Life Doctor Series: How to Find Your Formula for True Happiness
Step into my office…have a seat in the comfortable armchair AKA the hammock…let’s talk about what makes you truly happy and how it ties into your purpose in life…what’s that?…you don’t know the answers to those questions? Well, in that case, let’s start with the basics.
If you find yourself saying these things while sitting in the “chair”, you’re not alone. When I ask my friends, family and co-workers this question, most struggle to find the answers. I believe that the main reason is because people lead such busy lives that they don’t stop and think about this.
Let’s change that, shall we? I’d like to share with you my journey to understanding myself and finding what makes me truly happy, as well as how I came to realize my purpose in life.
A trip on the time machine
Let’s take a trip on the time machine…It’s March of 2005, and I’m standing on the 11th floor balcony of my apartment in Valencia, Spain. I’m there studying abroad, perfecting my Spanish, and falling in love with the Spanish culture. It’s about 3:30 in the afternoon, and it’s siesta time, which means most of the city shuts down. People are at home with their families having lunch and napping before adults go back to work and kids to school. (Side note, this siesta thing is a fabulous concept, by the way, but I’ll cover that in a separate post.)
I am on the balcony while my roommates are napping. I don’t have much to do, since most businesses close for siesta, so I’m a bit bored and lonely. I’m missing my friends and family. I’m out of my comfort zone. That’s when it happens. I start thinking about my life and how to be truly happy. I don’t know how to verbalize it at that point, so I start thinking back to experiences that stand out for me.
Things like dancing come to mind, great gatherings with family and friends, waking up from a well rested sleep, and so on. I start to find patterns and compartmentalize the memories. I realize I’m only thinking about recent events, so I dig deeper and try to recall my early childhood memories, then teenage years. Two hours of uninterrupted thinking later, I put the puzzle together.
Like all creations that mean a lot to me, I give it a title: My Top 5. I’m surprised to find that they’re pretty simple things, and most don’t require money, which is great news for my poor college student budget. In fact, most of them are what I would call natural highs.
So, ready for the big reveal? Here are My Top 5 things that make me truly happy, in no particular order.
1. Sleeping long and well
I love sleeping and there is a direct correlation between how well and long I sleep, and how happy I am that day. Comfort matters too, so I am generous with the quality of items I buy to go into the amazing world of dreams every night.
2. Eating and drinking things that truly hit the spot
I’m not one of those people who eat just to calm hunger. I wait to see what I’m craving, then do my best to hit the spot of satisfaction by intaking exactly what my body wants. Children have this instinct early on, but parents beat it down by feeding them what they choose, not what kids may need. And, I’m not talking about candy here. If a child needs Vitamin A, he’ll reach for a carrot. It took some time for me get back in touch with my taste buds and understand my cravings again.
3. Being sexually satisfied
I know, I know, this is a popular hobby for most, however, realizing that this simple and readily available activity makes me truly happy was liberating. Plus, it’s quite budget friendly, provided you’re not paying for services. 🙂
4. Building meaningful relationships
This includes family and friends, however, by choice. That means I went through the list of people in my circle and consciously chose which ones added happiness to my life, and which ones deprived me of it. There was a massive “layoff” when I got back to the U.S. from Spain, however, I also deepened my relationships with those key people that I chose to invest in.
5. Partaking in adrenaline-boosting adventures
This includes traveling, dancing until I need a towel, trying things out of my comfort zone, like rappelling, etc. If it gives me a rush or a natural high, I’m in.
Well, there you have it. My Top 5 are not that unusual, I would think, however, the key point is that I know what they are. Acknowledgement alone helps me be happy and satisfied because I know what truly does it for me. It also enables me to use my life energy wisely and budget for the things that make me happy.
How does knowing my happiness formula help in the daily life? For example, I come home from work and have only three hours of free time. I find a few choices of what to do with my time: watch TV, clean the floor, call my friend and meet up, or take advantage of my hubby. I go through a mental comparison and pick one or two things that would make me truly happy that day. You’d better believe that the last two options have a much better appeal on a happiness scale, so I choose wisely. As a result, I am satisfied knowing that I make every day count by doing at least one thing from my Top 5 list.
The bottom line is that knowing what makes you truly happy liberates you from making choices to please others. Of course, sometimes we do what we have to or need to, not just what we want to. However, a lot of our time is spent on voluntary activities, and you have the power of choice. So, what are your Top 5? Here is a little exercise that I conduct with some friends and family when we aim to identify their Top 5.
A little exercise to help identify your Top 5
- Find a quiet place without interruptions. Bring a drink of choice. For many, a little wine or beer help get the juices flowing, so have at it. 🙂
- Bring a pen and post-its with you.
- Think about what makes you happy today. It could be activities, hobbies, tangible items, people.
- Write one happy thought per post-it and lay them out randomly. Make sure you can see all the post-its, as a prior thought may trigger another one later.
- If you find you have exhausted a list of current or recent happy thoughts and activities, go back in time. You can start with early childhood, then early school years, then teenage years, college years, etc.
- At this point, you may be surprised at the differences between your happy items today and what you wrote down from your early life. Don’t analize that yet, just keep going.
- When you have exhausted your happy thoughts list, step back and take a look. For some, an hour or two may enough to complete the brain-writing exercise. Feel free to spread this over days or weeks though, if it helps. Hopefully, you have at least 20 or more post-its in front of you. Re-read them all again, and see if any more thoughts come up.
- After the brain-writing session, it’s time to affinitize. That is, group things into common themes. For example, if you see playing volleyball, rollerblading, and running on your post-its, you could cluster them together in one area. There are no rules here, you just have to affinitize things that feel related in your view.
- When you’re done affinitizing, look at your clusters, one at a time. Now, try to give it a category or title. For the activities in the example above, you could call it “Exercising”. Write down the category name on a post-it and place it around the cluster. Do this for each cluster.
- If you find that you have a lot of categories, then you may need to affinitize them again into even higher level categories. For example, the “Exercising” category plus, say “Gardening/Nature” could be rolled up into “Movement outdoors”. The goal is to end up with about five high level themes for simplicity’s sake.
This exercise may not necessarily reveal something you didn’t know you liked already, however, it will give you the satisfaction of knowing and being able to verbalize what makes you truly happy. Let me know how your experience with this exercise goes and whether you find it helpful.
I believe that finding your happiness formula is a precursor to finding your purpose. Let’s take some time and solidify your happiness formula first. Please schedule a follow up appointment at the front desk for two weeks from now, so we can talk about part two of this discovery journey – how to find your life’s purpose. It was great seeing you and talking through this. Until next time!