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How to Live a Happy Life

Photo by Shandi-lee
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive. ~Howard Thurman

I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.

No, I haven’t won the lottery– haven’t even got a raise. No, haven’t been lounging in a seaside hammock on the coast of the South Pacific lately either.

So where’s my joy coming from? From being more and more alive each day.

Everyone reading these words is saying, “Wait a minute, last time I checked I was alive.” Yes, I know, but my question to you is: are you becoming more alive each day? This, I believe, is the key to living a happy life.

The Incredible You

What do I mean by “more alive?” I mean more and more of what you were meant to be. More of the incredible beautiful you that existed in the mind of God before you took your first breath. Some call it destiny, some call it purpose, some won’t even admit it exists, and yet there is something within each of our hearts that whispers that we are unique, that among the seven billion beings on this planet there is no one like us.

Think about what that means. What is more valuable, an art poster that Wal-mart ordered fifty thousand copies of, or a hand-signed, one of a kind oil canvas? You are that oil canvas, absolutely priceless, because there will never in the history of the universe be another YOU.

So, are you developing your uniqueness, that which is special about you, that which sets you apart from every other person on the planet? If not, then why not?

Embrace Personal Growth

Think of your life’s journey like a tree. What if a little sapling said to itself, “It’s so great to be a tree! I’m going to stay just like I am.” What a waste it would be if its vision didn’t realize there was so much more to being a tree than what it knew as a sapling.

A sapling is meant to grow & develop, becoming more and more a tree–more and more of what it was meant to be.  One day it will be able to provide shade, fruit, stability for the earth around it, a home for animals, even fun for children to climb and play in it. Just like the sapling, you can be so much more alive than you are today, but only if you understand all of your potential and you are committed to achieving it.

Are you committed to becoming all you are destined to be? Are you focused on becoming more and more alive each day? What excuse do you have not to? Too busy paying bills? Too busy finding that special someone? Too busy advancing your career? Too busy raising the kids?

Can I say something? When you reach the end of your life, will it matter to you how many bills you paid to buy all that stuff crammed in your closets? Trying to find that special someone?— it will be a lot easier once you become a special someone yourself.

And talk about career—nothing advances a career like standing out in a crowd, being fully aware of your unique talents and fully ready to offer them. Your kids–they don’t need just a caretaker, they need a parent unlike any other on earth–someone who knows the unique gift they are to others.

How to Live a Happy Life: 5 Principles

So, I ask you again, are you committed to growing more and more alive, with each passing day?

How do I do that? How do I discover and develop who I am? How do I feel more alive each day? How to live a happy life?” Well, I’m glad you asked, for here are five principles that you can put to use today:

1. Feel Like a Kid

Have you ever looked at pictures of embryos? As a biology major in college, I had to spend hours at it. What was the most important lesson I learned? That each animal became more and more like itself as it developed, and that you could look back at the embryo and tell what animal it would someday be.

Dogs come from dog embryos, and cats come from cat embryos. You can tell if an animal’s greatest fulfillment will be to bark or purr by just looking at its embryo.

So what’s the application here? Look to who you were as a child, and that will tell you a great deal about who you are now meant to be. What were you fascinated by, what did you love doing, what were you good at, what made you come alive?

So often, these clues to our true selves aren’t properly valued in childhood, either by ourselves or by those raising us.

When I was eight I wanted to be an inventor, and diagrammed countless inventions such as inflatable tents & multi-sensor fuel gauges. Did that mean I was meant to be an inventor? No, but it did mean I loved to create, and that I should look for ways to express my innate creativity.

When I was in the fifth grade I placed in a national writing contest. But since I didn’t see myself as a writer, I largely left that part of myself dormant for decades before rediscovering it in my forties.

So, spend some time looking back to look forward, and you may find a part of yourself that is destined to flourish.

2. Take a Step

The opportunity to become more alive today will not be half a world away, but rather at your doorstep, right in your current sphere of influence. It’s so easy to say, “Well if I could go back and get a degree or if I had more money or if I lived in LA or if…” and sadly conclude that you can’t change or grow or become the person you were meant to be because of cruel fate.

The truth is that you start your journey to that far off destination of who you want to be by taking a single step right where you are now. Don’t say you can’t get there from here– you don’t know that. What you do know is that you will never get there if you never take the first step.

When I started my blog six years ago, if you had told me it would one day lead to being an editor & writer for a website that tens of thousands of people around the world view, I would have just laughed at you. I didn’t plan that, I didn’t even dream of it, but I did one thing I could do: I started writing. I took that step, right where I was. It was a little step, but it was movement, and I kept taking little steps day by day, year by year, moving and learning and growing and becoming more alive all the way.

In the same way, I took the opportunity last year to teach a medical student for a week while my partner was on vacation. Just one small step, right where I was. I didn’t even expect anything to come of it. But taking that one step of doing something I love (teach) has now led me to being booked for months in advance with medical students who are eager to learn and who greatly enrich my life.

