The most practical way to live a happy life is to avoid being miserable.
We get sucked into this fantasy that, if only we accomplished all our dreams, our lives would be worry-free. Many people make good money off this idea. They depend on you being stuck in it. Of course, it’s not true. There is no such thing as a life without problems.
It’s not about making a million dollars, becoming world-famous, or flooding your brain with dopamine. It’s about enjoying the little things. This is a skill you can learn — to find the good in normality.
If you live to be 82 years old, you’ll have about 30,000 days on this planet. No matter how you spin it, of those 30,000 days, some 28,000 will be boring.
You’ll go to work, feed the cat, meet a friend, and watch TV at night. That’s fine. This is everyday life. You just have to look for the good in it. The free cookie you get with your coffee. The rain setting in after you get home.
To me, every day when I’m not sick, stressed, or the victim of some drama I don’t control is a good day. The more days like that I can rack up, the better. I’ll find plenty of happiness along the way.
I suspect for you, a good life will look similar. Unfortunately, you can’t see it if you’re stuck in some marketer’s pipe dream. It’s a commonality all miserable people share: They miss the good in the present because they’re all-consumed by some invisible problem.
The truth is there are a million ways to be happy — most of them small to the point of being imperceptible — but only a handful of those giant, man-made problems.
Here are eight of them and how to not let them derail your every day.
1. Taking life personally
Life is not fair. It’s not easy, nothing’s free, and, generally, the world at large doesn’t care about you. Miserable people take this as an insult, but it’s just the reality of our universe. To them, however, every time it rains is a personal affront.
They lack perspective on how they small they are — one of nearly eight billion — and, as a result, they can see neither what’s good about their lives and what they should be grateful for nor what they control about the situation and what they can do to change it.
They blame everything and everyone except themselves, and it holds them back from making the best of today for a better tomorrow.
2. Obsessing over obstacles instead of solutions
When you feel as if the universe is “out to get you,” of course you’re going to see traps and hidden agendas everywhere — even though, for the most part, they don’t exist.
Everyone is trying their best and no one wants to feel inadequate, so all you do by focusing on the negative and what’s wrong is putting spokes in your own wheels.
Miserable people find the worst in every situation. Instead of looking ahead and figuring out how to move forward, they overthink. They dwell on regrets of the past and worries about the future, both of which keep them from growing and becoming a better version of themselves.
3. Lacking self-awareness
Being self-aware won’t automatically make you happy, but, in many ways, it’ll shelter you from being desolate. One reason miserable people stay in their negative spiral is that their self-image constantly collides with the outside world, mostly because said self-image is poorly defined.
If you don’t know where your limits are or where you should set personal boundaries, life will show you the hard way. Nature is “the teacher of last resort.” Every time you clash with a person or crash when facing a challenge, there is a lesson to learn.
Sit with the failure until you’ve done so, and you’ll navigate life a little more smoothly from here on out.
4. Staying too comfortable
None of us are born self-aware, but that’s not a problem as long as we keep working on this crucial skill. Miserable people, however, stay too complacent for too long, and, eventually, they fall into the habit of dreading everyday life.
Life shouldn’t be a constant battle, but if you never get off your couch and assume you’ll just magically stumble into your dreams one day, you’re setting yourself up for boredom, stagnation, and a victim-mindset.
Don’t wait for life to change. Make things. Don’t expect yourself to automatically learn from your mistakes. Be curious. Try, try, try.
5. Saying yes to everything
Just like too much comfort is bad for your happiness, so is too little. If you agree to everything — from other people’s requests to each tiny notification on your phone — your entire life will happen at the behest of forces outside your control. Don’t. Carefully weigh your commitments.
Saying no isn’t just important to your mental health, it’s also how you make room for serendipity. Lucky breaks need white space to even occur.
Distraction is a tricky source of misery because it’s hard to see in real-time. Somehow, you just never seem to have time for anything, and it gets more and more frustrating with each passing day. When you find yourself with that frustration, look at your priorities. However many no’s you need to feel good about your yes’s, striking a healthy balance make you happier.
6. Feeling tired and sick
Working too hard and not working at all — both can be immense drains on your physical energy. Sadly, as we say in Germany, “Without health, everything is nothing.”
Being in a bad mood when your physiology is off isn’t even a habit, it’s a rule of nature. It is, however, our habits with which we can prevent that state in the first place, at least most of the time.
Maybe, you can’t function on six hours of sleep. Maybe, carbs just aren’t good for you. What about alcohol? Coffee? Exercise? Everyone is different. Working out our basic physical needs may take a while, but it’s an effort that pays off for years to come.
7. Choosing the wrong people over no people at all
Miserable people are often terrified of being alone. They’d rather spend their time with folks who aren’t good for them than face the negative chatter in their mind. This is not a good long-term strategy.
Don’t jump into relationships because you’re lonely. Don’t work in a toxic environment because the job pays well. Don’t hang out with negative people. None of these things are better than being alone, no matter how unpleasant solitude can be.
At first, it’s scary to be by yourself. Eventually, however, you’ll learn to accept and show yourself compassion. You’ll enjoy your own company. And life will be more beautiful for it.
8. Thinking good things come to you, not from you
The people in your environment, the relative state of your health, the things you have to do and that happen in your life — miserable people don’t look at these as choices, but they are.
The Stoics saw it as the capital mistake in living a good life and made it the maxim of their philosophy to fight it: Know what you can and can’t control.
You might think small steps don’t matter, but they do. Don’t give up. Don’t just surrender and let life pass as you lament its dilemmas. Good things don’t come to you. They come from you.
You are the source of everything good that can and will happen in your life.
Be kind to people, and they’ll be kind to you. Do good things, and good things will happen to you. The more you smile, the more you’ll realize it makes you just as happy as being smiled at by others.
Don’t get offended so easily. Focus on solutions, not problems. Understand yourself. Move slowly, but always move forward. Take rest when you need it, and don’t settle.
All of these are good steps towards achieving your biggest dreams, but, even more importantly, they’ll set a baseline for everyday contentment. Avoiding misery won’t give you a perfect life, but it’ll ensure you find happiness along the way — no matter where it leads.