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12 Steps to Achieving Happiness

“Don’t worry about being like other people. People can smell a poser from a mile away.” ~Gary V, Crush It!

For most of our adult lives we’re supposed to get to work on time, follow the rules set out in college, and generally be good boys and girls. We’re used to watching the clock, giving ourselves away for money and desiring gold stars in school. We’ve become so good at censoring ourselves, we don’t know who we are anymore. And we’re even less likely to ask hard questions about consumer culture, capitalism, history, law, etc.

People feel dissatisfied, depressed and unhappy because they censor their true self. I think this is the result of too much advertising, driving, television and not following our true passions. Folks have bought into messages promoted by advertisers; that you need a big house, a nice car, name brand clothes and the latest techno gadget to be happy.

I think living a simpler and more mindful lifestyle can help people reconnect with who they are. In turn, people discover freedom and happiness. Happiness is hard to describe and means different things to different people. I think happiness at it’s core means questioning the status quo and continually rethinking your worldview.

Here are 12 ways to achieve happiness in your life.

1. Don’t act like other people.

Everyone is unique and beautiful. That should make us incredibly happy. Yet, I run into a lot of people who mimic the supposedly “cool kids.” You don’t need to emulate others to find happiness. We are all cool kids with our own interests.

2. Don’t buy your identity.

How many times have you run out to the store and purchased the latest “in-style” shirt? It’s easy to get sucked into consumer culture and what we think is “stylish.” To some extent we can’t avoid being influenced by culture, but we don’t have to buy into the messaging. Constantly questioning your choices will help you figure out your principles and preferences.

3. Cut people some slack.

After 10 years of working with rape and domestic violence victims, I’ve learned a lot about people. And one of the most important lessons I learned is: cut people some slack. You have no idea what kind of trauma people walk around with on a daily basis. If your co-worker is being a punk, then cut that person some slack. There is probably a deeper reason why that individual is in a bad mood or not treating you kindly.

The only person you can change is yourself. Be mindful and don’t snap, bicker or be mean to others. That type of behavior won’t bring you happiness or make the world a better place.

4. Learn how to give.

Giving might look different for everyone. But give all the time you’ve got. Pour yourself into projects and give back to your friends, family and community.

For instance, if you blog, help out your fellow bloggers. Highlight their work, give encouragement and help your blogging buddies improve. If you’re into volunteer work, take it up an extra notch and increase the number of hours you give to an organization every week.

Learning how to give and be grateful for everyday gifts is an essential component to finding yourself and happiness.

5. Spend time in nature.

I’ve seen a few credit card advertisements with people frolicking in green fields. Credit card companies seem to know what brings us happiness and that is spending time outside in nature. However, running up credit card bills won’t give you the time to enjoy green fields or hikes in nature. More than likely, you’ll be stuck in a cubicle, working to pay off your debt.

6. Find meaning and purpose in your life.

Last weekend, I spent some time in Orange County and talked with a few family members about dreams and lifestyle changes. One of my family members has no idea what to do next with her life. This made me incredibly sad. I encouraged her to do some mind-mapping and write down everything she wants to do.

Don’t become a zombie. Finding meaning, purpose and happiness isn’t easy. It’s a journey we all have to figure out, but it is possible if we prioritize happiness in our lives.

Determine the biggest and most important problem you can solve with your skills. And use that gift to find meaning, purpose and happiness in your life. We all have unique skills and gifts. Once you figure out what those gifts are apply them to a problem you care deeply about.

7. Learn to be satisfied with enough.

What is your enough point? How much do you really need to be happy. A number of researchers studying positive psychology have determined that people don’t need much to be happy after their basic needs are met. Happiness is found by expressing our values and connecting with others. Happiness is not for sale at the shopping mall.

8. Meditate and let go.

A RowdyReader left a beautiful comment on my last post about happiness and emphasized the importance of mediation and letting go.

What is interesting about this exploration of “Finding Happiness” (not just on your blog) is that many if not all aspects of the solutions point towards letting go of / removing things rather than adding anything. If this is considered deeply (eg through meditation) then it is possible to discover that happiness is actually already here in all of us. And, as your post points out, many aspects of “modern living” obscure happiness from our day-to-day experiences. We are so heavily conditioned to believe that we aren’t happy and need to look for it somewhere outside of our very self. And so heavily conditioned that happiness is something special – like intense pleasure or stimulation of various kinds – but when happiness is present and we experience it, in some ways it is actually very ordinary, and so kind of hard to describe!

9. It’s okay to ask for help.

If you’re feeling lost or confused, ask for help. Have some tea with a friend or family member you admire ask them “what makes you happy”. Its amazing what we can learn from others in our lives. The internet is full of amazing blogs and people. Connect with those folks and start asking questions about happiness, personal growth and living a simpler lifestyle.

10. Be a lifelong learner.

Rethinking your perspective is a huge part of finding happiness. If we continually latch onto the same worldview, how can we grow and improve our lives? Rethinking requires discussions, reading and communicating with others and allows us to answer new questions that arise. Life is constantly changing. Having the skills to adapt will foster resilience and happiness.

11. Take care of your mental and physical health.

Figuring out who you are and what makes you happy can’t happen if you’re not taking care of your physical and mental health. You only have one body and mind. Consider the consequences of choices that may jeopardize your health.