Just don’t sit there. If you are willing to open your eyes and look around I guarantee you will see that one small step you can take today which will both make you more alive now and lead you to a life you can’t even dream of tomorrow.

3. Stretch Yourself

Valuable personal growth is not quantitative, but qualitative, and you have to force yourself towards qualitative growth. In other words, ya gotta stretch yourself, get uncomfortable, get out of your comfort zone, and then keep getting out.

What prevents us from getting out of our comfort zone? The biggest obstacle for most of us is fear of failure. Well guess what? You don’t have to fear whether you will fail. I can guarantee that you will fail. Again and again. But that’s okay, because failing is the ONLY path to success. Whether it’s the story of Lincoln or Edison or any person who changed the world, they will tell you that the road to success is paved with failures.

Successful people realize it, and plunge in, knowing that pain and defeat come on the way to victory & success.

If you’re not willing to risk, not willing to try something you’ve never done, you will never become more alive. When I first self-published an anthology, I had all kinds of fears and doubts.

I even had a friend tell me that people wouldn’t really be interested in what I had written, and implied that I was destined to be humiliated. I almost didn’t do it, but somehow I believed in what I had to offer. Now, nearly a thousand copies later, I have so many stories of people telling me how much they were blessed by my books.

How much joy I would have missed if I hadn’t forced myself to stretch.

Where can you stretch yourself today? It shouldn’t be hard to find out— it’s that place where you’re afraid to go, and yet your heart tells you that you need to. Have the courage and strength to stretch, and you will feel yourself come alive like never before.

4. Make a Contribution

I admit it. I am hooked on playing Boggle on my iPhone. And you know what? I really enjoy it, and I’m getting better every week. If I keep at it, I might even become a world class Boggle player.

But am I going to devote all my spare time to it? I don’t think so. But why not? Couldn’t that be my destiny, couldn’t that be my unique contribution to the human race?

You may be laughing, but my extreme example underscores a problem: what do I devote myself to? My answer is tied to one special word in the last paragraph, the word contribution. You know you are on the right path when you are making a contribution to others.

Why am I putting in the hours to write this article? Yes, I get a zing from writing, but my real payoff is envisioning someone reading these words and making a positive change because of them. And I know I’m on the right path, because over and over I’ve had people tell me that something I wrote was exactly what they needed at precisely the time they needed it.

As you become more and more alive, the breadth and the depth of your contribution will grow and grow, and so will your joy. Let yourself live and grow so that your whole life flows to love and serve others.

5. Get In a Habit

Ok, this last principle is the one that will actually make growth happen day after day. We all read an inspiring article, get caught up in its vision, and make a change. For a day. Maybe two. I know. It’s happened to me too.

So how do you sustain change and growth? There’s only one way: committing to it daily. Committing to it daily will instill direction, hope, and vision. Each day when you take that small step, you will see it not as just a small step, but as one more step on the path that leads you without fail towards your destination. Each day will build momentum, until each step gets easier, more confident, and more sure.

Take one part of yourself, and make an easy commitment. If you write, commit to writing at least five minutes a day. If you give, pledge to give something unique of yourself each day. Or just promise yourself that you will consciously look for a new opportunity to learn, or grow, or love, or whatever it is you do– every day. Once you commit to a daily habit, you will be surprised at the positive energy that will help you on your way.

So there you have it: feel like a kid, take a step, stretch yourself, make a contribution, and get in a habit. I guarantee you that following these principles will not only make you feel more alive today, but will lead you to the life you were born to live.  So seize today, and live it.

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About the author

John Hollandsworth is a family physician and writer who makes his home in the mountainous beauty of East Tennessee. He crafts beautiful & insightful prose that illuminates the challenges we all face & the potential we all have in relating to others, ourselves, and God. He has blogged for over five years at Light Along the Journey, and has just published the inspirational gift book The Sunflower. He has been an avid Apple user for 30 years, beginning with an Apple II, to an original Mac which he still has, to his current trio of iMac, iPhone, & iPad. He aims to learn, love, guide and create every day. He thinks that the day that his beard reaches his belly button, he shall finally be wise as Gandalf.

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18 thoughts on How to Live a Happy Life

  1. shashi

    Thank u Tina for sharing your thoughts and reading your articles is great inspiration to leave a contended life .

  2. Great post!

    I like your metaphor for see life’s journey as a tree. For me, the roots are formed by what I belief, the stem and the branches of life what I show of myself in the world. The leaves and the fruit of the tree provide us what we enjoy in life. And maybe it can become a shelter for others as well :-)

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Elsa

    Thank you John, what a wonderful article!

    I find I tend to have a year of personal growth, then a year to contribute and give to others, then growth again, and so on.

    It’s Spring here in South Africa right now, so time for new growth and the “seeds” which were planted to come to life. Also loved your metaphor about life’s journey/tree.

    Your 5 principles will be helpful in ensuring we are ALIVE :)

    Will check out your website. Thanks again!

  4. Great article John.

    “more of what you were meant to be” – how true in my case in search of happiness. Or rather, happiness was a by-product of living true to who I am. Yet discovering my true self was a painful journey only achieved out of desperation and surrender at a critical point in my life.

