The Guide To Happiness I wish someone taught with me.

Our world comes into a time when almost everybody’s birthday wish, new year resolution, or even a simple prayer every morning, is about asking to be Happy. It seems like our world is really lacking in happiness, isn’t it?

Happiness used to be a goal to me too. But the thing is that hardly anyone taught me how to be happy. So I learned it myself, like what most other people do. We see, we observe, and we learn. We learn how society teaches us to be happy.

If you have a lot of money, you will be happy. If you are famous, you will be happy. If you live in big cars big house, you will be happy. If you spend lots of money, you will be happy. That is what we see in the TV, movies, newspapers, magazines.

Famous movie stars who made lots of money are always seen smiling, enjoying life, eating good food, going to places. And women are always seen to be happy on TV ads when they go for ‘retail therapy’,or shopping, and go home with lots of new bags and shoes.

On the other hand, TVs shows us that people who live in less developed areas, like some farmland in China, are seen to be having a hard life. Or kids running around in some village seen to be pitiful, because they don’t have nice clothes or proper shoes to wear. Hence, these people are not seen to be very happy compared to the ones above.

The mass media has somehow shaped how we define happiness. However, is that what considers happiness? There are many tests and experiments done by academics to measure the level of happiness in different countries. There are also experiments done on people who have won the lottery, and their happiness level one year later.

If our financial income is directly related to our happiness level, that means that the country with the highest GDP per capita, should be ranked top for being the happiest people in the world, while the country with the lowest GDP per capita will have the least happiest people in the world.

Many rankings are done by many people, and they can be found everywhere online. Different sources draw up different lists. But one can confirm that there are some truths in the relationship between financial income and happiness level.

Most of the top rankings are taken by developed countries, with GDP per capita over USD$40,000. But what’s also surprising is that there are also countries with less than GDP per capita of $40,000 among the top 10 happiest countries in the world.

One country is Bhutan, a small nation in Asia, with only a GDP per capita of US$1400. So if economic prosperity can make a country happy, why a country with people making only US$1400 a year can be happy too? Oh yea, I also realized that even though my country Singapore is ranked among the top in many lists (Best place to do business list, Richest city lists, Highest % of millionaire lists…etc), it is hardly ranked in the ‘Happiness List’.

Okay, that’s the macro level of looking at happiness. We somehow knows that lots of money does make us happy, but money alone is not enough. There are other possible external factors which can determine happiness, like costs of living, society and culture, cohesiveness…etc.

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Now, let’s turn back to look at the micro level of Happiness for us individuals. I mentioned I used to be make Happiness my goal, or my new year resolution every year. However, the more I grow up, the more I read, the more I realize that Happiness is never a goal.

Happiness needs not be made a goal to be achieved. It can be attained right at the instant. It just take a split-second decision to be happy. You change your mind to be happy, and there you have it.

Of course, this seems like it’s easier said than done. But this is what I’ve learnt from most self-help books I have read, though I can agree with them that Happiness is a Choice, it’s not a goal. But the thing is ‘choosing to be happy’ seems too big a word to be acted on.

I don’t claim to be a guru in happiness, but I can say I’m feeling happier than anytime in the past few years. I don’t have many happiness secrets, but instead, I just act on what I’ve read, and see if those tips I learn really make me happy. And I’m glad it does!

So I intend to share these tips here with you. It may or may not make you happy. If it does, then I’m happy. If not, then ignore that tip. Either way, I would still be happy to have shared them with you 🙂

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1. Optimism 

Optimism is, like what a song sings, “always look on the bright side of life”. The opposite of it is pessimism. An optimist sees a glass half-filled, a pessimist sees a glass half-empty.

Especially in this world right now when everybody is talking about the next financial crisis, it creates this gloom over head, thinking when it is going to happen. Sometimes, things are not as bad as the media portrays.

