What’s the secret to a happy life?
Is it wealth, power, fame, sex, love, health, or something else?
Or is it more related to a way of living and a perspective on your own life that makes it satisfying?
The answer seems to be C) All of the above.
The pursuit of happiness is a universal idea, one that we can all get behind. After all, we’re all here for a terribly short time – shouldn’t we be trying to make the most of it?
At the same time, many people are confused about what will make them happy and end up pursuing targets and goals that make their lives worse and not better.
Ultimately, there’s no magic formula to make life happy. But there are some eye-opening ideas that can definitely help you discover a whole new perspective.
To help you on your journey, here are six counter-intuitive secrets to living a happy life that I’m sure you’ll find enlightening.
1) Express your emotions
We’re taught from a young age to avoid certain emotional expressions in order to keep society running smoothly.
You know – if someone snatches your toy away, don’t bonk them in the head.
That sort of thing makes sense because children don’t usually know yet what kind of reaction is appropriate.
But the problem is that most of us learn how to process our emotions in ways that aren’t all that healthy.
We’re often taught not to express our negative emotions (anger, sadness, frustration) at all rather than being shown how to express them in non-destructive, healthy ways.
That kid whose toy was taken away has a good reason to be upset, and of course, smacking the perpetrator isn’t a good way to respond. They’re probably told not to hit, and that’s it.
They’re not taught another way to deal with these emotions, so they just learn that they have to swallow their anger down.
Likewise, when the same kid gets something they really like, maybe a fantastic snack, they’re taught not to get too excited in case it makes the other children feel jealous.
So, from an early age, we’re told that expressing both positive and negative emotions is bad, and many of us learn to suppress them.
Is that healthy?
Not according to research.
So it’s much better and healthier to let it all out and live an emotionally expressive life, just so long as the expressions are healthy.
2) Never stop trying to improve
Have you “arrived”?
Are you the person you always wanted to be?
One important tip to a happy life is that you should never assume the journey is over and that you’ve reached the destination.
Most people think they’ll find happiness in solving problems, but really, it’s the solving, the struggle, that we tend to find satisfying.
I have a perfect example from the jog I did yesterday.
I was running around a big long path in a beautiful park yesterday evening, feeling strong and healthy.
Up ahead, I saw a guy running along really well, too, and after a while, I realized I was slowly gaining on him.
I decided to try to up my speed just a little and overtake him before we got to the end of the path.
It was hard work, but little by little, I gained ground and shortened the distance between us.
Around 200 yards from the end of the path, I was only about 30 feet behind him when he suddenly stopped to bend over and tie his shoes.
Of course, I passed him easily and got to the end first. But honestly, I felt robbed of the challenge.
I fulfilled my goal of overtaking him, but I realized it was the struggle to do it that was interesting and exciting, not the actual end.
So, while most of us think that once we get that house we always wanted or settle with a great family, we’ll live happily ever after.
But in truth, it’s much more fulfilling to continue trying to improve and find challenges that make life so much more interesting.
3) Embrace failure
Why would failures help you live a happy life?
That sounds totally counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?
But indeed, one of the secrets to happiness is to embrace failure and learn from it.
If you never fail at anything, you’re either superhuman or not pushing yourself.
You’re keeping in your comfort zone, and while that’s fine, it doesn’t teach you how to overcome new obstacles, learn new things, and grow as a person.
But when you’re trying new things, challenging yourself, and taking risks, you’re doing all these things.
So what if you fail along the way?
If you take the perspective that every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, then you’ll be happy to make them.
Then, one day, you’ll be able to look back and realize that you got to where you are, one failure at a time.
4) Move toward what repels you
This tip is really counter-intuitive.
Why would you try to take more interest in things you don’t like or even spend more time with people you don’t get along with?
How will this make your life happier?
One thing this will do in your life is help you challenge yourself.
Not only can you test your tolerances, you can actually challenge the ideas and preferences that you hold. You may find that they’re quite baseless, or you might find that they’re rooted in some core thing that defines you.
Either way, by challenging yourself, you can find out a lot more about what makes you unique.
The other reason to do this is to make yourself more open-minded, tolerant, and empathetic.
Pushing yourself to do things you don’t prefer can help you learn more about others and relate better to people who do like to do these things you’d normally reject.
5) Relationships will make you happier than money or fame
We all know that money can’t buy happiness, but most of us seem to think it can at least rent it.
But while most people spend the majority of their most productive and healthy years working to make money, it’s actually their relationships they should be spending more time cultivating.
Harvard University has been researching an expanding group of people for over 80 years in the longest-running academic study on happiness ever.
This study followed Harvard students over an incredibly long period, through successes and failures, families, addictions, and everything else life has to offer.
Their main finding?
The amount of money people made had little to no effect on their level of happiness.
However, the biggest influence on happiness and health was good relationships. Close, fulfilling relationships made people happy.
On the other hand, loneliness had a horrible effect on people’s lives, causing deep unhappiness and even shortening their lifespans.
So, if you want to be happy, invest in people, not things.
6) Think about death
Years ago, I came across a Buddhist teaching that I found fascinating. A monk had written that we should “think about death with every breath.”
At the time, I didn’t have the context to understand what he meant by that, and I found it odd and morbid.
And yet it stuck in my mind, and that made me think about the quote and death a lot more frequently than before.
Years later, and with some reading behind me, I think I understand what it means.
Look, your death will come whether you are ready or not.
There is no avoiding it.
On top of that, nobody knows how long they’ll live. Sure, you might have longevity in the family, but that’s no guarantee against diseases, accidents, or the takeover of the world by artificial intelligence.
It sounds scary, but that’s exactly what this teaching wants you to think about.
First of all, thinking about death often can be a way to accept it as a natural consequence of life and thereby diminish its power to scare you or cause you pain.
But this contemplation should also encourage you to really live.
What would you do if you found out you only had one month left?
I’ll assume that you’d try to do all the things that make you happy and spend as much time with the people you love as you can.
Well, who’s to say you don’t have just one month left? Since you have no way to know, why would you do anything else except live this way?
Though it seems counter-intuitive, that’s the power of thinking about the reality of your own death.
Some of these six counter-intuitive secrets to a happy life are big ideas, and some are just small changes.
But I hope all of them are interesting and help you change your life for the better.