Recent happiness studies indicate that popularity, influence, and money do not make people happiest – even as our culture suggests otherwise.
Autonomy, life purpose and relationships are found at the top of the list. In her new book, “The Happiness Choice: The Five Decisions that Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” Marilyn Tam communicates what she learned, in research and through painful experiences, on how to be happy, healthy, and have a balanced life.
What are the five decisions that can make you happier?
Marilyn: Research has shown that a person is happiest, healthiest and most successful when he/she is making a positive difference; taking care of himself or herself physically, mentally, spiritually and has loving relationships.
There are five decisions we make every day to bring us either more happiness or less — what we choose to do with, and how we treat our: Body, relationships, money, spiritual life and community.
Knowing your life purpose will help guide you in allocating the proper amount of energy and attention to each of these five key aspects of your life. Dynamic balance is what we strive for — we can’t do it all but we can adjust the resources we dedicate toward each part of our life at each stage of our life. Situations and priorities change over time but knowing our reasons for being will guide us along the way. By being conscious about what we choose to do, we can get buy-in and cooperation from others more easily than when we are acting without awareness.
We can make purposeful decisions and plans when we are aware of our own values instead of simply reacting to outside blandishments and events. Knowing your personal priorities, you can take the steps to gain your dynamic balance and the life you’ve always dreamed of. Happiness and inner peace are yours when you choose what is in alignment with your life’s mission.
What are five decisions that can make you unhappy?
Marilyn: Conversely if we ignore or over emphasize one or more of the five primary components of our life, there will be imbalance and negative consequences — unhappiness is sure to follow. The neglect or abuse of our body, relationships, money, spiritual life or community over time will result in illness, emotional distress, financial problems and a feeling of emptiness.
What are three ways you can shrug off impossible expectations?
Marilyn: We are suffering from the stress of trying to live up to the impossible expectations of a fantasy life as depicted in the media. There we see how the rich, famous and privileged supposedly live charmed, beautiful and worry free lives with nothing as mundane as laundry to do or bills to pay.
Yet these same celebrities are actually dealing with many of the same challenges we have –- health issues, relationships conflicts and, yes, even money problems. Real life is not TV or the Internet; question the incessant drumbeat of what is purportedly going to make us happy. Here’s three simple ways to shift from feeling that you have to achieve the outside-imposed expectations.
Use your life purpose to guide your decisions and include your own wellbeing in the equation. Question the outside assumptions; are they really the best for me?
Pause before you jump into doing what you feel pressured to do. Take some deep breaths, shrug your shoulders and move your arms and legs to loosen your body’s tightness, then ask yourself, what would happen if I didn’t do this now? You will realize that there are other options instead of meekly doing the expected.
Laugh! Look for the humor in the impossible expectation, and that will reduce your anxiety. Review the situation with more perspective and make the choice(s) that will get you what you really want in the long term.
Ultimately we all know what is for our highest good; that wisdom is inside of us all along. Take some quiet time to listen to your own inner voice. Turn off all the outside “shoulds”. Spend time in nature, meditate and journal your thoughts. Remember what is most important to you. And in letting go of the impossible outside expectations you will exceed your own idea of how happy you can be!
This article originally appeared on Everyday Health.