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So you want to become a Happiness Ninja?

Part of the reason I’m so happy is that I discovered what I’m passionate about and decided to focus on the things that inspire me. To do this I had to take a few risks and make major changes in my life.

Examples of these changes include:

1. Quitting my day job and moving to a city that fit my needs.

2. Giving away most of my stuff and moving into a smaller apartment.

3. And putting the time in to build a profitable small business around my writing.

Since the NYT’s article “But Will it Make You Happy?” was published I’ve received hundreds of emails from readers asking for advice about happiness. I don’t claim to know the secret of happiness. However, I’ve learned a lot of lessons during my downsizing journey that will help you cultivate happiness in your life. I decided to revise and update my thoughts on this topic to address all the questions I’ve received.

I hope the tips below will help you become a happiness ninja!

1. Create time to figure out what you really love.

If you constantly run from meeting to meeting and have your evenings and weekends packed with events, it’s time to start saying no. Say no to extra obligations. Instead use that time to figure out what you really love.

Living a simpler lifestyle will give you the time and freedom to cultivate your interests. Don’t fall into the trap of doing what everyone else does. You don’t have to watch 5 hours of T.V. everyday or work in a cubicle to earn a pension. There are options. However, it’s essential to make time to figure out what those options are. Ignoring your unhappiness and walking through life as a human robot is not a solution.

2. Find meaning and purpose in life.

Don’t become a zombie.

One way to do this is to determine the biggest and most important problem you can solve with your skills. 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.

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.

3. Say no to conspicuous consumption.

Get off the work-watch-spend treadmill by saying no to conspicuous consumption.

You don’t have to trade your time or money for a “cool” identity, a car or a big house. Trading your time and money for manufactured stuff is more likely to result in higher levels of debt and less satisfaction.

Think about your daily life. What are your consumption, work, sleeping and eating patterns like? Are you making conscious decisions about these areas of your life or just going through the motions?

4. Don’t act like other people.

Everyone is unique and beautiful and we should celebrate this diversity. 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.

5. 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 buy what we’re told 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.

6. Cut people some slack.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last few years is to 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 grouchy, 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.

7. Give more than you get.

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

Giving might look different for everyone. For instance, if you blog help out your blogging buddies. Highlight their work, give encouragement and feedback on their posts. 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.

Or donate a portion of your income or your time to an organization you believe in. In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard points out that activists and volunteers are some of the happiest people on the planet. Get involved in your community and do something.

8. 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. Is wanting too much detrimental to happiness? State this?

Happiness is found by expressing our values and connecting with others. Happiness is not for sale at the shopping mall.

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. Talk to them about your problems and ask questions about their lifestyle choices.

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.

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.

12. Be mindful of your values when you spend money.

In Your Money Or Your Life, the authors encourage people to ask themselves three questions before they buy anything:

  • Will I receive fulfillment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?
  • Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
  • How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living?

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be able to examine your true consumption patterns. In addition, these questions can help you clarify your values and true purpose in life.

And when you spend money consider supporting artists and local businesses. It sustains the local economy and it’s one way to make community connections. It’s not a bad thing to spend money. Before you spend your case, do research. Making thoughtful, informed choices will bring you greater happiness than impulse spending.


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tami August 23, 2010, 9:14 am

    This post is great, and it amazes me how similiar it is to the teachings of Buddha. Thank you for enlightening us!

  • David August 23, 2010, 9:15 am

    Great article with good practical advice 🙂

  • Jeannie August 23, 2010, 9:18 am

    Wow, this post has such comprehensive, encompassing points. They’re also very simple in idea, but difficult for many people (hence the unlearning many must do to gravitate towards minimalism). Thank you for writing and sharing.

  • Nat August 23, 2010, 9:24 am

    After reading the NTY article, I have been following your blog and checking out some of your other recommend readings. This has resulted in me thinking a lot about the idea of happiness, and about changes I should make to be a happier person. Thinking about these things has been painful, and will involve shedding a lot of things and ideas that I feel comfortable with, but I am excited to make these changes. Thanks for the post!

  • Miss Minimalist August 23, 2010, 9:41 am

    How funny, I also immediately thought of Zen philosophy when I read this!

    I think they’re all great points, but I particularly like #7 and #8. In fact, I think they go hand in hand: when we realize we have enough, we’re more inclined to give more to others.

    Very wise words, Tammy — thanks for the wonderful post.

  • Chris August 23, 2010, 9:50 am

    Happiness is transitory, I think you’re on your way to joy! Great article.

