The Minimalist's Guide to Happiness


If I asked you what makes you happy, would you really know? You might think you’d know. Maybe you would give some arbitrary answer like money, love, music, friends, without any thought to what these things really provide. So think for a moment, if we paired money and a terminal illness, would you be happy? Could you be happy? What about marriage and betrayal or job security and a dream deferred? I think for a lot of people it would be hard to deal with these scenarios

much less be happy. So it really begs the question- is being happy conditional, based upon a perfect mix of circumstances and situations? Perhaps at times it seems that way, but I contend happiness is a state of being and is contingent upon our willingness to live in it.

Still, I don’t think we can truly conceptualize happiness and what it means to be happy. So, we spend countless hours trying to create it, letting someone else’s style become our standard. Social media has us believing everyone except us has found the happiness holy grail with their perfect vacations, perfect toys, perfect family… perfect life. But is that real happiness? I don’t think so because happiness is not perfection and if we peel back the layers of their onion, I am fairly certain we would find a distinct precarity that is not deserving of envy. No matter what the world says, everything does not have to fall into place for you to be happy unless you tell yourself that’s the way it has to be. I believe, in order to find, feel, and be happy, we need only consider this short prescription:

1-Know thyself.

I suspect your life is no different than mine. Every day you act in a series of roles depending on who you have to deal with that day. Playing the role of spouse, parent, lover, co-worker, friend, sometimes requires a different personality, disposition, or temperament. For me, my voice changes automatically depending on who I am speaking to. We learn to act a certain way, behave differently, feel differently because so-and-so might not understand if they saw the real us. This happens so often and for so long, that after a while, I don’t think we even know the real us. I’ve had moments when I have asked myself if I really liked something because I had been faking it for so long just to make someone else feel good. If this is happening to you, please stop this cycle! If you have lost yourself somewhere between a rock and someone’s (sensitive) feelings, then you need to get away and get to know yourself. Despite what others may say, nobody can tell you who you are and no one can tell you what you like, think, want, or feel. This is where you stop pretending at your life and actually live it. In the coming weeks, make a date with yourself with the sole purpose of reconnecting to your life. Learn what moves you not what moves the people around you.

2-Realize that sometimes the most selfish thing you can do is stay.

I guarantee when you stay somewhere you are no longer needed or you no longer want to be, you will not be happy on any level. Our egos would have us believe life can’t go on without our participation. Yet, when we leave this space, no one will retire our numbers. We, like everything else that has run its course, will be replaced by another who will pick up where we left off and life will continue as planned. So why do we stay when there’s nothing left for us? I have two possible answers- we have something we’ve just got to prove and/or we are utterly insecure. I remember years ago working at various jobs completely unhappy and unfulfilled, wanting to leave but needing to stay for one reason or another. It got so bad that I would get a shooting pain in my left elbow which was one of the many symptoms my body would manifest to get me to pay attention. It was my stress signal and I eventually learned to use it as a gauge for knowing when it was time to remove myself from unhealthy situations. Unfortunately, I only learned to use it after a near-death experience years later and a pain in the elbow was the very least of my concerns. But there I was, in the fall of 2001 teaching aesthetics and mostly enjoying it. The pain showed up only when I was in class. My intuition put two and two together early on but my ego said: “They need you to stay”. “You have to wait until your students graduate”. “No one can replace you”. My insecurity said, “What will you do if you leave”? "You don’t have the experience to move on”. “They need you”. My heart said, “Trust me, it’s time to go”. I ended up staying until graduation day May 2002. I was not happy but I was loyal. On my last day, the pain went away and I did move on to something bigger and better but the pain returned exactly one year later with the same advice- “It’s time to go”. Once again I didn’t listen and I stayed. This time my unhappiness turned into major depression. This silly cycle of self-betrayal continued for a long time until I finally realized what I am telling you- sometimes selfishness makes us stay. It’s selfish to think that we are so important, so talented, and so invaluable, that everyone (including us) must suffer in order to reap some imaginary benefit. Sometimes the other person needs us to leave in order for happiness to return. A bad marriage doesn’t get better just because you stay. A failing relationship doesn’t turn into a thriving one because two miserable people decide to stick it out. I was selfish to think that some other capable person could not have provided the same or better training than I did. I think in our need to hear how great and amazing we are our happiness is sometimes forfeited because we stay past the expiration date of our usefulness.

3-If you like it, don’t worry about who doesn’t love it.

