How to Live a Happy LifeDon’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.