  • Chris Stroud August 23, 2010, 10:42 am

    Learning to be satisfied with enough is the take home point for me in this post. It is difficult to truly be happy if you are constantly thinking about what you don’t have and constantly working to own those things.

  • Kimmoy August 23, 2010, 10:43 am

    Absolutely amazing post Tammy! This one is a solid keeper. #1 and #2 are really speaking to me right now. I have so many interests and tend to go back and forth trying to figure out what I’m truly passionate about and what my purpose is. I know I can’t put a timestamp on this but the thought of having to go another year or a month even without confidently knowing these two things is sickening. Maybe I need to do more of #9 as well 😉

  • Leigh August 23, 2010, 11:18 am

    Tammy, your last paragraph is right on: when you spend your money wisely, don’t just question your own motives in purchasing something but question the motives of the business you’re buying it from. Where do they get their merchandise – who is making/growing/harvesting it? What are their politics? When I learned a certain big company was donating to a cause I found repellent, it made me a *lot* less interested in spending my money on their merchandise.

    Cheers – great list~

  • Kathy P. August 23, 2010, 2:08 pm

    There are still parts of my life that have me unhappy (mostly through never ending frustration) but getting my finances under control by finding my enough point certainly has smoothed things out for me. I’ve never really enjoyed shopping, but did the mall wandering thing for a lot of my younger years, and I usually came home with something. (Stuff that I’m now trying to clear out.) I think happiness (or perhaps a better word for me is ‘contentment’) comes in stages as you work your way through your stuff (mental, physical, etc.). The Tao tells us, “Appreciate your life and be content with your home” and I am getting better at it.

  • sharon stanley August 23, 2010, 5:38 pm

    well done you….a terrific post! you make excellent points. the older i get, the more i realize how little it actually takes to be “content”. we have always bought only what we could afford, and have lived simply, but it is still nice to be able to de-clutter sometimes and take stock in what we actually use and what we have just accumulated….it’s an interesting study. i have been extremely lucky to be able to stay home with my children even though there have been times i have been frustrated by what we gave up to do that….good decision….excellent decision though…

  • Matt August 23, 2010, 7:58 pm

    What a beautiful post. If everyone lived by those tips the world would be a much better place. Thanks for the great post.

  • jody lee August 24, 2010, 12:09 am

    ‘happiness ninja’… I really like the sound of that!
    It does take strength and focus to be happy. You can trick yourself into believing that you can buy happiness, but you have to dig deeper and be willing to take risks and make big changes – as you did – to be truly, lastingly happy. I’m on a similar path and I’m constantly reminded that happiness did not magically fall onto my lap – I have to continue to work for it and stick to my convictions.
    thanks for the great list!

  • Harold August 24, 2010, 12:42 am

    Tammy, you are right on target!

    Happiness eludes people who does not know what they really want and to fill that void, they go on shopping, hoping that the stuff they buy will bring them happiness. I know, I used to be like that. But now, I know better.

  • Pat B. August 24, 2010, 5:07 am

    This is all wonderfully true. Several years ago, in my mid-fifties, I realized that I could never afford to officially retire. So I invented my own form of “retirement”, commencing immediately. I now still work almost all the time, but for the most part, I work at what I like instead of what used to make me more money. I say “no” when I feel like it, without guilt. Happiness and stress relief came incrementally (and there are still some terrible moments), but my life is so much more fun now!

    Another point to consider, amplifying # 7: Because we are all better at some things than other things, helping/giving through your best talents bears exponential fruit all around. For example, my brother, the engineer, is a whiz at anything to do with machines – including cars! He can change my oil and handle most repairs for the cost of parts without taking a deep breath. However, he’s hopeless where computers are concerned. I cheerfully handle all his cyber requests, which would otherwise cost him hours of puzzling, expensive misery. We each feel huge relief. If we all do this, it’s like the parable of heaven and hell where a questioner is shown the exact same scene for each: a group of people sitting around a banquet table. Everyone has a spoon which is too long to reach his or her mouth. In hell, the people are screaming with frustration and hunger as they fail again and again to get the food into their mouths. In heaven, everyone is smiling and eating well. Each person uses the spoon to reach over and feed a neighbor . . .

    • noskinpain is good August 25, 2010, 12:04 am

      very understanding and great and true practical experience to the post,you and your brother
      are also great people.More blessing and more happiness for us.

  • diana baur August 24, 2010, 5:49 am

    Well done you (oops, sharon above already said that). Your advice is so good, so common sense. So approachable and implementable. I think I told you that after the NYT article I did my closets and felt so great. We have been simplifying for years. I want to continue. When I read what you write, I know it’s the correct way for me to go. I can feel myself breathing deeper just thinking about it. I agree with sharon above, each year brings a greater understanding of how little I actually need to be happy.

