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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Finding What Makes Us Happy

May 25, 2016 04:45PM ● By Beth A. Burns

A brand-new luxury car, an amazing home, designer clothing, a loving spouse, wonderful children; if only we had these things, we would be happy—temporarily. When we receive a special gift, acquire a new item or something special happens in our lives, we are overcome with joy, only to later return to the level of happiness we previously embodied. According to Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior, a lecture by Duke University’s Professor Mark Leary, research has shown that our circumstances contribute only fractionally to our happiness. Being happy is more about how we think; it’s about our behavior, approach to daily life and how we feel about ourselves. Changing our circumstances is a start, but we should work every day to improve ourselves and better understand how to control our thoughts and responses.

       Happiness often centers on what we have achieved relative to our expectations. If a change in circumstance is warranted, set goals that challenge limits, yet remain plausible. Just as goal achievement can be a source of extreme happiness, unattainable goals can be a source of extreme misery. To achieve any goal, action must be taken, so set small, realistic tasks in support of the larger objective. Baby steps are much easier than large leaps. The accomplishment of the small goals will keep us motivated to strive for the larger purpose. In life, there are trade-offs. For every want, there is a corresponding sacrifice. Clearly understand the sacrifices and be willing to accept them to accomplish a set goal. Often, the assistance of others will be needed. A little compassion toward others can also be helpful in the journey. If we are happy with ourselves, we will exude positivity.

       Practice the discipline necessary as it relates to have having a healthier body, mind and spirit. Add some sort of daily activity. Walking is a wonderful form of exercise and can be easily incorporated into our daily routine. Making healthy food choices should be a lifestyle, not a short-term undertaking. Start with proper hydration and drink lots of water daily. Learn to focus and eliminate useless thoughts. The practice of meditation is about training the brain to focus, not eliminating all thoughts. Learning to focus will assist us in arriving at that quiet place in challenging situations. Each day, practice having thoughts that are positive, full of confidence and free of conflict and prejudice. Choose to be polite and respectful, and control the tenor of all interactions with others. We evolve by emulating the behaviors of others. Positive behavior will be replicated if there is a positive response.

       Confidence and knowledge are cornerstones to feeling empowered. When empowered, we’re happier because we feel in control. We are the sum of our experiences, so experience as much as possible. Strive to embrace varying situations and surroundings. Volunteer, take classes, go to a museum or an exhibit alone. When presented with an opportunity, go for it and experience all that life has to offer. Practice making small talk. Become comfortable interacting with unfamiliar people. Most people enjoy speaking with interesting individuals, so become informed about something interesting and know it well. If we find a subject matter interesting, chances are someone else will, too. Confidence is about completely understanding our strengths and weaknesses and capitalizing on our strengths. Having the conviction of our thoughts creates an empowering presence.

       So often when we think of strength, we think of physical strength. But real strength lies in mastering the noise in our head. That constant voice in our heads is a source of misery and stress. Unprovoked negative opinions from others are often a projection of how they feel about themselves. Those comments are rooted in their world of unhappiness and self-doubt. Don’t take things that other say personally. Politely listen, sift through the noise for supportive nuggets and possibly an alternative view and be gracious. Don’t make assumptions about the actions of others. Have the courage to ask questions. If clarity is needed, just politely ask. Additionally, we should not directly compare ourselves to others, but use the accomplishments of others to inspire greatness. We have no idea what they have sacrificed, given up, traded off, paid for or misrepresented to get where they are. We all have our own individual challenges in life. Remain focused and diligent about personal goals. True strength is the ability to choose our attitude, and our response in any given set of circumstances and is paramount to being happier.

       Wisdom comes with age, and as we age, we learn to listen more thoughtfully to the opinions and ideas of others. Appreciate the opportunity the ability to gain insight and to see things from a different perspective. Realize that an agreement, or even a comment, are often not necessary. Listen without judgment and only offer an opinion when asked. Disparaging comments are not helpful, as everyone has to walk their own path. Support the efforts of others with the use of kind words, sharing our happiness with others. Also with age, we learn that we must take personal responsibility for all decisions. Do not blame others for the missteps and mistakes in life. If things don’t develop as planned, understand that we cannot control the actions of others, but only our own. Be prepared for all potential outcomes based on the decisions we make today. With continuous reflection, we can make better decisions to avoid the pitfalls of unhappiness. 


Beth A. Burns is the founder of the (er) factor. For more information, visit