If nothing else, you are entitled to your own opinions, thoughts, likes, dislikes, loves, and favorites. In my world, except for what affects me and my three (minor) children, I don’t give much thought to what other people do, feel, think, or say. This was not always the case, however as I get older, I realize I cannot be led by others whose opinions and beliefs I do not share. I have learned that sometimes caring, especially about the wrong thing, requires the expenditure of too much energy and we tend to care about too many things that just don’t matter. We are so busy trying to get people to applaud our decisions that we base our every move on how many emoji responses we get or how many hashtags are generated in our honor. It is not surprising that in an age of rampant voyeurism we have become so afraid to say or do anything that would invite social rebuke. As my oldest daughter heads to college in a few short months, it is important she choose a major/career path that she likes not one that I love. It is not my life and I am content if she is happy and fulfilled in her choices. Likewise, the path you choose for yourself should be less about someone else’s expectations of you and more about the desires of your own heart. You should never feel guilty about pursuing your bliss. When asked about her “guilty pleasures” in a recent interview, famed author and chef Nigella Lawson said, “If you feel guilty about pleasure you don’t deserve to have pleasure”. Which pleasures do you not deserve to have?

4-Stop depending on what you can’t count on.

If it hasn’t worked in 20 years, it probably never will so stop waiting for that thing, that person, that opportunity to all of a sudden be what you want it to be. If you have lived long enough, something or someone has probably disappointed you. And in spite of that disappointment you have, more often than not, found it necessary to forgive and give a second chance only to experience disappointment again. Nigella says “disappointment is an occupational hazard of being alive” and I absolutely agree. However, continuing to try to extract blood from a turnip is a futile exercise and will most certainly lead to a self-inflicted misery that could have been avoided had you stopped trying to fix a problem for which there is no solution. By now you know what it means to say something is reliable but how many things (or people) in your life can you truly rely upon? Who or what has been consistently reliable and who or what has been consistently unreliable? This is not trick science- ditch the thing that you can’t depend on and move on with your life. As difficult as that may be to do, remember the happy person is not the one who tries to force the shoe to fit but the one who gets another size.

5-Upset is optional.

The late Robert Duggan, co-founder of Tai Sophia Institute and integrative health pioneer, said it best and the magnet on the back of my car bears his words- “Upset is optional”. I like it. In three words, all the world’s problems are solved! Who can argue with that? Who says “I have to be upset about this” or “I need to be upset right now”? On any given day, there are hundreds of things that can potentially lead us to happiness or upset and we have absolute authority over how we respond to them, all the while knowing “it could be worse but it won’t be always”. So then, if happiness and upset are choices we can make, why choose the latter? I am not telling you to deny your feelings or disregard their existence. I believe we need to express them and not let any negative ones fester inside of us, but to walk around always upset about one thing or another is counterproductive and just plain stupid. Holding on to upset leads to disease. Many a heart attack or cancer diagnosis was the end result of someone choosing upset over indifference. You will never be happy if you let everything make you distraught. Everything doesn’t always matter and some stuff is irrelevant. We choose what’s important and we reap the benefits of its categorical significance. It’s all perspective. If you think something is a big deal then it will turn into one. I wish everyone reading this will make a decision to not let upset or any of its cousins- envy, hate, or greed- dictate your level of happiness. Instead, choose to embrace the alternative- don’t give a damn.

6-Be your own priority.

There will never be another human being who will value us more than we value ourselves. We all need to have a place on our own “To Do” lists. For too long, my degree of happiness was commensurate with how important I was to someone else. I sold my joy in exchange for the opinions of strangers. Today I invest in my happiness. I make it a priority and I make sure to prioritize the things that make me smile. Monetarily, I make 10% “contribution” to my wellness and every month I take at least one day to disconnect from the world. I decide how I spend it, where I spend it, and whom I spend it with. I am happiest when I have nowhere to be except where I choose to be. I think everyone deserves to own a piece of his or her day. I don’t care what you do just don’t do what you always do.

7-You must be grateful.

In as much as this list is entirely up to you to heed, there is one thing I think should not be debated- having a grateful heart. No matter what has happened to you or in spite of you, you will never be happy if you don’t adopt an attitude of gratitude. That’s big talk coming from someone who has sat on the rocks at the bottom more times than I care to share but I have also seen many mountain tops and I can tell you the darkest times were a little brighter when I decided to become grateful for the experiences and the lessons attached. It’s not easy to be thankful for hard stuff. You can’t always see the purpose in all you have been through or are continuing to go through. If it’s hard for you then start small. Be thankful for all the little things in this life- a compliment from a stranger, the concern of a friend, sunshine, rainbows, legs that work, soft tissue, a place to lay your head at night… Thursday night lineup in Shondaland! Just remember in all things give thanks.

If we could actually see happiness, it would look different to every person. What is necessary for one person to “be happy” may not even register on the happiness meter for another. And if we can all be honest, we might agree that being truly happy doesn’t actually require a laundry list of stuff either, which is why I am taking a minimalistic approach to this subject. The fewer rules we have to follow to achieve it, the overwhelmingly happier we will be. Let’s try.

©2017 by Tasha D. Manigo-Bizzell

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