    Blessings, Tammy.

  • soultravelers3 August 24, 2010, 6:11 am

    Excellent points! I just tweeted it! 😉 We should all teach our children these things from birth. Being happy and free is much easier than most people seem to realize.

  • Amanda Bretz August 24, 2010, 6:38 am

    Great points, Tammy and I wish more people would get some or all of these points. It seems like content is a dirty word these days, I think to some it is equal to settling or apathy, when really it is realizing what you have and being thankful and happy for it!

  • Tammy August 24, 2010, 6:42 am

    Thanks everyone for joining the discussion and leaving such thoughtful comments! I really appreciate it. 🙂

  • Jenny August 24, 2010, 7:31 am

    thank you.

  • Toni's Treehouse August 24, 2010, 8:42 am

    Fabulous reminders! So much so, I included a link to this post in my blog’s weekly Reading Roundup!!

  • Cherie August 24, 2010, 9:15 am

    Enjoyed the article and the comments above. Thought I might put in a plug for a book I read recently: In Cheap We Trust by Lauren Weber. Falls right into line with above themes & it’s very current. So nice to know there’s a community out there with similar feelings and passions–I always thought I was just a tightwad, weirdo. But come on America–let’s stop the waste–of our resources and dollars. Let’s say no to big corporate consumerism. Another great book that will get you thinking along these lines is Ancient Futures even though it’s a little depressing to see what modernization has done to the beautiful, self-sustaining culture of Ladakh, India.

  • Nina August 24, 2010, 8:59 pm

    I love this post. I will be reading it more closely again soon. a friend got upset at me this week because I didn’t apply for a job 4 hours away from me even though I’ve been out of work for almost a year. yikes! but I just dn’t want it. i don’t want the job. I don’t want to move there. I don’t want my life uprooted to a place I don’t want to be. and I have to say I’m not settling anymore. just to get money. just to say I’m working. just to please, impress, soothe others…I’ve gotta focus on me and my son and that is not applying for a job I just don’t want. so this really struck home with me, now I have to figure out how to get over the guilt. 😉

  • Seetha August 25, 2010, 6:19 am

    Hi Tammy,
    Nice post. I have started reading through your blog after I came across the NYT article.
    I have a fairly simple life & fairly minimal needs. However, one of the difficulties I face day-to-day is dealing with close relatives who judge my financial decisions pretty harshly. I am not talking about distant relatives/casual friends but very close relatives – parents, in-laws etc. Not once but many times I have been attacked for not having the heart to spend. I have been subject to fairly intense pressure to buy costlier stuff for them, for my child. Pressurized to choose not so interesting but expensive events over free/fun things to do. .. to the point that we have been wasting a lot of time & energy discussing & defending our own choices. And often times I have given up. Would you have any comments/tips for such situations?


    • Tammy August 26, 2010, 6:21 pm

      @Seetha – I agree with Margaret’s points (and thanks for the thoughtful comment Margaret!). This past post might help you out: 4 Ways to Communicate with Minimalist Naysayers http://rowdykittens.com/2010/01/minimalist-naysayers/

      Having support is really nice, but don’t let anyone keep you from following your dreams.

      Wishing you all the best! 🙂

  • Margaret August 25, 2010, 8:14 am


    I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to be continually judged and found wanting by your close relatives. It can be difficult to be the “black sheep” of the family, and money is one of those lightning-rod topics that can cause great rifts between family members. I was lucky enough to be raised by strong, independent-minded parents who were not afraid to live differently, but within, a community. My dad taught me to think for myself and stick to what I knew was right, and if anyone was bothering me, to tell them to “buzz off!”

    I think it’s great advice, and you may have to do that with your relatives. In the nicest, most compassionate way, of course. But you have to be firm; it is doing no one any good to keep going over the same topics.

    One strategy is to try to discover what’s really behind the statement. Are they disappointed that you don’t want to be with them (on their expensive trip)? Does your frugality make them feel guilty for their own spending? Are they in debt? I don’t mean having a mortgage, but do they owe money elsewhere (car payments, credit card companies, etc.)? Are they perhaps secretly worried about that debt? Are they generally negative people who only feel happy if they are judging others more harshly than themselves? Do they equate giving physical gifts with giving love? Are they simply greedy? Are they uncomfortable around pepole who are different from themselves?

