6 ways to live a happier life
We humans grab at happiness like it’s a tangible, prized possession. Yet it’s a feeling so swift in its passing that we often fail to even recognise it, which can result in a continual search for an elusive ideal. Perhaps it would be better to focus our attention on finding our passion, because passion is a fuel that can drive us through good times and bad, excite optimism and generate happiness.
Passion is the driving force behind most of humankind’s greatest endeavours. It can come in many forms and be focused on any area. It underpins a successful life, regardless of how we measure success. Simply defined, it’s an overwhelming fondness or enthusiasm for something or someone, yet its power is so much greater than that. It’s an elixir that, once experienced, tantalises, builds confidence and takes us outside ourselves in ways that can both fulfill us and help us to evolve.
Finding our passion is the Holy Grail of human life, but it’s a goal that slips too easily from our radar as we get bogged down in bills, responsibilities and a reluctance to push our boundaries. But living passionately doesn’t have to mean abandoning all we have for a whole new way of being. Small steps can trigger passion just as effectively as major shifts.
So don’t let habit, negativity, fear and anxiety impede the path to a passionate way of being. There are ways to get beyond this and to live a life that is deeply felt and fulfilling.
Find a sense of purpose
Having a sense of purpose automatically brings passion into your life. Aligning your purpose with your personal strengths is a surefire route to fulfillment and happiness. It allows you to live your life with meaning and to fulfill your potential.
We each have gifts that define who we are, though we sometimes don’t get the opportunity to exploit them. This lack of opportunity is not always because opportunity isn’t present in our lives, but because, for whatever reason, we’ve not chosen to take those opportunities. This can be driven by fear of failure, fear of success, low self-esteem, lack of confidence or lack of support.
All these reasons are surmountable but do require you to take risks and risk taking means putting yourself and your ideas on the line. Scary? Perhaps, but nothing ventured, as they say, nothing gained. So how do you find your purpose? Where do you begin to look?
The key to finding your purpose is to discover the specific, personal things that most ignite your passions. Spending time paying close attention to what excites you, touches you, inspires you to think in a whole new way, or even frustrates you can lead you toward living a passionate life. Spend some quiet time evaluating your reactions to day-to-day events. Introspection, meditation and self observance are all useful ways to make a start in defining who you are and what drives you.
Taking time to answer the following questions can also create a guide to narrow down your interests and the things that truly inspire and excite you. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What one thing have you always dreamed of doing but haven’t told anyone? What’s stopping you from moving forward? What things did you enjoy doing as a child? What would you regret not having done if your life was ending?
After answering these questions, read through the answers and if you find some patterns you are closer to knowing your passion and purpose in life. It’s important to note that not everyone can or has to save the world, so if your passion isn’t down that path, it doesn’t mean your purpose in life isn’t valid or lofty enough. Small things can make just as big an impact in the world as large ones. Stick to who you are, not who you think you should be.
Spring-clean your life
To live life with passion we need to reduce those things that sap our energy. People can be energy-sappers just as much as lifestyle factors, habits and ways of thinking. While “culling” people from your life may sound harsh, it’s often the case that we have someone close to us, family or friend, who does us no favours when it comes to our ability to reach our potential.
It’s worth thinking about this step in much the same way as you might approach spring-cleaning your home. Go through the people who have an impact on your life and think about what that impact is. Do you have any relationships that have become uncomfortable, that restrict who you are or how you think about yourself? Are there people in your life who bring you down, who take your dreams when you express them and sully them? If so, can you revive or alter this relationship or is it something you might be better to let go of or at least draw away from?
Have a look at the rest of your life, too. Are there other aspects of it that don’t feel right or don’t fit in to your life any more? Perhaps there’s a long-standing commitment that is no longer fulfilling, a career that no longer offers you anything except a paycheque, a habit or way of being that feels frustrating or constricting?
Reducing the people or things that make us doubt ourselves and drain our enthusiasm for what we love is essential to finding and keeping passion in our lives. As with spring cleaning our homes, sometimes it’s necessary to be ruthless no matter how attached we are to the things that aren’t very good for us.
Live an authentic life
As a child, you lived an authentic life. You were sometimes brutally and beautifully honest, you were enthusiastic, hopeful and excited by even the smallest of pleasures. You woke up in the morning with energy and enthusiasm, you embraced life, you were curious, you adapted easily and you loved that every day was full of surprises.
As we grow up, though, this authenticity is often dampened by social mores, the need to adhere to the status quo and to conform. It’s dampened by the weight of responsibility, by our need to be accepted, by anxiety and stress.
Our passions are blunted by this process and we spend the rest of our lives searching for that authenticity again as we try to achieve happiness and live with passion. So how do you know if you’re living an authentic or an inauthentic life? And how do you get that childhood wonder back?
If you’re anxious, if you try to please people, if you second guess yourself, need to impress, have many regrets, are angry, get caught up in endless negative mind chatter or tend toward addictive behaviour, you have shifted into an inauthentic life. All is not lost, though, and it’s possible to focus on behaviours that will lead you back to authenticity. You can make a conscious decision to alter your way of being, shifting from one attitude to another and not tolerating certain behaviours in yourself. Try to be optimistic, honest and open, flexible, responsible for your actions, curious and, above all, know how to ask for help and to consider advice.
