2 Lessons I learned About True Happiness
(Plus Tips to Help You Cultivate Happiness in Life)
You hear the word “happiness” all the time—on TV, in books, and on social media. It seems like this valuable and yet elusive treasure everyone’s looking for, but only a few are lucky enough to find.
I’m no different. For the past 12 years, I’ve been on a quest to find true happiness in life.
I’ve pondered on questions such as:
- What is happiness?
- What does it mean to live a good life?
- What makes people happy?
- Where do you find happiness?
Why am I so obsessed with happiness? It all started when one day, I found myself in a state where I didn’t know how to be happy anymore.
Why I Began a Quest to Find True Happiness
When I was 19, I was hit by a devastating health crisis. The ordeal quickly shattered all my previous notions of what happiness was. It made me realize I didn’t understand the meaning of real happiness at all.
Good career prospects.
I once thought they were the keys to happiness, but I was wrong. None of those things mattered when my life was on the line. They didn’t make me happy in a time of darkness—not one bit. It dawned on me that I needed to dig deeper in order to find true happiness in life—the kind that would shine like a ray of sunshine even in the heaviest of storms. The kind that would never dim or lose its warmth.
And what I discovered, through my reflections and research, changed my life in many profound ways. And I want to share what I learned with you.
To start, here are 2 of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my quest to find true happiness:
- There’s only one place where you’ll find true happiness.
- Happiness doesn’t mean the absence of all negativity.
Now let’s look at each of these lessons up close.
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- 1. 2 Key Lessons on True Happiness
- 2. What You Can Do Now to Cultivate More Happiness in Your Life
- 3. What Does True Happiness Mean to You?
2 Key Lessons on True Happiness
1. There’s Only One Place Where You’ll Find True Happiness
Where Do You Find Happiness?
The answer is surprisingly simple: in your mind.
Don’t even try to look for it elsewhere—in a well-paying job, in a fancy house in a posh neighbourhood, in the abundance of your youth, or in the power of your knowledge.
You already have the power to create happiness inside you. In fact, your mind is the only place where you’ll find real happiness. If you attach your happiness to external things outside of yourself—such as money, status, material goods, or even someone else—your happiness will be fleeting.
How many times have you had this thought?
“I’ll be happy when I (fill in the blank).”
Get a promotion. Buy a new house. Get to 10K followers on Instagram. I’m sure you were ecstatic when you met those objectives, but how long did that feeling last? Weeks? Days? Hours?
Not very long was it?
Somewhere deep in your heart, you already know that this model of “I’ll be happy if” or “I’ll be happy when” is broken. You already have an inkling that you’ve been pursuing happiness in a dead-end maze, but you just didn’t know where to look.
But now you do.
So start looking within yourself.
Now here’s a powerful talk by the Buddhist nun Gen Kelsang Nyema on finding happiness within your own mind. I suggest you find someplace quiet, without any distractions, and watch or listen to the talk with an open, but focused mind. It never fails to bring me inner calm and joy.
2. Happiness Doesn’t Mean the Absence of All Negativity
I used to believe that in order to obtain true happiness, I had to eradicate all traces of negativity. I thought if I was going to be truly happy, I couldn’t have negative emotions like sadness, regret, resentment, or envy.
So for a long time, I would beat myself up whenever negative feelings or thoughts came up. I would try to swat them away like they’re a horde of flies, and I would get frustrated for not being able to get rid of them. But the more I tried to chase away all negative thoughts and emotions, the more they seemed to dominate my mind.
And then I learned I had to accept them.
Why? Because like yin and yang, darkness and light, or night and day, positivity and negativity require a balance. True happiness doesn’t mean a total annihilation of negativity. In fact, if we were to get rid of all negative emotions, feelings, and thoughts in our lives, we wouldn’t have true happiness at all. Without knowing what bitter tastes like, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate sweet in its full intensity.
So stop fighting your negative thoughts and feelings. Let them be and accept that they’re part of you.
If you happen to have one of those days where nothing’s going well and you feel like bawling your eyes out, by all means, go ahead and bawl your eyes out. Feel the emotion in that moment and then let it leave you.
Here’s one of my favourite quotes from “Tuesdays With Morrie” to illustrate this point:
“I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on the good things still in my life. I don’t allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each every morning, a few tears, and that’s all.”
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
See what I mean? Accept the emotion, experience the emotion, and then let it go.
