I’ve seen this article on happiness about 20 times on various sites/blogs that I follow over the past couple of weeks and think it’s generally right on point. The article promises 8 tips on how to get flat abs, have great sex, and rule the world, mocking all those get-happy-fast articles that flood popular media. The lesson: give up the idea of “I will be happy when… ” and learn to be happy now.
My two cents (or ten – I tend to write a lot and don’t have time to edit myself down!) on how to maximize your happiness:
(1) Play to Your Passions/Strengths: There is no greater life lesson than learning what you’re good at and using it to your advantage.
I’ve always loved to argue – and I’m stubborn, so I rarely give up on making my point. (Sorry, Jessica – I know I never drop any subject when I think I’m right!) I made a boy cry in my first-ever speech and debate tournament my junior year of high school, and I was hooked on S&D for the next two years (yes, I am aware that this reveals a lot about my psyche, but I embrace it). I feel so blessed to have a career where my love for making a point in a logical and fact-supported manner translates into getting paid. The nice thing about making a career out of your passions/strengths is that you can continue to improve your skills for the rest of your life.
Strengths can be even simpler though – I’m also great at organizing/planning ahead. I use this to the advantage of my health. I make meals in advance, plan workout routines on Sundays, and have a checklist of everything I like to do to maximize my health on a daily basis (yes, I know it’s neurotic, but I love checking things off a to-do list. It gives me a quick and easy sense of pleasure and accomplishment). Having a game plan keeps me from getting derailed when life or work gets busy.
(2) But Know Your Limitations: I have become much happier by embracing the fact that I will just never be good at certain things. Like drying my hair (sorry mom, I know you frown on my wet-bun-at-work look):
When disasters like this happen, step away from the blow dryer. 😉
I’m partially kidding about trivial “limitations” like this, but I think learning that some things are outside your wheelhouse gives you more time to focus on things that matter to you.
More importantly, though, I think part of growing up for me has meant learning that some of my perceived “strengths” are actually my biggest weaknesses. In fifth grade during a school interview, I was asked what my greatest strength was, to which I responded (with absolutely no pause) that I’m stubborn. (That answer did not go over so well.) I stand by it – my persistence and drive has opened so many doors for me. I went from being unathletic to loving to workout. I pushed myself to get into Princeton and Columbia. I set goals and was determined to reach them, no matter what the costs. Being stubborn enough not to give up made it all possible.
But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized that my stubbornness has also cost me a lot. It took me years to start eating enough calories to support my workouts. It took me even longer to give in and try to sleep. Being open to other possibilities – in health, in fitness, at work, with friends, or in any aspect of life – helps us grow. My close-mindedness constantly keeps me from seeing new opportunities for change.
At work, we recently were given the opportunity to participate in a training about personality types. The training divided people by colors – reds are efficiency-driven people who want things done quickly and well, blues are perfectionists who focus on minute details of a project to ensure everything is done correctly, greens are creative, big-picture people who provide novel ideas, and golds are great at making sure everyone is heard; they drive consensus among differing viewpoints. The point of the training was simple – every personality brings something to the table and all types are necessary for a well-run company. But people tend to be annoyed by the shortcomings of other personality types – reds can lose their temper and tend to be impersonal; blues can take too much time and effort looking for a perfect work-product, when 90% “perfect” would have been ideal; greens can be disorganized and miss details; and golds can sometimes lose sight of the best answer when trying to find a solution that works for everyone. (If it wasn’t already clear from reading previous posts, I am 90% red, with a touch of blue).
The training was invaluable for work – knowing how your personality can inadvertently offend co-workers or clients makes it easier to shift your behavior. But I have also tried to learn from this outside of the office. Balancing between all of these types of behaviors leads to a better outcome, so learning to be more creative/open to new ideas or listening to other perspectives can make me better at whatever I’m doing.
This really comes into play with my planning/organization fanaticism, which can take the fun out of even the best activities if I don’t balance myself. I try to keep spontaneous people in my life to remind myself that sometimes, its better to grab oysters and glass of red wine with a friend than to go home and plan for the next day. A major part of optimizing health is taking the time to enjoy life!
*** A related tip – know when to call in a team of experts. I rely on my friends for advice, inspiration, and tips constantly. If you don’t know what to do to solve a problem, find the resources you need to tackle it head on.
(3) Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: A corollary to these first two points is that you have to learn not to obsess about the small stuff. So you miss one workout, or you eat a candy bar, or you only get 7 hours of sleep. Big deal. Life doesn’t stop because of these minor deviances from your plan, and worrying about them too much will just raise your cortisol and derail your happiness.
(4) But Prioritize What’s Important: That doesn’t mean throw all your rules and goals out the window. When missing one workout turns into a week of skipping the gym, your energy and strength start to suffer. When one snack turns into a week of eating processed and artificial crap for every meal, you get sluggish/fat/soft. When missing one night of hanging out with friends turns into a month of ignoring the closest people in your life, you lose your sense of community and support. It’s so easy to get distracted by all the things that need to get done everyday, so decide what goals matter to you, and make them a priority. I truly believe that people make time for the things they care about. Your self — health, fitness, nutrition, happiness — should matter. So put in the time to give yourself what you deserve.