“You cannot protect yourself from sadness
without protecting yourself from happiness.”
— Jonathan Foer
Almost two decades ago, somewhat as a joke since she tutored me throughout grade school, I asked my grandmother to sign my yearbook. This was her closing paragraph:
“The best thing you can do from this day forward is to follow your intuition. Take risks. Don’t just make the safe and easy choices because you’re afraid of what could happen. If you do, very little worth remembering will ever happen.”
Years later, as I grew interested in the psychology of happiness, I realized how pertinent my grandmother’s words were. Risk is an inherent part of living a good life. Without taking risks, you cannot truly live… you merely exist. Which is why the happiest among us take small risks every day. Let’s take a look at ten examples, and examine some ideas on how to implement them in your own life.
1. They risk the possibility of being hurt.
As you grow up, you will learn that even the one person who wasn’t supposed to ever let you down probably will in some small way. You will have your heart broken probably more than once. You too will inadvertently break some hearts, so remember how it felt when yours was broken. You’ll occasionally argue with your closest friends. You’ll blame new loves for things an old one did. You’ll cry because time is passing too fast, and you’ll eventually lose someone you thought you couldn’t live without. This is what happens when you open your heart and mind to the greatest joys of life.
Chuck Palahniuk once said, “The only way to find true happiness in life is to risk being completely cut open.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. Anybody who is capable of living and loving is bound to get hurt at some point, but that’s a risk that’s well worth the reward. The result is a life filled with honesty and love.
So take too many pictures, laugh too much, and love like you’ve never been hurt. Don’t be afraid that your days will end in pain, be afraid they will never begin with honesty and love. Life is too short to let it pass by. Open your heart and mind and live it to the fullest!
2. They risk being real in front of others.
You don’t need everyone to like you. You are a piece of art. Not everyone is going to see your beauty. Ultimately, it’s YOUR opinion of yourself that matters, and if someone doesn’t like it, forget about them. Stop being a people-pleaser all the time, because when you go around pleasing everyone but yourself, you are the one that gets hurt.
Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth. It’s their loss, not yours. So be careful not to give so much of yourself to others that you end up completely losing yourself. In the end you will know who truly loves you; they’re the ones who respect you for who you are, and no matter what, they stand by your side. Surround yourself with these people. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
3. They risk missing out on something new, so they can appreciate what they have.
You will always be missing out on something. You simply can’t have it all. Thus it will always seem like something wonderful might be happening elsewhere. And that’s OK. Let it go, and realize you have everything right now. The best in life isn’t somewhere else; it’s right where you are at this moment. You have to accept that some things will never be yours, and learn to value the things that are only yours.
What you take for granted, someone else is praying for. Happiness never comes to those who don’t appreciate what they already have. Don’t wait until what you HAVE becomes what you HAD. Pause and appreciate all the good things you have in your life right now, as they are happening.
4. They risk helping others without expectations.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The purpose of life is not to simply be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Happiness doesn’t come through selfishness, but through selflessness. Everything you do comes back around. Greet people with a smile. Encourage them. Compliment them. Notice their progress, cheer them on, and help them smile. Smiles are contagious. The more happiness you help others find in life, the more happiness you will find.
5. They risk taking full responsibility for their own happiness.
Remember, happiness comes from your own choices and actions. Waiting for someone else to make you happy is the best way to be sad. The more you take responsibility for your past and present, the more you are able to create the future you seek.
So stop blaming others for what you have or don’t have, or for what you feel or don’t feel. When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility and perpetuate the problem. Stop giving your power away and start taking responsibility for your life. Blaming is just another sorry excuse, and making excuses is the first step towards both misery and failure. YOU, and only you, are responsible for your decisions; make a good one right now that your future self will thank you for. (Read Buddha’s Brain.)
6. They risk the consequences of taking action.
Today is a new day – a new beginning. You have been given this day to use as you please. You can waste it or you can use it for something worthwhile. Either way, what you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. You can’t always wait for the perfect time, because there may be no such thing. Sometimes you must dare to jump.
It is only possible to live happily ever after on a daily basis. Laziness and procrastination may appear attractive, but action leads to happiness. Great challenges make life interesting; overcoming them makes life meaningful. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. In its place will be something that you have left behind. Let it be something worthwhile – something you are thankful for.
7. They risk bearing the discomfort of growth.
Needless worry gives small things a big shadow. In the end, you can either focus on what’s tearing you apart, or what’s holding you together. You have to roll with life instead of against it. And sorry for spoiling the ending for you… but everything is going to be OK – you just need to learn a lesson or two first.
Don’t run from the realities of your present struggles. The pain and defeat contained within them are necessary to your long-term growth. Remember, there is a difference between encountering defeats and being defeated. Nothing ever goes away until it teaches you what you need to know to grow.
8. They risk the possibility of failing.
If you are too afraid of failure, you can’t possibly do what needs to be done to succeed in living a fulfilling life. The key is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Comfort is state of being in which to find rest and renewal for a short time; it is a dreary and dismal place to remain permanently. If you don’t challenge yourself on a regular basis, by taking small steps into unfamiliar territory, your abilities and effectiveness will become stale and weak. The reason life can be so rewarding is precisely because nothing is guaranteed.
Some of your best life experiences and opportunities will come to you only after you dare to lose. When your efforts are met with failure, you know you are on to something; because on the flip-side of that failure is a real, substantial accomplishment that doesn’t come easy. Your failed attempt is simply evidence that you are reaching higher. And “higher” is always the best direction to travel in. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
9. They risk being disappointed by accepting the truth.
Down days and disappointments are completely normal, and not something you should feel guilty about having. Happiness is never constant. Surrendering to your sadness, or whatever negative emotion is trying to come to the surface, does not make you a bad person. But remember, if you aren’t sincerely thankful for every smile, don’t be totally shocked by every tear. Keep things in perspective.
Once you embrace unpleasant news, not as a negative but as evidence of a need for positive change, you’re learning from it and growing. Whatever life throws at you, even if it hurts, be strong and fight through it. Remember, strong walls shake but never collapse. Life always offers you another chance… it’s called tomorrow.
10. They risk letting go and starting anew.
Holding on to what’s no longer there holds too many of us back. Some of us spend the majority of our lives recounting the past and letting it steer the course of the present. Don’t waste your time trying to live in another time and place. Let the past GO! You must accept the end of something in order to begin to build something new. So close some old doors today. Not because of pride, inability or egotism, but simply because you’ve entered each one of them in the past and realize that they lead to nowhere.
When we continue to repeat a story in our head, as all of us do, we eventually believe that story and embrace it – whether it empowers us or not. So the question is: Does your story empower you? Don’t place your past mishaps on your mind, their weight may crush your current potential. Instead, place them under your feet and use them as a platform to view the horizon. Remember, all things are difficult before they are easy. What matters the most is what you start doing now.
Remember, what counts the most is not what you learned by reading this article, but how you apply the knowledge. You must take action. So start small, but start now.
Choose one of the ten points above that speaks to you and practice working on it today, tomorrow and every day for the next few months. Eventually, one day, without even thinking about it you’ll start doing it automatically. And you’ll suddenly realize that your diligent practice has evolved into a permanent, internalized habit of happiness.
What would you add to this post? What risks must you be willing to take to be happy? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the community.
Photo by: Stuart Anthony