For most people, happiness and moving forward are never really considered a way of life. And yet, happiness is something that we all strive for, one way or another. I live in Athens, Greece; people over here have been going through a rough patch for the past 5 or 6 years. During these difficult economic and political times, it feels like happiness is hiding behind something all the time.
Speaking for myself, I have been going through a sticky patch for the last couple of years. I was totally stuck and I could not see the way out. Don’t get me wrong here; I am not saying that I have been stuck in the same place doing nothing. On the contrary, I have been really busy: last year I turned my life around by quitting my job in business and technology and embarking on a career as a windsurfing instructor and personal trainer. I pursued a diploma in personal training, I learnt new things, I met new people, I came across new ideas… I travelled to London 9 times in 2015 – 2016; this is far from the average persons’ idea of “being stuck”. But whilst doing all that, I was stuck in “unhappy mode”.
As I am now in recovery from that, I notice how my family, my friends, my clients and many people I care about tend to focus on what’s “not going well” in their lives. When I meet them and ask “how are you doing today?”, 99% of the time they talk to me about what they can’t do, something that isn’t going well with their job, some hardship or “drama” they are going through. If they are on a good day, they’ll tell me about something they have achieved.
We are all humans. We worry. We are fearful. We doubt ourselves. But when this becomes a pattern, it kills our happiness. I am still searching for my own happiness; along this journey, I want to share with you the following 5 things, based on what I’ve figured out about myself.
1. Align your goals with what you really value
An amazing way to work your way to feeling happier is to reflect every day on your goals. What do you want to achieve? Most importantly, why do you want to achieve it? For example, if you want to get married and have children to make your mother happy, this may be making you unhappy every single day. Why? Because if it’s not what you want, you will not want to reach this goal and this will create inner conflict. It’s hard to be happy if there is an ongoing inner conflict inside you. Likewise, if you want to lose weight so that your boyfriend can stop making all these comments about your “love handles”, you will not lose weight. Don’t make other people responsible for what you want. Happiness is about what you want. If your actions aren’t aligned with what you want, you need to change something. You either need to tell yourself the right reason why you want to achieve that, or change what you are trying to achieve. Your goal must mean something for you, not for others.
2. Find a place of flow
In psychology, the concept of “flow” is defined as “the zone, the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity”. Always look for situations where you flow. When a situation doesn’t flow anymore, change something; if you have to, change it completely, even if that means saying difficult goodbyes to things you are attached to like your career, your mate, your friend. Different people have different ways to flow: for me it has been windsurfing, competing in windsurfing, working in technology startups, reading a great book; nowadays it’s teaching windsurfing, delivering a personal training session, listening to music, enjoying a walk out in the open or spending half an hour with my colouring book. I always create situations for myself where I flow. If there’s a week where my sessions at the gym “don’t flow”, I skip them and join a yoga class instead, or go to the movies. Don’t be rigid. When we are in flow, time seems to stop and we become peaceful and focused. Look for ways to flow every day. Set aside some time to do things where you experience that feeling of flow. Learn to let go of things, situations and people if they don’t flow with you.
3. Live for today
The past is gone. The future is unknown. The present is all that we have anyway. Don’t waste your life thinking about what happened in the past or worrying about what’s going to happen in the future. When we live in the present, we experience flow. Whenever we spend unnecessary time on the past or the future, we destroy our flow. Try to remember that whatever plans your mind makes, life has other plans; don’t waste your time following your minds’ line of thought. 100% of the scenarios our minds make will never happen. I have experienced both living with regret for what I have done *wrong* and fear of *what will happen*. One thing I can tell you for sure is that neither of the two led me anywhere, ever. Living with regret for the past kept me stuck in feelings of unworthiness and helplessness whilst living with fear for the future kept me stuck in feelings of anxiety and despair. In the meantime, life was happening right in front of my eyes and I wasn’t there to see it.
4. Live life as an adventure
Because if you take a good look at it, this is what life is. There are no mistakes, only lessons and experiences. Life is to be lived, not to be constructed or thought about as if you were playing a strategy game. We all make bad choices and we do that because we need to learn from them. Living in denial about your *mistakes* or in fear about making more *mistakes* will only block you from learning important lessons that will help you grow and move forward. Life is an adventure and you can’t go wrong. These past two years, I have many times caught myself in front of a “dilemma” and every time I made it huge inside me. “Is it better to go this way, or that way”? “Is this partnership better than the other one”? “Should I try this new idea or better do nothing”? All of these were important decisions, but they weren’t as important for me to worry that much and to spend so much time contemplating about the outcome. What I came to realise is that there is no wrong choice, there’s no dilemma. Stop being so serious about your life and what’s happening in it because in reality, life is a mystery and you will never unravel it till it’s over.
5. Detach from results
As I said above, life is an adventure. Don’t take yourself or the decisions you make too seriously. You are not that important to the world. The existence of the human being and worlds’ history doesn’t depend on your actions. I have been struggling with this one for years. I was raised with very high expectations and I was taught to hold equally high expectations and to work as hard as I possibly could until I see achievements. I was so fixated on the result that I wasn’t living my life in between achieving all these results. Getting into university, graduating first in my masters’ degree, becoming a champion in windsurfing, earning a good salary, becoming a personal trainer, having enough clients to make a living in my new career, and so on. I was so busy with obtaining “the result” that I have done really great or cool or fun things and yet couldn’t see all of the growth that I have experienced in my journey. I was always too busy looking for that next goal, that next challenge, that next summit. My life has been a constant way uphill, with no plateaus to rest and enjoy life and what I have created for myself. Now, I have come to realise that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters. Being present during each moment of what I am creating now is what makes me feel happy, not the outcome of it.
Let things be how they are, right this moment. Don’t think about how things “should be”. Don’t postpone your happiness for when you’ll have “more money”, “a relationship”, “a house”, “the perfect body”, “good friends” or whatever it is you think you are missing. Most importantly, don’t try to control what’s coming your way. Just flow.
Till next time,