The following is adapted from ENRICH.
At a time when technology is making our lives easier, medical advancements are lives longer, and we have an envious standard of living, there’s a raging unhappiness epidemic.
In the 1950s, depression was a rare disorder—about 100 cases per 1 million people. Today, more than 10 percent of the population will have a major depressive episode in their lifetime—almost 100,000 cases per 1 million people.
Why are we so unhappy, and what can we do about it?
We don’t “find” happiness. We create it. I’ve identified seven common obstacles that prevent us from living a happier life. By examining each one, we can better understand what may hold us back and find ways to overcome these obstacles.
#1: Where Do I Begin?
When it comes to creating happiness in our lives, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. So much to do; so little time. Here’s where to start:
- Self: Take care of yourself first by sleeping, eating nutritiously, and exercising. These biological fundamentals play a big role in our happiness.
- Family: Prioritize family and friends after you take care of yourself. Studies show relationships are the biggest contributor to happiness over a lifetime.
- Self-awareness: Identify what’s most important, and especially what’s non-negotiable. If you don’t set your priorities, someone else will.
- Finances: Then, prioritise financial fitness and financial security.
- Goals: Convert priorities into actionable goals. Create a Life Plan. Break down big goals into smaller, doable tasks–”visualize then incrementalize.”
Focusing on your basic needs first can have wondrous spillover benefits into the other aspects of your life. It’s not selfish; it’s a pragmatic and vital first step.
#2: I’ve Faced a Setback.
We set goals because we want to achieve something that is personally important. Whether it’s spending more time with family, becoming healthier, or saving money, you will meet resistance along the way—missing a soccer game, raiding the cookie jar, or making an impulse purchase. This is normal. Expect setbacks to occur, and step over them.
Recall what makes your goal important. What is the Why? Why is this goal important? What are the positive outcomes of success, and what are the adverse consequences of failure? Then diagnose how and why you strayed off course, focusing on what you can control. Finally, consider what you can do differently going forward.
Obstacles are part of the journey. Don’t permit a setback to derail you.
#3: I Can’t Save Money.
Saving money can be difficult, especially if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. But creating a financial plan doubles the odds that you’ll achieve your financial targets—and being financially secure is a foundation to maintaining happiness.
Examine both sides of the money equation: income and expenses. You have most control over your expenses. Ideally, necessities (housing, food, and transportation) should make up about half of your take-home income. Discretionary spending, such as clothes and entertainment, should account for roughly a quarter of your take-home income, with savings accounting for the last quarter. Be especially vigilant about recurring expenses. Identify every recurring expense, including memberships and subscriptions. These add up. Cut anything that does not deliver repeated satisfaction or use.
Take baby steps to save money. Pick a manageable amount to put in a savings account. Put it into a separate account which you can’t touch for routine expenses, before you pay any bills. Try to automate it right after payday so you won’t miss it. The principle is: you should always pay yourself first before you pay anyone else.
#4: I’m Too Busy.
John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We sometimes get so caught up making a living that we forget to live a life. That’s draining and dispiriting, and busyness is sometimes an excuse for not being happy.
Assess how you spend your time, and whether your busyness is productive or whether it just fills up a calendar. How do you do this? A time audit. Write everything down in your calendar for a week. Then evaluate each activity. Was it important? Was it productive? Can you skip it? Often, we’re so busy because we spend too much time on the unimportant things, and too little time on the things that matter.
You control your time, just like your spending. Make good use of it.
#5: I Can’t Stop Working.
Being at your professional peak sometimes isn’t like standing on a mountain. It’s more like standing at the edge of a cliff. How on earth to get off? How do you move to the next phase of your life?
Easy. Don’t plunge. Take the stairs. Plan a transition from work that gets you off the mountain in small stages. It might first mean shifting down to 75 percent work, then moving to 25 percent work before permanently stepping off the professional staircase.
By taking the stairs, you can climb up and down as you like, depending upon circumstances and interests.
This principle of transition applies to any situation where you face an abrupt change. Don’t plunge. Take the stairs. This gives you the confidence and flexibility to proceed.
#6: My Family Isn’t Close.
The family is the focal point of our society. So why do we take it for granted? We have plans for ourselves—a financial plan, a fitness plan, and even a life plan or career plan. But we rarely focus on the family, and direct intentional effort to spend quality time together outside of normal routines.
But close relationships are paramount to a happy life. Make time for family, and make the time together interesting for everyone. Spend some time to plan an interesting experience and memorable experience. The more you put into the experience, the more you’ll get out if it.
Research shows that shared and anticipated experiences provide significant long-lasting boosts to our happiness levels.
#7: The Future is Uncertain. How to Plan For It?
It’s often said that happiness is about living in the present. So where does the future fit in?
While you enjoy your present tense life, having long-term visibility is valuable for two reasons. First, it ensures you get where you want to go. Second, having something to look forward to contributes to happiness levels, especially during stressful periods.
The future is unknown, especially in these dynamic times. You can overcome this uncertainty by focusing on what you can control, what you want to achieve, and where you want to go. After all, getting to where you want to go is a big part of creating happiness.
Focus On Your Goals
There are many obstacles that might get in your way to creating happiness. But every challenge has a solution.
Focus on what you can control. Make plans, not excuses. Keep them visible in your daily life, and use proven strategies to put plans into action.
Don’t be a depression statistic. Be deliberate about creating your happiness, and overcoming obstacles in your way.
For more advice on creating happiness, you can find ENRICH on Amazon or visit Enrich101.com.
Todd Miller is an American-born entertainment executive who has extensively researched and aggressively experimented with the work-life equation for over a quarter century. While scaling the corporate ladder, Miller skillfully structured two sabbaticals, intentionally created a family through adoption, cycled coast to coast across two continents in support of children’s charities, and explored more than 100 countries on all seven continents. Drawing on ENRICH principles, Miller built time wealth and passive income while working full time. At age 53, the American-born author has retired on the Andaman Sea in Thailand, where he devotes his time to enriching connections with people and projects.