How To Be Happy with What You Have

Every day we are told that we need to have the latest model of phone, the best new tech, a new laptop to make our lives easier. Being constantly bombarded by our advertising heavy culture for the latest fancy gadgets can make it challenging to be happy with what you currently have.

Despite the oversaturation of marketing messages targeted explicitly towards your tastes, it is possible to block out the noise and learn to be happy with what you have. Changing your mindset, coupled with working through a few exercises, will have you sailing in the right direction.

Take Time to Appreciate What You Have

People tend to try to “keep up with the Jones’.” Constantly comparing yourself to what your neighbor, friend, or co-worker has, leaves you feeling miserable. Take time to think about what you need in life. Generally, you need:

  • A roof over your head.
  • Food to eat and water to drink.
  • Clothes to wear.
  • A job to provide for your basics.

Breaking things down into categories of needs and wants allows you to put your life into perspective, will enable you to focus on what truly matters and prioritize those things above the noise.

In this consumer-driven, capitalistic culture, “wants: tend to become prioritized as “needs,” and we rarely take the time to slow down, pause, and be thankful for what we have around us.

Oprah Winfrey says it best, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” It feels easier said than done. According to Psychology Today, there are exercises to help you achieve this.

They suggest these 8 exercises to appreciate what you have:

  • Keep a journal and write down what you are grateful for daily.
  • Be present and live in the moment.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Volunteer.
  • Practice self-acceptance and compassion.
  • Express your feelings.
  • Spend time with loved ones.
  • Practice self-care daily.

Each of these can become part of your day to day routine, some with minimal effort, and others may take more practice and even additional life adjustments. We have been so conditioned to compare ourselves to one another, especially with the popularity of social media, that it may take a lifestyle change such as learning to live simply to begin to be happy with what you have.

Learn to Live Simply

Technology, gadgets, fancy cars, shoes, and other material possessions are touted to make your life easier, more straightforward. The companies marketing these products claim they were created to help you. In reality, all of these items make your life much more complicated. They become one more piece of clutter in your home and one more possession for you to rely on.

In recent years, learning to live simply has become more and more popular. Being intentional about your habits and purchases allows you to focus on what truly is essential. Forbes’, Joshua Becker puts it perfectly in his article on Life-Giving Truths About Living Simply and Saving More, “minimalism always comes with less stuff, not more,” despite what advertising and marketing agencies may be trying to tell you.

The same goes for being green or sustainable. All three have become “buzz” words in the consumer industry that end up boiling down to buying more products and getting more things that you do not need in your life. As Becker says, “ the greenest thing in your home is the product you did not buy.”

Declutter Your Home

Living simply comes with decluttering your home. Letting go of the possessions that do not make you truly happy and only keeping those that fulfill a purpose. Becoming more organized by letting go helps you to find a sense of inner peace and become happier. There is a reason why there are always new organization trends and tools on the market. Most of them are designed to help you hide your clutter, not rid yourself of it.

The recently popular KonMari method utilizes many of these principals but takes it a step further. Marie Kondo encourages her clients to look within honestly. Kondo asks, “does it spark joy?” If the answer is no, it goes. As simple as that. Kondo interviewed the author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, who states, “Your home is a portrait of your inner self.” Both women firmly believe that if you have your house in order, it directly translates to your state of mind.

Gilbert states, “ If you’re too afraid to look into the scary attic in your mind, look into the scary attic in your home.” Obviously, for her, it was her attic she was afraid of, but for you, it can be a different part of your home that scares you the most. She utilized a friends’ exercise to tackle that space, in turn, addressing a piece of the puzzle that was inhibiting her happiness.

In this exercise you:

  • Write down five words that come to mind about the space
  • These five words describe the area completely
  • Clean the space
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or two for help.

Once your “scary” space is clean, you will feel more free, happier even. Gilbert describes the feeling as. “… I was able to feel what I needed to feel and see what I needed to see. You can’t do work on yourself and not do work on the space you live. And you can’t do work on the space you live and not do work on yourself…It will be a portal, a doorway that will take you into the parts of yourself that you’ve been afraid to look at.”

Looking at those parts of yourself will allow you to be more honest and will enable you to see what steps you need to take to live simply, therefore, allowing yourself to be happy with what you have.

How You Measure Your Success

From a very young age, our families teach us that our successes are measured. We get rewards for doing something good, which makes us happy in that instant. Usually, those rewards are monetary or material. As a child, it was the latest new doll you had been wanting or a new Hot Wheels car.

This reward system teaches us as we grow into adulthood that if we do well, meet a goal, achieve success, then we deserve a reward. Conversely, if we do something bad, we get punished.

Our current culture teaches us to measure our success by:

  • Metrics. In our jobs, our bosses tell us to sell more, earn more, and retain more.
  • Salary. Our yearly earnings are a huge indicator of our success. If you are continually making more money, that directly translates into being a success.
  • Tenure. Your length of time at your job is also inductive of how successful you are. If you weren’t successful, you wouldn’t be there anymore.
  • A fancy watch, car, or belongings. The ability to afford all the latest and greatest toys, gadgets, and vehicles is an outward indicator for those around you that you are successful.
  • Large houses. You may not need the two-story, 8000 sq foot home with five bathrooms, but you want it. Having a large home in a ritzy neighborhood is another way to show people just how successful you are.
  • Sending our kids to fancy schools. Your children’s education even becomes a status symbol, sending your little ones to the finest schools because you can.

