Fortunately, happiness doesn’t require a fancy job title or an overflowing savings account. News outlets rarely feature stories about happy people, because happiness isn’t considered “newsworthy.” Few happy people create a buzz on social media, and if they have followers, their numbers are closer to a squad than a battalion.
How do people become and stay happy—whether or not they have external trappings of what we might consider success? Here are three things happy people do differently…
Happy People Are Content, But Not Complacent.
Contentment is that inner peace that comes from doing the best we can with what we have.
Sitting on the porch where I lived several years ago, I’d often see an elderly neighbor, George, pushing his walker down the sidewalk. In his 90s, his wife had long since passed along with most of his children. While he lived in a tiny, old Sears Catalogue Home, the outside of his home looked new. After heavy rains, he’d turn the hose on mud that splattered against the siding. While his yard had less square footage than some garages, he kept one of the nicest gardens on the block.
“How are you doing today, George?” I’d often ask as I joined him on his walk.
“Well,” he’d say, “I woke up this morning.”
I waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, I prodded, “Then what?”
“I’m 92,” he’d say winking. “I have low expectations!”
George understood contentment.
Complacency is the apathetic side of contentment, shutting down a person’s desire to progress, improve, and grow.
Still able to move, George walked every morning and evening so his body wouldn’t fail him. Owning a home, George kept it as clean as possible. Having a yard, George planted beauty in every corner. Had George been complacent instead of content, he would have been fine letting nature takes its course on his thin body, old home, and tiny yard.
Contentment is gratitude for your 12-year-old car that is paid for and runs fine; complacency is not bothering to wash it.
Happy People are Peaceful, but Not Passive
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
~ Edmund Burke
Who doesn’t want peace? While we all know blowhards that take every opportunity to fuel strife for sport or to gain attention, most non-clinically insane individuals prefer tranquility over turbulence.
But any peace gained by tolerating the intolerable is either based on misplaced passivity or cowardice.
What would you do if you saw a car full of people burst into flames on the side of the highway? Send the driver and passengers of that automobile peaceful thoughts?
Happy people don’t just want peace for themselves. They want that same peace for everyone else. So they get involved. That’s what many everyday happy people do, people like Daryl Starnes who rescued a woman from a burning car. Starnes could not remain passive when he saw someone’s peace and well-being threatened.
While peace means freedom from disturbance, successful people possess a willingness to confront unpleasantness to offer peace to others.
Happy People are Learners (present tense), but Not Learned (past tense)
Few things threaten happiness like boredom.
Lifelong learners are seldom bored. They are always learning new things, never convinced that they have all of the answers.
But thanks to science, we do “know” some answers. For example:
- Water conducts electricity
- Earth is the only planet with water
- Dinosaurs were covered in scales
- Goldfish have a 3-second memory
- Sugar makes kids hyper
- Lightning never strikes the same place twice
And thanks to newer science, we know that all of those “facts” are wrong.
Just like a shark will die if it stops swimming, our ability to create ongoing joy dies if we stop learning. [Note: Sorry, the idea that sharks die if they stop swimming is also another myth:
Just the same, nothing stifles happiness like believing we know all of the answers.
Want to be happier? Here’s what it takes:
- Humility to admit the things you do not know
- An intellectual curiosity that asks, “What can I learn today? What can I explore?”
- Fearlessness in discovering, learning, and trying new things
- The ability to get knocked down…and get up again
What practice will you start today to build lasting happiness?