If you haven’t read my free ebook, Minimalist Health, check it out.

12. Who are you?

Derrick Jensen has written extensively about “the subsumption of the individual” and the “conversion of vibrant human beings into automata.” Jensen’s words and ideas are powerful. I agree with many of his points. Especially, when it comes to following our hearts to manifest who we really are.

To find and cultivate happiness you must ask yourself three questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What are you going to do with the short life you’ve been given?
  • And how will you cultivate happiness in your life?

It’s my hope that these tips will lead you towards the path to happiness.


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  • Bill Gerlach April 16, 2010, 6:33 am

    Awesome post, Tammy. I don’t know if this might be #13 on your list, but I believe strongly that if we are to truly turn this little planet around and realize that deep change we here readers of Rowdy Kittens are striving for then we have a moral obligation to teach our children these lessons from Day One. The next generation is (unfortunately) going to have to face head on many of the downstream effects of the lifestyles that most people live today. BUT, if we can begin to foster a deeper, more deliberate approach to living within our children, then we are taking a huge step to leaving this place a bit better than the way we found (or should I say made?) it. Be well!

    • Tammy April 16, 2010, 6:41 am

      @Bill – great suggestion Bill! I couldn’t agree more. 🙂 And thank you for reading.

      Be well and have a beautiful weekend.

  • Abby @ New Urban Habitat April 16, 2010, 8:00 am

    I like your list, especially #4. I wrote a similar post for a New Year’s Resolution series and came up with quite a few of the same points. http://newurbanhabitat.com/2010/01/14/resolve-to-pursue-happiness-in-2010/

    Here, here to Bill’s comment too.

    Happy Weekend!

  • Justin Matthews April 16, 2010, 8:48 am

    Great post, I did something similar this week! It must be spring fever to want to be happy!
    Thanks for some great Ideas
    I am going to go be happy.

  • Nancy April 16, 2010, 9:21 am

    Hi Tammy,
    Wonderful post! I just found your blog recently and have really enjoyed reading it. These 12 steps will make a terrific daily morning read, as a reminder to practice them throughout the day. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  • Charlie Broadway April 16, 2010, 3:13 pm

    I really agreed with number 2. I know people who buy things because they want to identify with a certain lifestyle. The result is a bunch of clutter they don’t need. Knowing who you are saves you a lot of time, a lot of space, and a lot of money. I wrote a blog post about this endless need to buy things we don’t need to fulfill daydreams about ourselves.

    Number 10 is also a winner. Lifelong learning is necessary in today’s economy. Always upgrade knowledge and skills.

    Great post. Will share.


    • Tammy April 19, 2010, 2:06 pm

      @Charlie – thank you for sharing. 🙂 I appreciate it! I’ll check out your blog post.

  • Nastia April 16, 2010, 6:47 pm

    Thank you for mentioning about “cutting people some slack”. This is especially important when forming new relationships. So often we make the fundamental attribution error, basically thinking that the person who acts in a way we don’t like does it because he is a jerk, and not because his iPhone just got stolen…

  • Suzie April 17, 2010, 6:01 am

    I love number 12. We are all such unique and valuable beings, and trying to force ourselves into the ‘successful mould’ is such a recipe for depression.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Tammy April 19, 2010, 2:02 pm

      @Suzie – ahhh thank you for reading! 🙂 I’m glad it made your day a little better.

  • Mara April 17, 2010, 7:14 am

    a very springlike post, thank you. re #2, don’t buy your identity: something seems to happen when you let go of stuff, step back from the buying routine, and start to meditate on here and now–you feel you are, in of yourself, enough. and then the other things on your list seem to evolve naturally.

  • Nina April 18, 2010, 2:42 pm

    Your photos are wonderful and the Reading Is Sexy mug photo is fun! I like your Spend Time in Nature tip. The outside world is absolutely beautiful, yet we don’t stop long enough to appreciate all the earth has to offer. Thanks for always keeping things simple, inspirational, and positive. Love your blog!

    • Tammy April 19, 2010, 1:57 pm

      @Nina – thank you. 🙂 I took the Sexy mug shot in Powell’s (my favorite bookstore in the world).

      Reconnecting with the natural world has been a lifesaver for me. Whenever I feel stressed, I head to the park and go for a walking meditation.

      Thank you for reading!

  • Michael Agee August 9, 2010, 1:40 pm


    This is great! Thank you…


  • Sofia Xethalis August 10, 2010, 7:50 pm

    Great thoughts. I am trying to declutter my life and possessions do not make you happy. At the same time I have way way way too many books. I am trying to use my local library more. I would like less stuff. Great job getting rid of your stuff. We do not have debt which I agree feels great.

    • Anonymous August 18, 2010, 5:22 am

      Sofia, I was thinking of you today. I do not have your email and would love to get in touch. As I was looking I read about your dad. I am going to keep trying. Bernie

    • Tammy August 18, 2010, 5:30 am

      Sofia – that is awesome! Keep me posted on your progress. 🙂

  • Hilary in New Zealand August 15, 2010, 12:19 am

    Hey Tammy, I just found your blog tonight and I am really excited and touched by much of what you write. I’ve subscribed and I am really looking forward to more of your thoughts and musings. Inspiring stuff – your mind & heart are reaching far far around the planet!
    Hilary x