There are always 2 sides to a coin. Same goes as anything that happen to us – we can see it as something good or something bad. I remembered I failed 1 module in my semestral examination last year. Though it can be quite disappointing, but it helps me to rethink my course of study, and make some important decisions. After all, this failure seemed to be quite beneficial 🙂

Of course, we must also be a rational optimist, with a balanced view of issues. It helps us make better decisions. You don’t want to be an optimist who anyhow buy stocks, and say it will appreciate, without proper analysis. You don’t want to be someone who start a business and say business will prosper without proper management.

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2. Care less

I chanced upon a quote a twitter that says “the less you give a damn, the happier you will be”. I don’t know where this source comes from, but it does make quite a lot of sense to me.

Sometimes, we love to ‘stick a leg’ into anything that happens around us. Or you can call it busybody. Be it an argument between your friend and his/her boy/girlfriend, or trying to fight for justice for your friend from his boss, we always want to be involved and help out.

We are all helpful people, but let’s not get involved with everything and be part of it. Sometimes we became part of the problem, instead of the solution. If we are less emotionally attached to those things happening around us, and care for more important issues than minor ones, we won’t feel that stressed and stretched overall.

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3. Compare less

This is one thing that is really hard to do. Me included. One sickness we all suffer today is Comparititis. Not sure if there’s a term for it, but it means  the ‘illness of comparing’. We can blame ourselves for always comparing with our peers, in terms of results, income, or even boy/girlfriends.

But society also plays a role in helping us to compare. We always have this ‘Top 10’ lists everywhere (including the Happiness list above). Then we rank almost everything we can, from rank of universities, to rank of wages of different professions, and even ranking best looking males/females.

Comparing is not bad, if we compare to make the best decision, such as comparing prices or features of gadgets before we buy them. But comparing becomes a problem when it leads to Envy. There always this sense of jealousy when we envy someone else.

Your friend goes to USA for holiday, but you can only travel around Southeast Asia. Your friend studies in one of the Ivy league schools, but you can only get into a local university in Singapore. Your friend has iPhone 4S, but you only have iPhone 2. Both of you are 26 years old, but he is a US Multi-billionaire, while you’re just a small business owner. and the list goes on.

By constantly comparing ourselves with others and envy what others have and we don’t have, it somehow makes us poor. Poor in a way we are relatively poor, and not absolutely poor. Absolutely poverty is defined as living on US$1-2 a day. But we are not! We become poor because we see what we didn’t have what others have.

Now, this could be the time some motivational speakers or “get rich” speakers come and tell you that you should not to be satisfied with your current life, and you should not be content with what you have right now. You should be discontented, so you can motivate yourself to achieve more, to make more money…etc.

Of course you can be motivated that way to work hard to make more money and have a better life. But you need to ask yourself truthfully if you will be truly happy after getting what you want. We have hear of people who work hard, make lots of money and lead a better life for themselves and their family.

But we have also heard of people who work very hard, make lots of money, and realize even though they had a lot, that’s not the life that they want. Nothing wrong about chasing riches, but do have the right purpose behind it.

Happiness comes from comparing less, and be thankful for what we already have. We don’t want to wake up one morning to realize we lost diamonds while busy collecting stones.

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4. Demand Less

In our meritocratic society, we are trained to push ourselves to achieve whatever we want. We set high standards for ourselves in whatever we aim for. This indeed push us to achieve a lot more. Top achievers in our society always set high standards for themselves.

But the funny thing is, people also apply this kind of ‘strategy’ in their own relationships, so to have a perfect ‘relationship’ with their girlfriend or spouses.

If you’re in a relationship, or have friends who are in a relationship, you will often hear that one party will want to change another party so it suits his/her standard. Example, the lady demands that the guy must give in to all her requests, meet her everyday, bring her to movies every week…etc. The guy request that the lady must have a body of a super model, dress in a way what he likes, must answer all his calls…etc.

This isn’t uncommon. If we hear these complains from our friends, it’s likely that they had an argument with their other half, and that’s why they share all the other half’s demands with us.