    I like the 5 principles. When I started my journey of recovery and self discovery, it seemed impossible that I would ever have inner-peace and happiness. So much so that it kept me stuck for quite some time until the pain of living that way was just too much. So I concentrating on the now and how everything in the present was really OK. Taking little steps towards self-forgiveness and accepting help from others and doing things that were uncomfortable (like asking for and accepting help). As in stretch yourself, I learned that if it felt uncomfortable (feeling) it meant I was probably growing. Take tiny steps one minute, day, week, etc. at a time, I was able to start looking back and realizing how far I’ve come.

    The process creates excitement about the future and what I have yet to learn about myself and others.

    I hope to also make a contribution in some small way as you. What an amazing world we would live in if everyone overcame their greatest obstacle and devoted their lives to helping others do the same. Thanks for doing your part and a great article.

  5. Jessie

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring article, John. You’re right, for someone it was the perfect article at exactly the right time. I received my email from “Think Simple Now” and instantly thought, ‘please be relevant and helpful for what I’m feeling right now’. And it really, really was. Kind of spooky but perfect. Thank you.

  6. Thanks for the great sharing. Yes, contribution, making a difference and service to others is definitely one key to joy and happiness in life. Self serving and self centeredness will never bring happiness; no matter how much one achieves it will only bring emptiness.

  7. “more of what you were meant to be” – how true in my case in search of happiness. Or rather, happiness was a by-product of living true to who I am. Yet discovering my true self was a painful journey only achieved out of desperation and surrender at a critical point in my life.

    I like the 5 principles. When I started my journey of recovery and self discovery, it seemed impossible that I would ever have inner-peace and happiness. So much so that it kept me stuck for quite some time until the pain of living that way was just too much. So I concentrating on the now and how everything in the present was really OK. Taking little steps towards self-forgiveness and accepting help from others and doing things that were uncomfortable (like asking for and accepting help). As in stretch yourself, I learned that if it felt uncomfortable (feeling) it meant I was probably growing. Take tiny steps one minute, day, week, etc. at a time, I was able to start looking back and realizing how far I’ve come.

    The process creates excitement about the future and what I have yet to learn about myself and others.

    I hope to also make a contribution in some small way as you. What an amazing world we would live in if everyone overcame their greatest obstacle and devoted their lives to helping others do the same. Thanks for doing your part and a great article.

  8. Leo

    It’s not fear of failure but fear of humiliation that stops me from coming out of my comfort zone

  9. Excellent post. I’d add one more thing to the list – learn to understand and work with your mind. That’s because our mind is the basis of everything we think, say and do, and if we know how not to fall into negativity (which causes unhappiness), then all the things you say can flow easily.

  10. Nice post John

    Living a happy life . . . quite a challenge.

    I think you’re right, our challenge is being authentic, true to ourselves and our passions – we have a vision of how we want ourselves and our lives to be, but we all too easily get caught-up, dragged-down, worn-out, lost, confused or drained by life.

    I’ve written about the importance of happiness a couple of times on my own blog. Mostly I write about the problems of the world, and encourage my readers to reject apathy, take action and make a difference. But I’ve come to realise that to change the world, we must first change ourselves, looking inward before we look outward, but even more so I believe that one of the most important elements in creating our own happiness is being part of something greater than ourselves . . . perhaps this is what you’re driving at in your point 4 :)

    Carpe Diem

  11. shashi

    to live a good and contended life , corrected comment by sonal .

  12. Great tips for living with more happiness in life!

    I love you question: “What do I devote myself to?”

    Such an important question to ask. It can lead to personal change and growth or to recommitments to higher causes. But in the end, what we devote ourselves to will determine the results on each page of life we live. I know too many people who devote their time to TV or video games. Such things have a place in living, but to devote so much precious time to it misses the point of life.

    Thanks so much for your insight into living with greater joy!

  13. Really beautiful post John!

    Unfortunately too many people are searching for their happiness outside of themselves instead of creating their happiness from the inside. And too many people prefer to develop their bank account or social status instead of developing themselves.

    A few years ago I went through my own midlife transformation after I realized that I need to create my personal definition of success. You then realize that life and success is about meaning, and in order to really be happy you need to be your best, do your best and make an impact.

    We need to let our true self shine and utilize our unique potential to feel really fulfilled. Most of us are capable of doing so much more and I hope many people read this article and make a commitment for their personal growth and development.

    Thanks,

    Yuval

  14. Happiness seems to be ever elusive for so many.

    I struggle with it myself.

    Thanks for the tips!!

    sw

  15. Sofiane Echaib

    One of the best articles on the web mate! Keep writing, your words are truly awesome! :)

  16. I had heard about this site from a friend and evidently checked it out at just the right time. That’s what I call a “wink” from life, something that nudges you in the right direction toward your happiest path. I light up when I write. I light up when I think I’m clever. I light up when I take time to send a hand-written note to someone as a thank you or a hello. And John is right. Make lighting up a habit. That’s where it’s at. Great post. Love this site.

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