All of these measures are based on things and are often largely dependent on our jobs. Possessions that don’t make you happy. In reality, it does the opposite. The effect is commonly referred to as “salary creep.” As we make more money, we use it to buy more things to keep up with those around us: cars, motorhomes, large homes, and even second homes.

Our jobs play into how we measure our success. If we have the career we went to school for and are making a hefty salary; we deem ourselves successful. It doesn’t matter that we may be working 80 hours a week, driving two hours a day in rush hour traffic, and frequently missing out on family functions. We are successful. For some, that may be the very definition of success.

Others want more of a balance and unsure how to get it. So they search for a new position thinking that will make them happier, solve their woes. Most will come up empty. It is important to remember that your work is a part of you, but it is not you. It does not define your worth, and more often than not, it does not define your happiness. Your job becomes an unfair measure of your happiness, leaving you to feel miserable.

Create Your Own Measure of Success

But what if you adjusted how your success is measured, focusing on less material things, less on your work. What might that look like? You can go as far as to create your list of measures to evaluate your success. The things that make you feel like you have achieved something great. Tests that help you achieve your happiness.

In the HuffPost article, 6 Steps to Creating Your Own Measures of Success, author Teawna Pinard talks about how it is okay to create your success measures, how to own them, and incorporate them into your daily life. She suggests that you “create your own standards, choose the path of fulfillment, focus on doing one percent more, set intrinsic vs. ego goals, gift it forward, and develop resilience.”

Each one of these six steps helps to manifest a lifestyle that is driven by your own goals, values, thoughts, and priorities, instead of the world’s leading you to be happier and appreciate what you already have. Simple things to appreciate in your life are:

  • A job that you love. One that fulfills a bigger purpose, in turn, making you happy
  • Having a loving family around you. Spending time with those who genuinely care about you and who care about you as well.
  • Having friends who you can count on through the good and the bad in your life, not fair-weather friends.
  • Good health. It is being thankful for waking up each day healthy and mobile.
  • Growth. Focus on growth not only professionally but as a person. What can help not only you but those around you? What do you have to contribute?

Your list will give you a better sense of direction and help you highlight the positive parts of your life that you may not focus on daily. It will also show you the areas where you have the opportunity to increase your happiness.

What Really is Happiness?

Happiness is such an elusive concept that there is a database located in the Netherlands dedicated to the study of the subject, the World Database of Happiness.

At the center, they have studied countries and people for decades, since 1915, to see what makes people all over the globe happy. They also look at what factors decrease happiness.

According to an article written by BBC news journalist Pascale Harter, studies by the center have found that we can increase our happiness if we look in the right places.

Research done by the World Database of Happiness suggests that happy people have these characteristics in common:

  • They are in a long-term relationship
  • Actively engaged in politics
  • Are active not only at work but in our free time too.
  • Make time to go out to dinner
  • Maintain close friendships

Another piece of the happiness puzzle is being active in our own lives. Whether it be, ironically, in politics, as the study suggests or something as simple as spending time outdoors, you need to take control of your own happiness. Dropping the practices and tasks that do not perpetuate your joy is a part of that.

Adopt Habits That Make You Happy

Spend time thinking about what activities make you happy. Make a list of those activities and start actively working them into your daily routine. It may take some practice and a bit of time, but eventually, the changes in your routine will become your new habits. A new method will increase your overall happiness and give you an appreciation for the things you already have.

Here are some ideas to give you a running start.

Take a Break From Social Media

Social Media is a constant of the human condition. People post their best selves, best clothes, new cars, etc. all for that immediate response from others that only provides temporary happiness.

Social Media is what gives their greatest advertising line, ” don’t hate like their trip, book your own.” Feeding off of people’s jealousy of what others have or are doing. Science Direct refers to it as, social comparison. Social comparison can lead to more negative feelings, therefore decreasing your overall happiness, even if it is only temporary. Social Media overall does not have a lasting negative effect on your happiness.

However, it should be used in moderation. Limit your social media scrolling to 30 minutes at a time to reduce the drag on your mental state. A study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day saw a decrease in their feelings of loneliness and depression, therefore increasing their self-esteem.

The study’s purpose was to draw a correlation between the “FOMO” that comes with social media and people’s overall mental health when faced continuously with these messages.

The reality of it all is that escaping entirely from social media is unrealistic. As the study points out, their goal was to “see what happens when you are mindful of how much time you engage” in your social media usage. They conclude that when you use mindfulness, and we can put achievable social media time constraints in place we, “feel more content with our lives and ourselves.”

Take up Volunteering

Giving of yourself to others can help you appreciate what you have. UnitedHealthcare did a national study of almost 3800 adults showing that 96% of people felt that volunteering gave them purpose in their life. It also revealed that 78% of people felt their stress levels decrease, with 94% of respondents feeling their mood increase.

