How to be Happy Right NOW

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“I’ll be happy once I’m retired, once the house is paid off, once I’m married, once I’m divorced…” We all fall into this trap of thinking the grass will be greener once we get to that next milestone in our life.

Especially in America, we can fall prey to the idea that happiness only comes once something has been accomplished. But all this doing and working towards the future can burn us out and cause us to miss out on the true key to happiness: the present moment.

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So, how do we find joy in the journey? How can you find happiness right NOW?

WHAT IS HAPPINESS?

Before we can understand how to obtain happiness, we must first understand what it is. Everyone will define it differently, but for the purpose of this article, let’s define it as feeling lasting satisfaction. According to this definition, eating a bunch of junk food would not be considered happiness since it leads to satisfaction in one moment followed by a period of dissatisfaction (i.e. the sugar hangover).

What we are truly seeking is satisfaction that lasts. It may ebb and flow from one moment to the next, but what we all want is to feel satisfied and content for most of the day, week, month, year, and years to come. So, how do we obtain a consistent level of satisfaction?

THE INGREDIENTS FOR HAPPINESS

To discover the ingredients for happiness, it may help you to reflect back on when you felt happy today? Last week? Last month? Last year? Sure, you likely felt happy when you graduated college or finished high school. But, what about some of the smaller moments? Like when your grandpa told you he is proud of you? Or when your cat sat on your lap this morning? Or when you tasted a delicious sandwich? 

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The similarity between these moments and others that you may have thought of is that they were times when one of your human needs was being met. When your grandpa told you he was proud of you, your need for recognition was being met. When your cat sat on your lap, your needs for comfort and affection were being met. When you tasted a delicious sandwich, your needs for food and variety were being met (see “30+ Human Needs: A Comprehensive List” for a comprehensive list).

YOU ALREADY HAVE THE INGREDIENTS

When our needs are being met, we feel satisfied. When our needs are not being met, we feel dissatisfied. It’s that simple. 

Here’s the real obstacle to happiness: believing that you will only be happy when something extremely specific happens. For instance, let’s say you feel stuck in a repetitive job that you find boring and your dream job is to be an artist. How can you find happiness today? 

The first thing to do is analyze what needs are not currently being met (the needs that are more likely to be met once you achieve your goal). In this case, it might be your needs for variety, accomplishment, prestige, growth, purpose, play, creativity, beauty and autonomy.

Next, think of what you could do to better meet each of these needs today. For instance, if you are wanting to better meet your need for growth, you could ask your employer for more challenging tasks. Or, if it isn’t possible to increase the challenge of your current job, you could work on a challenging hobby after work. In this case, taking an art class online after work might help meet your need for growth as well as creativity, beauty, and accomplishment all at once.

Once you realize that you already have the ingredients, there is no need to wait for some future accomplishment to feel happy. You just need to step back, analyze what needs aren’t being fully met, and then come up with a creative solution that you can implement today.

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SIGNS YOUR NEEDS AREN’T BEING MET

The real challenge in being happy right now is developing a deep awareness of what your unmet needs are and knowing what to do about them. So, how can you discover which needs are being met and which ones are not? To help with this, I’ve come up with this short list of 4 signs your needs aren’t being met:

1. You Have a Desire

As mentioned previously, we can often get stuck in the mindset of “I’ll only be happy when…” There’s no need to feel guilty about this thought process, it’s simply an indicator that there is something you desire. Our natural desires are one of the best indicators that we have an unmet need.

Action Item

Analyze your current desires, wishes, and fantasies. Ask yourself what unmet needs are leading you to want those things. Set some goals to accomplish today or this week that will help you meet those needs.

2. You are Jealous of Someone

This can be a tough one to spot due to all the shame we put on ourselves for feeling jealous. Don’t fret. Being jealous is a normal part of the human experience. Just look at it as an indicator on your human dashboard telling you that there’s an unmet need.

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For instance, in high school, I felt jealous of other kids in my grade who got better parts in the school musical than me. I tried to pretend like I didn’t care, but I was just lying to myself. My need for recognition and competence was being hampered. Realizing this, I could have looked into other opportunities to get those needs met: perhaps through participating in a sport or another club where I’d be likely to perform well. 

The key here is this: it’s okay to be jealous. Just use it as a springboard to discovering which of your human needs require attending to.

Action Item

Ask yourself what unmet needs are leading you to feel jealous in certain situations. Set some goals to accomplish today or this week that will help you meet those needs.

