I spent much of my time over the past year researching the topic of ‘happiness’ for my new book. While I was writing, I inevitably found myself asking, “Am I doing the things that make me really happy?”
Until I realised I was asking myself the wrong question.
Happiness is not the ultimate goal
Collectively, the research points in one direction – a well-lived life is not the kind where ‘happiness’ is the ultimate objective but rather, it’s an occasional by-product of a life that is lived in a meaningful way.
What makes life meaningful might be different for each of us, but at the heart of it, two factors seem to matter most – our relationships and whether we’re making a difference in other people’s lives.
Nurture your relationships
As a wise elder said to me in Bali recently, when we spoke about the business she had grown over the past 40 years: “It’s not the staff or the customers that keep me awake at night. It’s the ones who are closest to me.”
Relationships with partners, family and close friends are the source of our deepest pain – as well as the source of unequalled joy.
When we make time to nurture those relationships, they have a much better chance of flourishing.
Mindful awareness is one of the essential ingredients in creating better relationships. It’s only when we’re actually present that we can offer the best of ourselves to others.
When we listen without distraction and quieten our own busy thoughts for long enough to really be there for the other person, we create a place of genuine connection and support.
Instead of offering solutions or interjecting with examples from your own life keep the focus on the other person and give them the gift of your undivided attention, with a compassionate and open heart.
Something we don’t say often enough is, “I get it.” Which is generally received as “I get you”. And nothing feels better than that.
“Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” Viktor Frankl
Make a difference in small ways
Sometimes we think it only counts when we make a difference in a grand way. Small acts of generosity, repeated on a regular basis, have a positive impact on your wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of others.
Try making a difference close to home with small acts of kindness, such as the following. Take a positive attitude into your workplace; offer support to a busy colleague; call or visit an elderly relative or neighbour; write a thank you letter to someone who has helped you or grab lunch for the homeless person you walk past every day.
Once you’ve mastered the smaller acts of kindness, you may feel inclined to take on more significant actions such as volunteering or contributing to causes you care about or becoming an advocate for those in need.
Try these suggestions for living a more meaningful life
- Choose one or two relationships you’d like to nurture and make a point of giving a little more of yourself in those relationships. Ideally, choose people where help is not expected but where you have the opportunity to choose. The research says that when we feel cornered into giving, it often feels less meaningful.
- Choose a couple of small ways you can make a difference to the people you care about over the course of the coming week. Remind yourself that you’re giving for the sake of giving – try not to expect anything in return.
- Consider ordering a set of Kindness Cards from our friends at Wake Up Project so you can participate in anonymous random acts of kindness.
- If you’re someone who’s inclined to give too much of yourself to others, consider the small ways that you might make a difference in your own life too.
- At the end of the day ask yourself, “How did I make a difference today?”. And you may even find that you want to begin each new day with “How will I make a difference today?”