what it really is: an opportunity for us to develop skills, to understand more deeply, and to reveal our inner strength. These are important experiences life provides for us to learn and grow.
Fortitude means continuing on your path despite obstacles, and it's a skill we can develop. Throwing in the towel when the odds are against you is easy. Staying in the game, using your intelligence, and beating the odds is a challenge, sure—but that's what makes it empowering. Empowerment opens the door to happiness.
4. Fill your mind with what matters and reject everything else.
The fourth principle of happiness is faith. There are so many things that don’t matter—yet we hand over our attention to them as if they are the most important things in the world. Maybe it’s out of habit, or maybe we're being hypnotized by something shiny. We need to put our faith in what we can rely on. And that comes down to having faith in ourselves.
We know what truly matters to us. We just don’t always remember it. We get distracted by the toys and games in this amazing pleasure buffet of 21st-century life. But when we have faith—when we turn within and call on our deep inner strength—we have access to great wisdom. Focusing on what truly matters brings us the peace and happiness that nothing else can.
The next time you feel unhappy, take stock of the things commanding your attention. Are you homing in on a pearl, or are you distracted by a squirrel?