Happiness is probably one of the most subjective concepts we humans have. It’s a subject which fascinates researchers, and yet studies come up empty-handed again and again. At best, we get a bunch of wildly differing descriptions – happiness is said to be joy or fulfillment, even achievement, but also contentedness and being carefree.
I’ve never been one to simply leave it at: “It’s different for everyone.” There are certain traits that the many concepts of happiness have in common, and I’d like to introduce you to them. And because I happen to be in the business of creating greater happiness with people, I’ll also share what I’ve learned and what I call the “3 pillars” of a happy life devoid of stress.
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What is happiness?
Publications on the subject of happiness seem to fall into two categories. The first could be called “happiness is doing”. These are people who point out that the happiest people tend to be those who actively create their lives. This certainly makes sense if you consider how restless and uneasy you feel after you’ve spent several hours at the computer on on your smartphone. You can’t think yourself happy; you need actual, physical action of some kind as well.
The other category consists of those who points out that happiness is a state of being, rather than doing. That’s true as well. All the activity in the world can’t make you happy, unless you have a core of happiness inside yourself. In the modern world, it’s widely accepted to fill every minute with activity, to the point where we’re constantly exhausted. That’s definitely not the path to happiness!
Then there’s me, of course, who keeps harping on about passions and purpose. I will definitely say that passions create happiness, and one of the “healthiest” kinds of happiness at that. A sense of purpose and being aware of your life purpose, increases this feeling. But it doesn’t end there.
The 3 pillars of a happy life
In my personal experience as well as over a decade of coaching clients, I have come to realise a few things. One is that prioritising our passions does indeed make us happy. Another, that simply adding passions into our already busy schedules only works temporarily.
Why? Because it requires rigid time management and iron discipline, which is stress inducing and therefore a) not conducive to happiness and b) not sustainable.
The solution that I’ve created and refined over the years, is threefold. I call it the “3 pillars” of a happy, stress-free life. They are:
Pillar #1: Passion(s)
This is the obvious one. Creating time and headspace to truly place a priority on what lights you up, is going to increase your happiness by leaps and bounds. Your energy levels will soar. Another thing that makes passions amazing is the fact that they belong to you alone and don’t depend on another person or any other circumstances outside of your influence.
Pillar #2: Self Care
You need regular time to look after yourself, be it with a massage, a walk in nature, yoga, a bubble bath… Self Care isn’t necessarily expensive, it only requires you to do something for your wellbeing. You could say that the Self-Care pillar includes any active contribution you make towards your wellness.
Pillar #3: Downtime
This is the one we tend to overlook and/or neglect. Even passions can burn you out if you don’t rest. Downtime is time you spend with your feet up reading a book, napping, or watching a movie. In fact, there are no limits to what defines downtime, except that it shouldn’t be anything “productive”. Downtime is what most of us think of as laziness, when in fact it’s an important part of the productivity cycle.
All this sounds a lot easier than it is. Most of my clients swear that they can’t possibly find any more time when they first come to me. It is always possible, though – and I’d suggest, it’s necessary, even life-saving – to slow down and simplify life.
It’s a journey which involves every part of your life, from your family and relationships to your finances. You’ll make some hard choices, but you’ll also feel yourself breathing more freely as the adrenalin wears off and you begin to relax. Believe me when I say, this work is well worth the effort.
Doing this allows for a balance between the 3 pillars and the rest of your life, and most importantly, it allows space for the joy to come in. That’s when you’ll begin to feel truly happy.