Getting into a relationship requires some form of commitment and changes in lifestyle. But sometimes we set too much a standard for our other half, mostly to satisfy our own needs, and often wise, to a stage that it becomes a treaty or agreement.

Couples behave this way probably they are new to a relationship, so the demand for love and affection may be high. But it can also be due to external influences, like comparison with others – again.

“If May’s boyfriend can call her every night to say I Love You, why can’t you do the same?” or “If Mark’s girlfriend can be so gentle to him, why can’t you?” When you hear your friends make comparisons with other friends’ boy/girl friends, you will hear more examples. But usually, is about asking their partners to be more like what they want them to be.

Of course, some partners will follow suit, and both become happier after that. But some become heated negotiations, and in turn demand more from each other. If either one of them fall short of expectation, the agreement or treaty is brought up again. We need to know that everyone is different, and you can never find Ms or Mr Perfect.

Love isn’t finding the perfect person. It’s seeing an imperfect person perfectly. Let’s accept more of each other differences, and demand less. Love is interesting when two different person come together to learn about and accept each other. People always says they like their opposite half to be like them. If that’s the case, isn’t it better that they go into relationship with themselves? 😛

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5. Better Relationships

Our quality of life is determined by the quality of relationships we have. Not much to say about this, and it’s quite obvious that if you are involved with less disagreements with your friends or family, you are more likely to be happier.

If you can’t accept things, and tend to find fault with anybody you come across, and cannot learn to agree to disagree, it’s not hard to understand why you find that the world is always against you.

Accept more, forgive more, love more. Your world will become a better place 😉

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6. Help more people

The word ‘help’ means differently to different people. Some people ‘help’ in hope to get something in return. There was a time when I’m still in junior college, news reported that there are more JC students going out to old folks home and orphanage to help out in community work.

But later it is reported that most of them ‘help’ out so that they can clock community hours to be recorded in their resume to gain a higher chance of attaining a prestigious scholarship. So who are they really helping?

I’ve left JC for some years now, and I’m not sure if this practice is still on, but I just hope their intentions can be clearer.

If we want to be happier, just help more people without asking anything in return. NOTHING. We help others without hoping that they will repay us. Just help people. Good if they remember your kindness. If they don’t, tell yourself it’s okay.

If we help others and hope that we will get something in return, then it’s not help. It’s more of a trade. I use my time and effort to trade for your something I want from you. This kind of ‘helping’ has become so realistic in our society now, to a stage that if someone become too helpful, people fear that they are up to something no good, or thought he may be asking for a big favor after that.

Let’s help for the sake of helping. for the sake of make other people’s life better. for the sake to spread kindness. The more we help, you will realize that the more we will shift our focus on others, and won’t be a self-centered being.

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7. Simplify 

Life is easy, but we humans make it complicated. We want many things in our lives. But as time goes by, we start to realize many things actually doesn’t matter.

I used to wear many hats, try to be as good in everything I do. But in the end, though it stretches me, like what others say, expand my comfort zone, I find that I spread myself very thin. Furthermore, I become a Jack of all trades, master of none.

Then I intend to step back and think of all the things I’ve been doing. One by one, I clear some of the stuffs and commitments and learn to let go some of them. Then, i move on to focus on some of the more important things. And with that the 2nd half of 2011 is my best ever year. I begin to live like a real human being. Life became simple. I become happier.

I aim to become more minimalist. Like what Robin Sharma says, ‘Be a minimalist. Less is more. Focus on the best – release the rest.”

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Let’s not let society define happiness for us – happy only when the economy is doing well, happy only when you go shopping, happy when there’s sunshine, happy when you have the Singaporean 5Cs – Cash, Car, Credit card, Condominium & Club membership.

To you, these 7 things seems like some theoretical advices, but to me, these are all what I’ve been doing so far. I just couldn’t care less about other things that will steal my happiness away, ‘cos I simply chose to be happy everyday!

Smile 🙂

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