Of course, there will be challenging situations in which you may automatically fall back into old patterns, but awareness will allow you to refocus on newly created habits and begin to live a passionate life.
Have courage under fire
Courage is often a quality we attribute only to those at the front line of protecting us from physical harm, such as firefighters and police, and yet courage is something we may have to tap into every day in order to live passionate lives. Fear is one of the greatest barriers to living an authentic life and to achieving real happiness. It can stop us from reaching our goals, from meeting people who may change our lives and from being honest with ourselves and others.
Instead of being courageous, we often play it safe. We stick with what and who we know, we let prejudices dictate our reactions and we close our minds to the things that might challenge us. Fear blunts curiosity and a lack of curiosity defeats passion. Fear of failure, of rejection, of loss, of being alone, of humiliation, of being ostracised by family and friends, of regret, of success — all these fears are common and hold us trapped. Courage, though, allows us to face your fears and claim a powerful and fascinating life.
It would be a mistake, though, to imagine courageous people are not afraid. They simply approach their fears differently. They approach them, cautiously perhaps, but with the sense that failure isn’t the end of the world. That there is life after a disappointment and that a lesson learned is one that is enriching rather than humiliating.
So how can you learn to approach your own fears? Perhaps by understanding that fear and courage are both mental states and you can choose one or the other. That doesn’t mean your body won’t physically react to the fact that you are afraid, but you can, by sheer force of will, decide to have a go, anyway, and reap the rewards of a life lived with passion.
Be flexible and accepting
Rigidity does not allow you to lead a passionate life. Rigidity is akin to perfectionism and both states induce anxiety and stress because you cannot control everything and everyone around you. Flexibility, on the other hand, an ability to adapt and go with the flow, allows you to let go of anxiety and enjoy each moment for what it might bring.
Flexibility invites inspiration. It offers opportunities that don’t exist when you are rigid in your ideas of how things should be and how they should happen. Flexibility allows you freedom; it allows you to experience a myriad of things and adds to your palette of tastes, textures, smells and ideas.
After all, often the most influential people in our lives and the most important pieces of wisdom gleaned come not from our pool of known and accepted sources but from those we may only know for a few moments or a few days. Lessons cannot be learned, nor can passions be enjoyed if you’re not flexible in your attitudes.
As with rigidity, an inability to accept change, difference or imperfection will lead you away from a passionate life. Acceptance and tolerance are traits that open your mind, your heart and your soul to all that is possible, all that is available and all that is imaginable. Acceptance allows you to learn and grow, to apply new experiences to your personal library, to satisfy your curiosity and allow new passions to develop and grow.
Acceptance relieves the pressure of a life lived within the confines of what you know and understand. It opens up life, broadens perspective and creates opportunity for personal growth. Acceptance is something you may baulk at initially, as old habitual responses rear up, but this can be overcome with perseverance and determination.
Living passionately necessarily means allowing others to live passionately, too, and exchanging these ideas and experiences can only heighten your own understanding of what your life means, what you value and what you want.
Explore new things
The world we live in would not exist as we know it but for the explorers who took a deep breath and their first step into the unknown, and while most of us don’t have the desire to explore unchartered territory, we certainly can step outside the borders we create for ourselves.
The decisions we make about our lives are usually based on what we know and, unfortunately, most of us don’t push the edges of that knowledge. For example, if you’re an animal lover you probably considered a job as a vet when you were young, but there are many ways of developing this passion without the intensive study and commitment to several years at university. You could, for example, become a member of your local injured wildlife service or go into zoo keeping, owning or working in a pet store or operating a pet grooming business or a kennel. These are all other ways to follow your passion for animals.
Sadly, most of us don’t think beyond the obvious, but curiosity is one the imperatives of living passionately. When you widen your lens to span the full range of fascinating options out there, you will probably begin to feel your adrenaline stir. Getting outside your immediate interest area can have the unexpected benefit of sparking an idea or two that relate to your passion.
So get out there and listen to other people’s experiences. Read things you wouldn’t normally read, watch programs you wouldn’t normally watch and you’ll soon see the possibilities are endless.
Once you’ve looked at the different ways you can approach living passionately, it’s time to stop wondering and start doing. Take a risk. Step out and try something new. By challenging yourself with action, you’ll not only raise your self-esteem, you’ll expand your comfort zone.
If you’re not sure of what to do, ask a trusted friend or partner for ideas. Ask them what they think you’re good at or the things they notice light you up. Remember that good luck happens when you’re in action and, if you try something new (even if you’re not sure of the outcome), you may discover a passionate interest by accident.
Nikki Davies wrote about the languages of love in WellBeing 107. She is a freelance writer with a special interest in health, lifestyle and relationship issues. She would like to acknowledge advice and inspiration from author and life coach Fiona Harrold.