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Steps Toward a Happier Life

1. Realize how much you take for granted. Most of us, most of the time, go through our daily lives and go through the motions. Wake up, shower, eat, work, lunch break, work, go home, watch TV, sleep. Whatever schedule we tend to follow in our workaday lives, we tend to fall into patterns. Patterns are fine – I work best when I’m following a set pattern that allows for occasional deviation from the norm – but patterns run the risk of mindless automation. And in the course of our average “going through the motions” day we often overlook all the beauty and wonder in the world around us, and we forget so easily how many good things we have in our lives.

Focusing on the bad things is a lot easier, and maybe more instinctive. As creatures with a survival instinct, our radar is more naturally attuned to the negative things around us. It’s a defense mechanism. But, for those of us who want to scale ever higher upward on Maslow’s Pyramid, we want to live what the philosopher Socrates would have referred to as “the examined life.” We don’t want to live in the everyday grayness of a passionless existence. We want to improve ourselves, and help others around us do the same. In the end, we want to live happy, fulfilling lives, and leave behind a legacy. This first step sets the tone for our existence. We can dwell on the negatives, or we can understand and appreciate all the good in our lives.

2. See the negatives as challenges rather than curses. I used to let the bad things in my life get me down, and, more significantly, keep me down. Getting knocked down is normal. Happens to everyone. Strength and determination isn’t a matter of never failing or never showing weakness or never falling down: it’s a matter of getting back up. There will be times when you fail. Get back up! There will be times when you stumble, bumble, or crumble. Get back up. You may be broken. You are not wrong for having those feelings. This isn’t about changing how you feel, but how you perceive. See the problems in life as opportunities to grow, to learn, to overcome, and you’re another step closer to bettering yourself and your life.

3. Notice the needs of others. We should, likewise, be the kind of people who have in mind the best interests of those around us. Encouraging compassion, charity, and kindness goes a long way. Encourage people rather than judge them. Accept people wherever they are on their respective journeys. Be empathetic, understanding, and caring. It was that kind of care and understanding that helped me through the more difficult times in life.

4. Remove toxic people. Sometimes, for the sake of your mental and emotional health, you need to remove a person from your life whose actions and attitudes are poison to you. You’ve tried so hard to encourage, help, and be their friend, but they refuse to let go of their negativity and self-sabotaging ways, and inevitably drag you down with them. Such people are often manipulative, self-centered, and careless with the truth. Sometimes the healthiest, wisest, and most merciful decision you can make is to cut ties with such a person.

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