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The first thing to understand in your pursuit of happiness is that “happy” is a subjective term: what works for one person won’t work for the next. These suggestions are not law or guaranteed to change your life. Instead, they’re designed to make you think—to look inward and figure out what you, as an individual, need to make you your happiest self.
The next thing you need to accept is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re not going to wake up one day a changed person. It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of self-discovery that isn’t always flattering. Happiness is a lot like muscles; even after you reach your desired body type, you have to keep working to maintain it. The same goes for being happy.
The last thing you should be wary of is that you’ll find a LOT of advice by people that are self-proclaimed “experts” on happiness and while a lot of it is valuable, it’s often more helpful to mix and match. These guides aren’t full recipes, but rather individual ingredients for you to assemble for your particular tastes and dietary restrictions.
If you can accept these prerequisite notions, you are ready to begin your journey. You have the mindset that best suits the odyssey to a personal overhaul; an emotional makeover; a spiritual recalibration.
Step One: Take a minute each day to do something that makes you smile.
This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or complicated. For me, it can be as simple as face-timing with my nieces or taking a drive with my favorite song playing loud enough to rattle my rear view mirror. It’s an exercise in muscle memory. The more you make yourself smile throughout the day, the more you’ll find yourself doing it without being prompted. The goal is to make people think you’re slightly insane because you smile so much.
Which leads us to...
Step Two: Smile at strangers.
Anytime someone makes eye contact with you in the grocery store or at work or wherever you are throughout the day, flash them your pearly whites. The way people receive you and treat you has a big effect on self-esteem and the friendlier you are to people, the friendlier they are to you. It’s contagious and cyclical— the energy you put out into the world is the energy you receive!
Step Three: Get your ass out into nature.
Seriously. I know what you’re thinking: “Does this tree-hugger really think that will help?” And the answer is unequivocally YES! There are studies that show the health benefits of reconnecting with nature, like the one published by Juyoung Lee that states a “natural environment has positive effects on the reduction of mental stress and attentional fatigue.” Nature has always played a role in mental stability. The popular form of martial arts, Aikido, was based on the philosophical teachings of Morihei Ueshiba, which emphasized the importance of nature to balance and center oneself.
Step Four: (This might seem a bit counterproductive, but it may be the most important step!) Let yourself feel the negative emotions.
Things like grief are a natural response to tragedy and hardship. When we try to avoid it or rush through it, we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to fully heal from it and it festers. If we instead embrace these emotions, they become resources and experiences that we can build off of. Anyone that studies the human anatomy can confirm that a bone that was previously broken is strongest at the point of the break.
Step Five: Get rid of the toxic people in your life.
This one is hard. Trust me, I know. If there’s someone in your life that doesn’t encourage you to follow your dreams, that doesn’t appreciate you for your strengths as well as your weaknesses, that doesn’t treat you like the absolute gem that you are, tell them goodbye. You need to surround yourself with people that lift you up. Don’t confuse this with trying to depend on others to make you happy, though (a quick fix to a complicated problem). These people can help guide you to happiness, but true, genuine contentment comes from within.
As easy as it is to sit back and say “do this” or “don’t do that,” the search for happiness is immensely personal. It will never be a "one size fits all" affair and anyone that claims to have all the answers is lying to you. Happiness is absolutely attainable for all of us, but sometimes we have to cut through all the white noise in life to hear it calling out to us. We were born with joy in our hearts; it is apparent in every child on Earth. Somewhere along the way, we let things like anger and sadness hijack our souls and we forget that happiness is already within us. It’s just a matter of equipping ourselves with the right road maps and compasses to find our way back.