3. You are Feeling a Negative Emotion

In addition to jealousy, there are a variety of emotions we might feel when our needs aren’t being met: sadness, anger, fear, disgust, frustration, etc. In such situations, it is important to allow yourself to process the emotion. Go ahead, feel sad. It’s okay.

The problem with these negative emotions is when we believe there is nothing we can do about them, when we believe we are stuck and we’ll never feel better. Don’t believe these lies. Remember, you have all the ingredients for happiness right now. 

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Let’s say you are feeling sad because your grandmother passed away. After taking the time to grieve, you might ask yourself, “what needs did grandma help me meet? What needs might go unmet now that she’s gone?” Perhaps she was someone who you were able to receive empathy from. You could tell her anything and she’d always express love and understanding for you. In this case, perhaps you might need to think of other people in your life who might be able to listen to you in a similar way. If there’s no one else in your life who currently qualifies, it may help to meet with a counselor until you are able to find a friend who can fill that gap for you.

Fear is another emotion that we often try to suppress instead of accepting and understanding it. For instance, let’s say you have a fear of being in the car while your dad is driving. No need to feel ashamed of this fear. It is simply an indicator that your need for safety is being compromised. Understanding this, you can take steps to get your need for safety met, which may require an honest conversation with your dad or perhaps the decision to drive with someone else.

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In summary, our negative emotions are not our enemies. They are simply messages from our body letting us know what our unmet needs are. By listening to them, we can find the path towards happiness. And once we do, the negative emotions will melt away.

Action Item

Consider what unmet needs might be leading to some of the negative feelings you’ve felt today, this past week, this past month, or this past year. Set some goals to accomplish today or this week that will help you meet those needs.

4. You are Being Controlling

An important thing to understand is that meeting our human needs often requires other humans. Other people are essential to meeting your needs for support, affection, trust, understanding, etc. When the people around us are not meeting these needs in the way we’d like them to, we may resort to control tactics such as labeling, giving unsolicited advice, making demands, or blaming (See “100+ Tactics Used to Control, Manipulate, and Verbally Abuse” for a comprehensive list).

It’s natural to want control over getting our human needs met, but it’s important to realize that honest love can never come from someone who is being controlled into giving it to you. Control and fear will never lead to the support, affection, and understanding you are seeking.

So, what do you do if your needs for love and esteem are not being met by the people around you? For starters, you could try making respectful requests of the people around you (i.e. "Would you be willing to watch the kids for me tonight?"). 

If the people around you are not responsive to your requests, you may need to find new people to associate with. It takes time to surround yourself with people who naturally meet each others’ needs, but it is possible with a diligent effort. Don’t give up.

Action Item

Consider what unmet needs might be leading you to use control tactics on the people around you. Set some goals to accomplish today or this week that will help you meet those needs.

CONTINUALLY ADDRESSING YOUR UNMET NEEDS

Remember how we defined happiness at the beginning of this article? True happiness is lasting satisfaction. One of the challenges in being happy on a consistent basis is that oftentimes we fail to recognize our unmet needs on a consistent basis. We may go for weeks, months, even years before we recognize that we’ve been failing to meet one of our needs. To consistently be happy, it is important to address our unmet needs on a regular basis.

So, how can we be aware of our needs throughout each and every day? Here are a five simple suggestions:

  1. Keep a Journal. By putting your thoughts, emotions, and desires into words, it forces you to become more aware of them.  
  2. Keep a Dream Journal. Often we suppress certain emotions because we are ashamed of them. Our dreams can provide a window into our subconscious desires and fears. Writing down your dreams each night is the perfect opportunity to discover some of your unmet needs.
  3. Slow Down. If you are constantly going from one task to another throughout each day, you will be too busy to notice when one of your needs is not being met. Try to infuse each day with moments where your brain can just relax and think freely. This might include exercising, doing yoga, meditating, or just going for a walk.
  4. Evaluate Your Needs Regularly. Regularly taking the time to evaluate each of your human needs can help you develop a greater awareness of them. For this reason, I made a list of every human need in my recent article “30+ Human Needs: A Comprehensive List”. At the end, there is even a self-evaluation spreadsheet that you can download to track your progress over time.
  5. Learn Nonviolent Communication. Nonviolent Communication provides us with a language for communicating our unmet needs with our own self and those around us. If you are serious about getting your needs met, I’d highly recommend learning to use it (See “How Nonviolent Communication Completely Transformed My Relationships”).

BE HAPPY NOW

So, what are you waiting for? Take the time to work through the action items in this article and start being happy right NOW. 

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