This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.
By Jeff Haden
Want to be happier?
Great–but don’t just wish for a greater sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy. Do something about it. Take a different approach. Adopt a different mindset.
And then let those beliefs guide your actions.
Here are some of the habits of remarkably happy people:
1. They choose (and it is a choice) to embrace who they really are.
None of us really likes how we look. So we try to hide who we really are with the right makeup and the right clothes and the occasional Mercedes. In the right setting and the right light, we’re happy.
But not when we’re at the beach. Or when we’re at the gym. Or when we have to run to the grocery store but feel self-conscious because we’re wearing ratty jeans and an old T-shirt and haven’t showered, and we think everyone is staring at us (even though they’re not). So we spend considerable time each day avoiding every possible situation that makes us feel uncomfortable about how we look or act.
And it makes us miserable.
In reality, no one cares how we look except us. (And maybe our significant others, but remember, they’ve already seen us at our worst, so that particular Elvis has definitely left the building.)
So do this. Undress, and stand in front of the mirror. (And don’t do the hip-turn shoulder-twist move to make your waist look slimmer and your shoulders broader.) Take a good look.That’s who you are. Chances are, you won’t like what you see, but you’ll probably also be surprised you don’t look as bad as you suspected.
If you don’t like how you look, decide what you’re willing to do about it and start doing it. But don’t compare yourself with a model or professional athlete; your only goal is to be a better version of the current you. (Remember, you can have anything, but you can’t have everything.)
Or, if you aren’t willing to do anything about what you see in the mirror, that’s also fine. Just move on. Let it go, and stop worrying about how you look. Stop wasting energy on something you don’t care about enough to fix.
Either way, remember that while the only person who really cares how you look is you, plenty of people care about the things you do.
Looking good is fun. Doing good makes you happy.
2. They never mistake joining for belonging.
Making connections with other people is easier than ever and not just through social media. Joining professional organizations or alumni groups, wearing company polo shirts or college sweatshirts, or even putting a window sticker with initials such as “HH” on your car to announce to the world you summer at Hilton Head Island… People try hard to show they belong, if only to themselves.
Most of those connections are superficial at best. If your spouse passes away, the alumni organization may send flowers. (OK, probably not.) If you lose your job, a professional organization may send you a nifty guide to networking. (OK, probably not, but they will send you the invoice when it’s time to renew your membership, so there is that to look forward to.) Anyone can buy, say, a Virginia Tech sweatshirt. (I didn’t go to Virginia Tech but I do have one. It was on sale.)
The easier it is to join something, the less it means to you. A true sense of belonging comes from giving, self-sacrifice, and effort. To belong, you have to share a common experience–the tougher the experience, the better.
Clicking a link lets anyone join; staying up all night to help meet a release date lets youbelong. Sending a donation gets anyone’s name in an event program; scrambling to feed hundreds of people at an over-crowded soup kitchen lets you belong to a group of people trying to make a difference.
Remarkably happy people do the work necessary to earn a group’s respect and trust–and in so doing truly become part of that group.
A genuine sense of belonging provides a sense of security and well-being even when you’re alone.
3. They accept they can have anything but not everything.
We can’t be everything we want to be. We can all achieve amazing things, but we can’t doeverything we set our minds to. Ability, resources, focus, and, most important, time are unavoidable limiting factors.
Remarkably happy people know themselves, know what is most important to them, and set out to achieve that. The rest they’re satisfied to do well–or to simply let go.
Pick a primary goal. Do your best to excel. Then accept that you can have other goals, but that “good” where those goals are concerned is truly good enough.
Try to have it all and your inability to actually have it all will make you feel like you have nothing.
4. They know business success does not guarantee fulfillment.
You can love your company, but it will never love you back. (Trite, but true.) No one lying on their death bed says, “I just wish I had spent more time at work…” Business success, no matter how grand, is still fleeting.
Fulfillment comes from achieving something and knowing it will outlive you: raising great kids, being a part of a supportive extended family, knowing you have helped others and changed their lives for the better…
Work hard on your business. Work harder on things you can someday look back on with even more pride–and personal satisfaction.
5. They have someone to call at 2 a.m.
Years ago, I lived in a house beside a river. Then a flood caused my house to be in the river. I had about an hour to move as much stuff as I could, and I called my friend Doug. I knew he would come, no questions asked.
I’m sure you have lots of friends, but how many people do you feel comfortable calling in the middle of the night if you need help? How many people do you know whom you can tell almost anything and they won’t laugh? How many people do you feel comfortable sitting with for an hour without either of you speaking?
Most of us wear armor that protects us from insecurity. Our armor also makes us lonely, and it’s impossible to be happy when we’re lonely.
Remarkably happy people take off their armor and make real friends. It’s easier than it sounds, because other people are dying to make real friends, too.
Don’t worry; they’ll like the real you. And you’ll like the real them.
And all of you will be much happier.
6. They never mistake structure for control.
Most of what we do, especially in business, is based on trying to gain control: processes, guidelines, strategies. Everything we plan and implement is designed to control the inherently uncontrollable and create a sense of security in a world filled with random events. (Did I just go all philosophical?)
Eventually, those efforts fall short, because structure never equals control. No matter how many guidelines we establish for ourselves, we often step outside them–otherwise we’d all be slim, trim, fit, and rich. Diets and budgets and five-year plans fall apart, and we get even more frustrated because we didn’t achieve what we hoped.
To-do lists and comprehensive daily schedules are helpful, but you only make real progress toward a goal when it means something personal to you.
Deciding what you really want to do and giving it your all is easier. Plus, you’ll feel a real sense of control, because this time you really care.
And when you truly care–about anything–you’re a lot happier.
7. They never stop failing.
Most of us do everything we can to avoid failure, a natural instinct that leaves an unnatural byproduct–we start to lose the ability to question our decisions.
And we lose the ability to see our business and ourselves from the employee’s point of view. The ability to run a company and lead others is compromised when we lose perspective on what it’s like to not have all the answers–and what it’s like to make mistakes.
So go out and fail, but not in the way you might think. Forget platitudes such as, “In business, if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying.” Business failures cost time and money that most of us don’t have. (My guess is “Failure” doesn’t appear as a line item in your operating budget.)
Instead, fail at something outside your business. Pick something simple that doesn’t take long. Set a reach goal you know you can’t reach. If you normally run a mile, try to run three. If you play a sport, play against people a lot better than you. If you must choose a business task, pick something you hate to do and therefore don’t do well. Whatever you choose, give it your all. Leave no room for excuses.
Remarkably happy people often try things for which they can only be judged on their own merits–and are often found wanting. Why?
Failure isn’t defeating; failure is motivating. Failure provides a healthy dose of perspective, makes us more tolerant and patient, and makes us realize we’re a lot like the people around us.
When you realize you aren’t so different or special after all, it’s a lot easier to be happy with the people around you–and, just as important, to be happier with yourself.
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