38 steps to being a better and happier person

38 steps to being a better and happier person

via Thought Catalog by Kathryn Stanley

A lot of people are able to tell us what happiness is not. Not as many are able to tell us what happiness is, or what brings it about, or what we can do to get it. In my opinion, that’s because it’s an unachievable goal. “Happiness” is too elusive a construct to shoot for and win out. Without a clear definition, we don’t even know what we’re shooting for, so how the hell are we going to hit that target?

But I think there is something tangible that we can work towards, something for which the natural byproduct of its journey is real, true, authentic happiness, and that is to become well-adjusted. Happiness is so lofty a goal that we’ll likely never attain it so long as it’s what we strive for, but becoming well-adjusted is something we can legitimately tackle each day that we wake up, because as we move through a day, there are hundreds of opportunities to exercise it.

Well-adjusted might be best defined with examples:

Well-adjusted is when you see that someone has parked in such a way that they’re taking over some of a second spot and you recognize that it was likely an honest mistake, and that it certainly wasn’t personally intended to ruin your day.

Well-adjusted is when you give up your seat on the metro for the girl your age who looks tired.

Well-adjusted is when you see a piece of trash on the sidewalk and lean down to pick it up rather than stepping around it.

Well-adjusted is when you slow down to let someone with their blinker on move into your lane instead of speeding up (even if it’s a massive truck that’s going to annoyingly block your visibility – especially if it’s that massive truck).

Well-adjusted is when you listen so fully to what another person is saying that your smile starts in your eyes.

Being well-adjusted has just about everything to do with teaching yourself that the world is not about you.

That may seem awfully counterintuitive to bringing about personal happiness; if my happiness is about me, then how the hell is focusing less on me going to make me happy?

Happiness, at least in part, comes down to awareness and attention. You might think of this as “mindfulness.” Studies have shown that people who concentrate on and commit fully to a task in front of them report to be happier than those whose minds are wandering, thinking about the past or something yet to happen.

Where we focus our awareness and attention matters.

What we allow ourselves to be conscious of matters.

And being well-adjusted is the ultimate form of awareness and consciousness that you can strive for.

In my experience, people who are well-adjusted are calm and almost other-worldly. They are incandescent souls who seem to humbly and softly possess a secret. It should be comforting to you to learn that they were not always this way.

Nobody starts off well-adjusted. These are people who first gave so much to themselves that they made themselves able to give to others. These are people who have learned that kindness and compassion are the highest forms of intelligence. These are people who realize that to get out of your own head, you first have to walk through it.

If any of this sounds daunting, that’s because it is. Becoming well-adjusted is extremely challenging work. After all, you are at the center of every experience you’ve ever had, and to remove yourself from that center requires an awareness that most people simply don’t afford themselves. Becoming well-adjusted requires taking an unabashed look at your weaknesses, your goals and what you tend to put off for some elusive future rather than doing right now. Becoming well-adjusted requires recognizing that if growth leads to happiness, and if discomfort leads to growth, then we need to identify what makes us terrified – which requires honesty – and go set up camp there – which requires courage. Becoming well-adjusted is uncomfortable.

But it is also the most important work you can do each day. Because your happiness is important. Your happiness – I would go so far as to say – is your personal duty. And so it is your duty to become well-adjusted.

While “happiness” might be too elusive a thing to obtain or achieve, there are real ways to get there if you can readjust your goal to one of becoming well-adjusted. By tackling small tasks day by day, I think you can become one of those people with that secret. By tackling small tasks day by day, I think you can give yourself the awareness to see the world as magic.

Each of our personal journeys towards becoming well-adjusted is inherently different, as they depend largely on our individual strengths, weaknesses, value systems, experiences and ways we construct meaning from those experiences. The list below is by no means comprehensive. Maybe for you it’s more of a springboard to come up with small tasks of your own. The most important thing you can do is look at the areas of your life in which you feel something is missing or lacking. That’s where your most uncomfortable – and thus most profitable – work will lie. From there, it’s about designing small, tangible ways to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and then having the courage and integrity to act on it and stick with it – until eventually, you find yourself so in tune with yourself and so at peace with the way that you’re living that you’re able to start being alive for others.

What do you find yourself attached to – people, places, things? What might happen if you relied on them less? Which items in your life do you believe you “need”? How might you react if you lost one of them?

1. Go on trips alone: As social creatures, we all like to be around others, and thus, to varying degrees, we all struggle with solitude. Have the courage to take a trip alone – out of the country or even for a weekend to somewhere nearby – and spend some time finding comfort in your own company.

2. Give away something you love: There’s nothing inherently wrong with finding a sense of safety and security in some of the things we own; they have memories built into them. But there’s also an interesting challenge in allowing ourselves to give away an item that we value.

3. Meditate: There’s something about sitting quietly with only ourselves – our bodies, our thoughts – that’s incredibly intimidating. It’s the ultimate reduction of the outside world and confrontation of our own inner worlds. All we have to attach to in those moments is ourselves, and the rooms we may find ourselves walking into are not always pleasant. Going into them, though, is valuable work, because it’s only in going through your own head that you’ll ever be able to make your way out of it and allow yourself to reduce self-absorption.

4. Clean out your closet: Most of us could probably divide our closet into a few sections – the things we actually wear, the things we rarely wear, the things that still have tags on them, the things that we think may come in handy in the future. Ask yourself honestly why you hold onto some of the things in the latter categories, and consider giving what you don’t use away. You might find that this creates space in your life in more ways than one…

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