Spending your spare time with others is being active not only in your free time, but you are also active within your community. Volunteering also allows you to create connections with others, whether it be kids, seniors, or pets. HelpGuide points out that working with others provides so many psychological health benefits because of the way people are “wired.”

The four most significant ways volunteering can help your mental health is by:

  • Increasing your appreciation for what you have in life
  • Allowing you to share your knowledge, experiences, and self with others makes for building deep connections.
  • Allows for feelings of accomplishment as your help can better the community
  • Giving you a purpose.

By choosing to be active in your community, you are not only helping others with their sense of self-worth, but you are giving yourself many opportunities to grow your own.

Spend Time Outdoors

There are many studies on the overall health benefits of being outside. The latest batch of studies is focusing not only on the physiological benefits of being outdoors but the psychological ones too.

In a Time Magazine article on what being outside can do for your health, they state that even spending as little as 20 minutes outside in a green space can boost your mood, even if you are not doing any exercise. The sheer act of just being out in nature, appreciating it for what it is, will give your brain that jolt of happiness.

The Director of research for the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s occupational therapy department, Hon Yuen, was one of the co-authors of the study. He stated in the article, “Some people may go to the park and just enjoy nature. It’s not that they have to be rigorous in terms of exercise. You relax and reduce stress, and then you feel more happy.”

It truly is as simple as stopping to smell the roses.

Exercise More

We all know that exercise has a myriad of health benefits. But did you know it can help you with being happy with what you have? When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals that increase your overall well being. Chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, BDNF, and dopamine.

According to Fitness Education, these five, when mixed, reduce your levels of stress and depression, therefore, giving you that positive boost. Your exercise does not need to be intense and lengthy to achieve these results. It can be as simple as going out for a 20-minute walk outside, taking advantage of a combination of two great happiness boosters. However, they do recommend that a solid 30-45 minutes of exercise a day, 3-5 days a week will help you achieve longer-lasting effects.

Learn Meditation

Meditating is a powerful tool. It helps you quiet your mind. With meditation, you take a mental inventory of what is important and forces you to look inwards. Psychologists did a study that shows meditation helps your mind hit a “ happiness set-point.”

With this, they also discovered that naturally happy people, you know those happy go, lucky people of the world, who seem happy no matter what curveballs are thrown at them, have a different brain structure than the rest of us.

These happiness naturals have a left frontal lobe that processes information more actively. Conversely, they have a right frontal lobe, the side that controls sadness, that processes information more slowly.

This combination allows them to bounce back from the negative things in life, find a positive spin, and move forward. Psychology Today states that meditation can strengthen the right frontal lobe while achieving a calming effect on the left frontal lobe. It is allowing your brain to process more positively.

Mindfulness meditation seems to be the most useful. Meditation, however, does not try to dismiss your thoughts but strives to clear away some of the excess clutter of your mind. Think of it as a deep clean of your brain. Focusing on a single objective can clear away negative thoughts allowing you to focus on the positives that already exist in your life.

Practice Gratefulness

Being grateful is key to being happy with what you have. Many exercises help you focus on the elements in your life that you should be thankful for.

  • Keep a journal. Write down what you are grateful for daily.
  • Daily affirmations. Having a list of things you are grateful for can serve as a daily reminder of the positive in your life.
  • Write notes. Writing people thank you notes for ways they have impacted your life, not only allows you to express your gratitude but will likely brighten their day as well.
  • Prayer or meditation. Pray or meditate on what you are grateful for.

Whichever your method, expressing gratitude is an excellent reminder of all the positive in your life, and you have much to be thankful for.

Spend Time on Your Hobby

Shifting your focus from activities that don’t bring you happiness and joy may leave you with more time for those hobbies you have been neglecting. Have a pile of books collecting dust? Maybe it is a craft project lying around half done. Perhaps it is time to pick up that garage sale guitar you promised yourself you were going to start playing.

In a study from City Lit, researchers found that people only spend 3% of their time doing activities that they enjoy, which boils down to about 40 minutes a day. Hobbies are activities that are done purely for ourselves because we enjoy them.

It is not only fun, but it is an act of self-care. Taking the time to focus on the parts of your life, you already have a connection to will lead to fulfilling an inward goal, which will lead to happiness.

Accept Your Path

Acceptance of where you are in life can go a long way towards being happy with what you have. It is also a solid dose of reality. Realizing there are people in the world that have more than you do and accepting it is okay is a huge step in the right direction.

Obviously, you can have goals and want to move onward and upward as they say. But those goals have to be yours and be there to help you be happy with what you have. Not there to help you get ahead or get a fancy new Tesla-like, your neighbor, friend, coworker, or what have you.

The other side of acceptance is the reality that there are many people out there who have far, far less than you do. Some people don’t have a roof over their heads or a stable job to put food on their tables.

The saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” However the same can be said for happiness. If you genuinely want to be happy with what you have, you need not compare yourself to others, but you need to decide what happiness looks like for you. Focus on what that looks like and block everything else out.

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