Have you ever stumbled upon a $20 bill on the street? BEST. DAY. EVER! Then you go to Starbucks, order your morning venti caramel macchiato (1 pump vanilla, 1 pump hazelnut), a bacon breakfast sandwich and, why not, a cookie because treat yo’self. Before you know it, you’ve burnt through that free money in mere minutes.
How are you going to support your demanding Starbucks addiction tomorrow? I guess you can cross your fingers that some (literally) poor soul will drop another $20 in your path. Or maybe you’ll win the lottery (!!!)…but probably not. But you know what’s guaranteed to put money in your pocket? Working for it.
Happiness is like that. Sometimes we get lucky and it comes to us freely and sometimes we have to make our own luck.
The tricky thing about happiness is that it’s an emotion. Like every other emotion – anger, sadness, fear, surprise, etc… – it is uncontrollable and fleeting. We feel what we feel when we feel it. But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless and nor are we absolved from all responsibility of cultivating joy in our lives. While we can’t force ourselves to be happy, we can ideally position ourselves for the most potential to BE happy.
While it’s tempting to give in to escapist tendencies – filling the quiet space in your mind with podcasts or music, binging on Netflix shows, losing yourself in the anonymity of dark and crowded bars, throwing back cocktails of tequila and denial – you’ll forever find yourself with an ever-widening gulf standing between you and happiness.
It’s time to put on your adult pants, take charge and OWN👏🏼YOUR👏🏼SHIT👏🏼
1/ Own Your True Self
Every day we are inundated with images tagged #livingmybestlife – influencers prancing on pastel floaties, friends getting married and co-workers celebrating prestigious promotions.
We see how others achieve happiness and our knee-jerk reaction is to emulate them without stopping to consider: Do I even want the same things as them?
Hone in on what you truly want versus what you think you should want. When you are grounded in your authentic self, the opinions or success of others won’t distract you from your path as easily.
2/ Own Your Perspective
Ambition is a double-edged sword. While it pushes you to succeed, it can start to resemble a frustrating game of whack-a-mole – the minute you achieve one goal, another pops up in its place. Whack-A-Goal. But once the game is over (high score or not) you feel oddly empty.
This is because happiness is not derived from the realization of our grandest dreams but in the steadfast pursuit of them. Goals merely serve to inspire us to action and it’s in that action that we find contentment.
Shift your gaze from the ever-changing horizon to the present moment and the ground beneath your feet.
3/ Own Your Gratitude
Is your glass half full or half empty? This is such a prevalent metaphor because it’s such an apt representation of two ways of approaching life.
For example, a glass half empty kind of person will fixate on how they’re not skinny enough versus a glass half full person chooses to focus on how strong and healthy they are instead.
Fill yourself up with gratitude for the things that you have instead of letting what you lack poke holes in your contentment. If you go looking for something – whether it’s blessings or failings – you’re sure to find it.
4/ Own ALL of Your Emotions
There is no darkness without light. Similarly, happiness doesn’t exist without its negative counterpart. Rejecting and repressing unhappiness doesn’t make it go away, it’s just putting off the inevitable downward swing.
While I don’t suggest wallowing in it, accept that it’s a necessary (and temporary!) contrast. Let it serve to make the happy moments shine brighter.
Be kind to yourself in these dark moments. Don’t punish yourself for being human because everyone feels down sometimes however much their IG highlight reel suggests otherwise.
5/ Own Responsibility
Repeat after me: Your happiness is YOUR responsibility. Not anyone else’s – your partner, your boss, your friends or even your therapist. Therefore it stands to reason that if you’re UNhappy, it’s up to you (and only you) to fix it.
It’s not comfortable to acknowledge the ugly parts of ourselves that have kept us from happiness – laziness, ego, selfishness, avoidance – so we blame it on everything from circumstances to limited time and funds to the weather.
But only when you take ownership of your happiness will you be able to make substantial progress towards it.
6/ Own Your Fear
Fear is an evolutionary necessity to our survival. It alerts us to danger, compels us not to text while crossing the street and urges us to run when confronted by a hungry mountain lion. But it can also be a roadblock, preventing us from taking risks that can lead to happiness.
We have to let fear motivate instead of bully us into staying small and safe. Acknowledge it. Appreciate it. Don’t let it rule you. And if it’s standing in the way of what you want? Willfully move past it, knowing that the risk is worth the reward.
7/ Own Your Highs
Speaking of fear, not everyone seeks happiness. Some people actively avoid being happy as if it was the karmic harbinger of misfortune.
Many times friends will recount a date and I can see them managing their joy; downplaying their excitement in an effort to mitigate the potential disappointment if the relationship goes nowhere.
It can be embarrassing and a jarring contrast to crash from such a high but it’s better to take the highs with the lows than not to have the highs at all.
8/ Own Your Past
When recounting tales from my youth like being mocked for my ethnicity or excluded from birthday parties, occasionally I’ve been told by insensitive individuals to “just get over it,” as if emotional scars have a statute of limitation.
But childhood is when we are the most impressionable, developing defence mechanisms to cope with negative emotions that we carry into our adult lives. Those defences can become so ingrained that they become automatic reactions that we don’t even realize as the root of our issues.
While it’s relevant to trace back where our damage stems from, we can’t let it dictate our future. It’ll be a struggle but slowly change the narrative that you’ve been telling yourself unknowingly for years
At the end of the day, we’re all chasing happiness in some form or another and it can feel like a job but there is no shortcut or life hack for being happy. You can’t hire someone to do the work for you. There’s no ultimate secret that magically applies to everyone. It means confronting the darkest, ugliest parts of yourself that you’d rather leave languishing in the shadowy corners of your psyche. And you’re never done. Happiness requires constant vigilance and connection to self. It ain’t always fun and it ain’t always easy but I promise that it’ll be worth it.