And if you feel resentful, jealous, or angry, instead of saying “I shouldn’t feel this way”, try asking yourself this:
“What’s the real reason behind what I’m feeling?”
And don’t settle for the obvious answer like “my boss is a jerk”, or “I’m having a bad day”. Sometimes these negative emotions are trying to tell you something about yourself—like the time when a wave of jealousy flooded me when I found out a high school classmate had become a journalist. That jealousy made me realized just how much I wanted to write.
So not all negative thoughts and emotions are unproductive and bad for us. We just have to figure out a way to make them useful.
What is true happiness and where do we find it? Check out these lessons, reflections, and tips to help you cultivate happiness in life.
What You Can Do Now to Cultivate More Happiness in Your Life
I know what you’re probably thinking:
These lessons on happiness are great, but what can I do NOW to be happier?
Stay with me as I share 7 simple and actionable tips on how to cultivate more happiness in your life.
1. Adopt a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is key to long-term happiness. It promotes resilience, self-compassion, and optimism.
What is a growth mindset? Psychologist Professor, Carol Dweck, at the Stanford University calls it “the power of yet”.
Watch her fascinating talk on the subject of growth mindset here:
And don’t miss her best-selling book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”.
2. Strengthen Your Social Connection
Research shows having a strong social support network is key to both physical health and mental wellbeing. Take the time to build authentic friendships based on mutual respect and genuine care, and keep your distance from meaningless friendships that weigh you down.
3. Get Closer to Nature
Trees make us happy. No, this is not a tree-hugging hippies sort of thing. It’s supported by science.
So if you want to feel happier, ditch the indoor gym and find yourself a forest.
The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku—“forest bathing”. It’s the practice of connecting with nature using our senses and its benefits range from reducing stress and strengthening the immune system, to improving energy and concentration. Of course, it also does wonders for our mental health and happiness.
But what if you don’t live near a forest? Don’t worry. A park, a garden, or even some indoor plants will do the trick.
Interested in learning more about forest bathing? Read this book written by the world’s leading expert in forest medicine. I’ve read it and can tell you it’s one incredible book that will leave you with awe and deep respect for nature.
4. Maintain a Sense of Control
Psychologists have been saying for a long time that a sense of control is crucial to our mental health. And I believe it 100%. I can tell you from first-hand experience that developing a sense of control was a game-changer for me in my cancer journey.
And it’s not hard. Anyone can do it if they want to.
All you need is a tiny habit—a small shift in your routine to serve as the catalyst for change. I started out with the simple act of making myself get up and go to sleep at the same time every day, and things began to fall into place like dominos.
Now think of a small change you can make in your life—something that you can control and will have a positive impact on your life—and go make it happen.
5. Make Time for What Matters the Most
In her world-famous book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware shares that one of the deepest regrets patients have on their deathbed is this:
They didn’t spend enough time on what truly mattered—their loved ones.
So don’t make the same mistake. Ask yourself what matters the most to you—whether it’s family, a personal passion, or a life-long dream—and devote more time to these areas of your life.
And remember, work is not the only distraction that could take you away from your real priorities. Turn the TV off. Put your phone down. And say no to drama and unnecessary conflicts. You’ll be much happier for it.
The key to a happy life? Remember to make time for what truly matters to you.
6. Find Meaning and Purpose
Happiness without meaning and purpose lacks depth and fullness.
If you want to live a life filled with a deep sense of fulfillment, focus on finding meaning and purpose in what you do. Don’t worry if you don’t have the answer yet, most people (including myself) are still searching. But hey, it’s never too early—or too late—to start thinking about what you want to do with your life and how you want to contribute to something greater than yourself.
And remember, you don’t have to save the world.
Now here’s an excellent list of questions to help you reflect on your meaning and purpose.
7. Give, And You Shall Receive
Last but not least, having a generous spirit is essential to finding happiness in life. Not only will it make you feel more content in general, it can also provide immediate stress relief and a powerful boost in your mood.
It can even make you live longer.
And generosity is not about how much you can donate to a charity.
There are so many ways to show generosity:
- Mentor someone
- Donate household items or clothing you don’t use anymore
- Show random acts of kindness like buying food for someone in need.
It doesn’t matter how small or grand the gesture, you can brighten someone else’s (and your own) day as long as your heart is in the right place.
What Does True Happiness Mean to You?
Now your turn. Tell me, what does happiness mean to you? Leave me a comment below to let me know your thoughts on this topic. Love to hear from you!