    Chances are you can’t ask these questions directly; they are unlikely to be aware of their deeper concerns. But maybe you can come up with the answer. Knowing what they’re really saying may help you frame a reply. For example, if they simply feel rejected because you don’t share the same activities, point out some activities that you all find attractive. It won’t stop them from griping, but if you tell them that you really enjoyed doing X but they should stop pestering you about doing Y, they will get less offended at being told to mind their own business.

    Of course, some of the underlying concerns are impossible to address directly. For those, you must have compassion (easier said than done!) and a firm resolve to tell them that you’re not going to discuss the issue any further. (“Mom, I’m not going to talk about this any more.” repeat as necessary)

    If they can’t let it go, you must avoid them. This is very hard to do, but in the long run, it is the only solution to people who are so disrespectful. It’s important to note that this is not a punishment (though they may see it as one). You can still love them and wish them well — while recognizing that their chosen behavior is damaging you and that you must take steps to preserve yourself.

    Bottom line, if you’re happy with your lifestyle and your extended family is sabotaging it, then you need to reduce the amount of time you spend with them. Don’t waste your time and damage your well-being with such negative behavior.

  • Deb G August 25, 2010, 9:23 am

    Tammy ~ I love this post! You hit the nail on the head about “Living a simpler lifestyle will give you the time and freedom to cultivate your interests. Don’t fall into the trap of doing what everyone else does.” I posted a blog yesterday on about “frugal” being the new F-word 🙂 I was amazed that it made Freshly Pressed, and just how many people commented on how much more they enjoy life by utilizing the principals of simple, miminalist, frugal living. http://winkbludreams.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/the-new-f-word

  • k August 25, 2010, 4:02 pm

    Great stuff, Tammy. You know your shit and you are one cool kid.

  • Anonymous August 26, 2010, 12:35 pm

    excellent pointers!! I agree with giving people some slack; I was saying to my husband the other day that you just never know what someone may be going through – especially complete strangers that you meet in a store. And saying no to conspicuous consumption is the road to early retirement. We are NEVER the first on our block to get anything which is a good thing 🙂

  • carma August 26, 2010, 12:37 pm

    Some excellent pointers. Regarding conspicuous consumption, we are NEVER the first on our block to get anything, which is the key to early retirement 🙂

  • Harry, WorldOnaBike.com August 27, 2010, 9:08 am

    Good list of easy (well not for everybody 🙂 things to change.
    It is still amazing how people can think they are happy (read: worry) about a few virtual bits and bytes, depicting their total income.

    We have been travelling by bicycle for a few years now, currently on our way from Alaska to Argentina. It is not only great because you stay healthy, don’t burn fuel, get visit all those wonderful places and people along the way, but also because you can not carry so much on your bicycle.
    I am fortunate enough to be born and raised in teh Netherlands, where cycling is a way of life (and no helmets and spandex are hurt/needed while cycling to work, friends, supermarket, school or just for fun or fitmess). So the cycling itself is second nature, just now with all I have and need with me.

    5 bags per person, including camping and cooking gear and spare parts. Buying a new t-shirt is a luxury, but you know you will have to give away another one, as one extra simply does not fit. Still I manage my own businesses from the road. No, not too much profit, but profit nevertheless, and more than we (a couple) need to ride around the world while making it.

    Before we left I gave most of my things away and stashed the rest away in a small basement. But when I will return, I won’t have needed it in several years. Of course there are exceptions (like negatives, slides etc), but likely the rest will go as well.

    Thanks for getting the word out and good luck with the new book.
    Best regards, Harry

  • Per September 9, 2010, 11:49 pm

    Great post. So many people want happiness to come first, and then they will take action. Usually that dowsn’t work. Your approach is more like it, as I see it. Start with the action and the feeling will follow.

  • Kenny Eller September 20, 2010, 4:06 am

    Love it! Subscribing…now!

  • Sarah June 16, 2011, 9:16 am

    I found your site while trying to come up with a term to start cataloging the subtle, modest acts of kindness witnessed amidst my daily routines. I came up with ‘happiness ninjas’…um, it seems that’s already quite popular a la google! But so happy it is. The ‘Chain of Kindness’ you speak of is out there, if not a little hard to find at times. So, for the sake of my own little journaling efforts, I’m using the term ‘Joy Ninja of the Day’. I’m sure someone, somewhere, already thought of it, but I can’t imagine that’s a bad thing.

    Great posts. I’ll keep reading…

    • Tammy June 16, 2011, 9:33 am

      @Sarah – Such a great name! “Joy Ninja of the Day.” 🙂 Love it! Thanks for sharing and reading.

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