Step One: Engage in self-reflection
I know — easier said than done. Most of us go through our lives never really getting to know ourselves. After all, life offers us many distractions. Who has time for self-reflection? The only way to to be happy after 40 is to get to know yourself really well. This includes accepting and loving who you are. This includes accepting and loving the nervous habits that only you know about, those annoying addictions, and that little pot belly or slight jiggle. All your life perhaps, you have been reminded by a parental voice that you are not quite good enough or smart enough. Or maybe it’s a loving spouse who, with all good intentions, is quick to remind you of your faults. It may be just society — and all the pressures to look and act young while buying lots of stuff and having perfect children and lots of money. All this can make self-reflection a scary proposition, but this is the first and most important step towards happiness. Start with this simple question:
What makes me happiest?
Be completely selfish and honest with your answer
Step Two: Spend time on what makes you most happy
Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Examine your list. What are some of the things that make you happiest; and make you feel most alive? Perhaps it’s the little things — like reading the paper in the morning? Or reading a good book? Maybe it’s spending time with those you care about? Maybe it’s playing on the computer writing music. The point is this: make sure each day contains at least some of these important elements. This will make you happy.
Don’t give up these items to satisfy others and their demands. This will lead to illness and unhappiness.
Step Three: Find someone to take of and who can take care of you
Humans need humans. We also need a few — or even just one — person we can think about all the time: planning activities with or just daydreaming about. Ideally, this will be the same person who spends their day planning for you, dreaming about you, perhaps making your special cup of tea when you come home at night. With someone to care for in a equal relationship, you will be happy. So many relationships end up lopsided, with one person more dependent on the other. Two people who place each other’s needs in high priority in a loving way enables happiness.
Step Four: Laugh a lot each day
Humor helps to focus the mind on the silly aspects of life. Humor helps break patterns such as negative thinking and addictive habits. Whether it’s watching funny movies, going to see comedy or just joking with people you meet, you will lighten the stress of everyday life. This will help you to be happy.
I used to become so angry about sales calls to the house at dinner time. Now, it becomes my comedy hour. The other day someone called to offer some type of insurance. The offer was that if I agreed to buy the insurance, they would send out a ten dollar gift certificate for gas in 7-10 days. I told them I was out of gas today, and asked if they could overnight the coupon, so that I could have gas the following day. Then I asked them when their dinner break was. They told me, and I said I would call them back during their dinner break as I was having my dinner! The person said they weren’t allowed to take calls during dinner!! Amazing, but you get the idea!
Laugh with others, and find comedy in your daily life. This will make you happy.
Step 5: Be physical
There are lots of ways to be more physical. You can run, lift weights, swim, do yoga, walk, make love—you get the idea. Motion changes emotion. Stuck in a depression? Get out and move! This will make you happy.
Step 6: Take afternoon naps
A twenty-minute nap lying down will recharge your batteries. Add eight hours of sleep each night, and you will feel rested. When we are rested, our creativity soars, our spirits are lifted, and we look at the bright side of our lives.
Well-rested people are happier!
Step 7: Eat small meals throughout the day
The typical American diet is little to no breakfast, a decent lunch, and a huge dinner. Break this pattern. Start to eat smaller meals throughout the day. I recommend five meals throughout the day, small and healthy meals, of course.
What we eat has a huge influence on our attitude, and ultimately our happiness.
Fight the urge for unheathy foods. Healthy eating habits can help make you happy.
Step 8: Become emotionally strong
When we let others and their feelings and perceptions of us worry us all day, this drains our energy and spirit. When we live our lives for the approval of others, we are no better off than the puppet on the string at the local children’s puppet show. Become internally motivated, and you will become emotionally stronger. Use quiet time to think deeply about one subject at a time until you reach a conclusion and resolution. In the end, tell yourself you did the best you could at the time. This will make you emotionally strong, and you will be happier.
Step 9: Treat your money with respect
Your money has no loyality to any person or cause. It goes where you decide to place it.
Even though there is really great software these days to track your money, start with a pencil and a piece of paper. Examine what comes in each month, and what goes out. That’s it.
Make sure you are spending money on things that are important to you and that add value in your life. Certain bills may add value in your life, such as the electric bill, but the multiple credit card bills do not add value, especially if, like most of us, you still have the bills coming long after you have forgotten what you bought. Pay these off. There is no secret here. You either have to reduce expenses or increase income. Both can make you happy. In my experience, reducing the expense side will make you happier!
Step 10: Do the work you love
Of course I saved the best for last. When we spend our days doing work that aligns our interests and our abilities — and feels just right — we are happier. Start by examining your work: this can help you progress through the other nine steps. Most of us figure out what work might make us happy, but then we quickly convince ourselves that our dreams are not possible.
Think about it, if you don’t believe that your dreams are possible, who else will?
Each day, focus on one of these steps and within a few weeks you will learn how to use all ten steps together. Like a well-tuned orchestra, you will start to play the music that makes you happiest.
After 40, isn’t it about time for you?
I’ll be cheering you on as you go – Craig Nathanson