Want to be happy? Stop spending so much time trying to cultivate success. Whether through marriage or money, our publicly applauded triumphs won’t make us happy says life coach Robert Mack, author of Happiness from the Inside Out. Here, Mack explains how happiness must come first, and outlines his five-point plan for becoming happier.
Q: Can you explain what “happiness from the inside out” means?
A: Our very nature is happiness. Happiness isn’t something you get out of a relationship or experience. It’s something you bring to a relationship or experience, that you bring to life. Happiness is something that arises naturally and organically from within you when you remember that you’re thinking and not experiencing reality as it really is. No matter who you are, what your circumstances are, how smart you are, how old you are, or what kind of life you’re living, you have an untapped reservoir of pure joy, wisdom, love, beauty, and happiness that lives at the centre of your being. And that reservoir is always at your disposal. The only question is: are you connected to it? Are you plugged into it?
Happiness, then, is not about getting something more, doing something more, or being something more. The only more that’s necessary is that you be more of who you really are! In other words, happiness is less a set of circumstances that surround you and more a set of attitudes that exist within you. Happiness is really about getting out of your own way and allowing your true nature – who you really are – to effortlessly and enthusiastically emerge.
Q: You suggest that success comes from happiness, rather than the other way around. Can you explain what that means?
A: Science has shown that happiness is not only the greatest success – it also leads to success. The happiest people in the world are the most objectively successful people in the world, statistically-speaking. In other words, the happy people make, on average, $750,000 more than their unhappy counterparts, experience less job burnout, live six to seven years longer, require fewer doctor visits and experience less illness, get married earlier, stay married longer and are happier in their relationships, whether they are married or not, and more.
Positive emotions broaden and build our problem-solving and thought repertoire by facilitating more creative, productive, and efficient thinking than negative emotion. Happy people smile and laugh more and smiling and laughing is attractive. Happy people are optimistic people and optimistic people weather adversity of all kinds better because they find ways to explain situations and experiences to their advantage, don’t catastrophize, don’t generalize, and don’t take things to personally, because they persist, and because they don’t give up so easily.
So… once you become happy, success generally follows. Today’s science supports this claim: happy people are successful across multiple life arenas – social, physical, mental, financial, professional, romantic, and so on.
Q: How can we become happy without first experiencing some success?
A: If you want to be happy and successful, just worry about being happy. Success will take care of itself. As my dad used to say: “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.” My expression is an updated version of that: “Take care of the present moments and future moments will take care of themselves.”
1. So, the first step to becoming happier is committing to it, taking 100 percent responsibility for it. You must commit and take responsibility for allowing yourself to live a happier life, the same way that you commit yourself to creating a beautiful body, building up a savings account, or cultivating a garden. Happiness is learnable. It is teachable. But it takes patience, persistence, and the right approach, one that you custom-tailor for yourself. Happiness is also a habit. With practice, you can learn to be happier. Everything is difficult until it’s easy. And happiness is not at all special in this regard. Consistency is key.
2. Second, make happiness your top priority. You must learn to become more sensitive to the way things make you feel and then measure everything in your life based on how things feel to you and not according to standards of success, what other people think, say, do, or have. Remember, it doesn’t matter how justified or right you are when you are upset or angry or frustrated or depressed. You are often completely justified in your anger, frustration, or depression. But whether you’re right or not is irrelevant because you’re still ruining your own life. You’re ruining this present moment and ruining future moments, too. Remember, happy moments now lead to happy moments and successful moments later.
3. Learn to embrace adversity. Adversity is absolutely critical to growth and happiness for many reasons. First, adversity provides variety in life. See, from a broader perspective, there really is no bad weather. There may be lots of clouds one day or no clouds at all, the sky may be gray or it may be a brilliant blue, the sun may be shining or it may be raining. But there are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, good things and bad things about all kinds of weather conditions. The same is true of your life.
Of course, adversity is advantageous for other reasons as well. Adversity helps to weed out weak relationships and strengthen those that remain. Think of the last bad event you experienced. Who was there for you? Who wasn’t? Adversity also helps us to uncover character strengths and virtues that may not have been apparent. You’ve heard of mothers who are able to lift cars off the ground when their baby is trapped underneath. Well, the same thing happens with all kinds of adversity. Adversity can bring out the best in people. In fact – and this is a most startling finding from the world of positive psychology – the most common outcome of traumatic life events, contrary to popular belief, is not post-traumatic stress disorder but post-traumatic growth! Finally, adversity helps us to slow down, take stock, and reevaluate our lives. Adversity reminds us of what is most important in our lives and helps us refocus on those things and reprioritize accordingly.
4. Become more optimistic by telling better-feeling stories about your life based in truth. In other words, recall and re-iterate the best parts of your day, your life, and your relationships. See, optimists weather adversity better than pessimists. And we can learn to be optimistic. Optimism, from a scientific perspective, is more than just turning your gaze to the sunny side of the street or calling the glass half full. Optimism is a way of explaining to yourself and others the causes of good events and bad events in ways that support and empower you and your happiness. By and large, optimism leads to being a happier individual, and pessimism leads to learned helplessness or apathy and, eventually, if it’s bad enough, depression. What’s more, optimism has been found to predict all kinds of successful life outcomes, including presidential wins, individual and team sport victories, high grades, high income, long-term health, and so on. Optimistic people are a hardier lot, more resilient in the face of adversity, because they work harder, persist longer, take more health precautions, and so on.
Get a good book like Authentic Happiness or Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman or The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich if you want to learn to become more optimistic and, therefore, resilient in your life.
5. Appreciate what you can because appreciation makes things appreciate – or increase in value. One of the most important keys to happiness is appreciation. The happiest people, those who operate in the upper decks of their genetic happiness set point or range, are what I call “self-serving selective sifters.” They have this incredible ability to always look for, find, and then affirm the good in life. They find beauty wherever they look. And when they can’t find beauty, by which I mean something to appreciate, they look somewhere else. And they follow through on this principle of appreciation in their thoughts, their words, and their deeds.