What does it take to find happiness in life?  “Happiness” is simply defined as “a state of well-being and contentment.”  We all have those glowing moments, when there’s a feeling in the seat of your heart that aligns you.  When you feel happiness, you feel full, radiant, and protected.  You feel secure. 

But those moments are fleeting, and with good reason.  Let’s face it: the human psyche has to change to be healthy.  No matter how amazing your life is, your state of being is always in constant fluctuation.  There’s something very important about the quest of happiness that people need to understand: basically, what you’re really seeking is a greater sense of purpose and stability, and the knowledge that you are being fulfilled daily.

You are not seeking a brand new car; you are not seeking a super-sexy spouse; you aren’t even seeking unfathomable wealth.  Those may be pieces of the pie (I won’t deny you your super-sexy spouse, after all), but again, I repeat, true happiness in life does not equal a quick fix, nor even several fulfilled desires; but rather a long-term “state of being” that resonates with who you really are.

The question then becomes, “Huh, so, who am I really?”

Let’s figure that out with five relatively simple-but-soul-searching exercises.

Write Down Your Interests - Every Interest

Human beings have big brains, and chances are that big brain of yours is constantly enticed by all sorts of things.  You can like gas-guzzling cars but also be a staunch defender of planet earth.  Our brains facilitate the logic and reasoning necessary to ensure both of those things can simultaneously exist inside your head.  That’s fantastic.  However, at the same time the complexity of your brain can be causing you anguish by pulling you in a million different directions at once.  You may feel torn or confused about what you believe in or care about.

So, the number one thing I recommend is to list it all out.  Sit down and challenge yourself to think of 100 different interests you have.  Write down absolutely anything and everything that comes to mind as it comes to mind.  Don’t worry about grouping or categorizing, and don’t read what you’ve already written down before you get to the end.

When you do get to the end of the list, first congratulate yourself, and then go through 1 through 100 and look for any patterns you see.  Are there several spots on that list dedicated to artistic endeavors?  Perhaps you’ll discover you wrote the same thing – or different variations of the same thing – a few times without realizing it.  This list can give you insight into which areas your interests are strongest  - and weakest.  The value in this is that, armed with the knowledge of your strongest interests, you can pursue them with some confidence. 

Become Aware Of Things You Enjoy - And Why

Start becoming aware of how you feel before, during, and after every activity you do.  How do you feel when you get up in the morning on a workday?  Are you excited or would you rather be doing anything else?  How about when you’re heading to an activity that interests you?  How do you feel then?

Evaluating your daily activities can bring the sources of your unhappiness into sharper relief.  You want to bring those activities up to the forefront because those are the things you need to change.  The harsh reality is this: If you’re using up all of your energy on things you hate, chances are you’re too worn out to do the things you love.

The trick here is figuring out what to change and then how to change it.  Keep in mind that many of the things blocking you from happiness in life are probably going to be complex problems that aren’t going to be solved overnight.  If your job is a big source of your despair, maybe you want to start formulating a plan to replace it with something else.  If you find yourself drained after spending the holidays with your family, evaluate just how painful it really is, and what impact it’s having on the rest of your life.

Keeping a daily journal is a good way to keep your feelings in perspective.  Over time, we tend to exaggerate, forget, or take for granted things that can give us better clarity on our thoughts and emotions.  Just realizing that you hate your job is not going to help much, because quitting and finding another equally soul-sucking job will solve nothing.  Understanding why you hate your job will give you a much better perspective on what you want to look for (or avoid) in a future replacement job.

Listen To Knee-Jerk Desires

Instant, gut-wrenching urges can tell you a lot about your true desires.  I’m not talking about watching a McDonald’s commercial and desiring a Big Mac.  I’m not talking about watching any commercial at all, because they’re designed to manipulate you into feeling things you might not without them there.

What I am talking about is walking down the street and seeing a couple laughing together and holding hands, and in your brain you’re going, “I want that.”  I’m talking about sitting behind a desk at school and watching your teacher do his or her thing and thinking, “I could see myself doing that someday.”  On the road you see a beautiful car and you have an emotional reaction to it.  Those are the things I’m talking about.

But you’re not done there.

Once you experience a knee-jerk reaction like that, you need to evaluate it.  What did you feel and why did you feel it?  In the example with the handholding couple, ask yourself what appealed to you about that vision.  You might say it’s because they were laughing together, which means they share a sense of humor.  What’s important about sharing a sense of humor?  It’s important because it illustrates that they have a good relationship.  What’s a good relationship?  A good relationship is understanding and supportive. Do I have someone who understands and supports me in my life?  If no, then what you may be craving is understanding and support – which may not necessarily involve a romantic relationship.  If yes, then you can ask yourself what your understanding and supportive person lacks that you perceive the handholding couple to have. 

This exercise will help you think more deeply about the things you crave and allow you to understand the steps you may have to take to achieve true happiness in your own life.

Design Your Bucket List

The “bucket” part of bucket list refers to the phrase “kick the bucket,” meaning “to die.”  A “Bucket List” is just what it seems: a list of things you want to do before you die.  Unlike the very general list of your interests, a Bucket List is very specific.  The things you put on it are things you want to do or experience - things that, no matter what, you’re going to try your damnedest to cross off your list.

Think hard and realistically about your Bucket List and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’d love to do in the future.

Once that exercise is done you’ll have a bunch of things on a list (i.e. mastering a martial art, eating frogs’ legs, starting a home-based business, seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza, et cetera), which means you now have a bunch of awesome new goals!

A lot of people become happier when they have something tangible to look forward to.  If they’re currently doing something they don’t like (like working a job they hate), goals that will better their lives provide a light at the end of the tunnel.  “Work sucks now,” they might say, “but there’s only 4 more months until I go to Egypt!”  Not only does the Bucket List clarify what you’d love to do with your life, it gives you some direction that will be both fun and rewarding if put into motion.

Compile An "Ideal Me" List

Exercise number five is another list: one that comprises of everything you want to be.  Think of being in both a physical and emotional sense.  You may physically want to be an animal trainer, and you may emotionally want to be confident.  This is, essentially, an “Ideal Me” List.

Create a future vision of yourself.  Try to get a clear picture on how you appear, what you’re wearing, how you carry yourself, and if you’re alone or with others.  Think about your professional life and private life.  Basically, list down every single thing you want to be, regardless of whether or not you’ve already achieved it or whether or not you think it’s possible.  Go crazy and indulge in all of your personal fantasies.

From that list, you can begin to evaluate the “doability” of things.  Don’t get hung up here about whether or not it’ll be hard to achieve your ideal characteristic; just focus on if it’s doable.  Say your ideal body type for yourself is “thin.”  That means you have to lose weight.  That is possible.  From there, assess how much weight you want to lose and create a goal.  It’s just like the Bucket List example above, but this time your awesome new goals are going to create the Ideal Self.

Not Even Close to The End

There are infinite paths to happiness in life – and many are long and arduous.  It takes self-awareness and, most importantly, dedication to achieve goals and make important changes to living a better, happier life.  Like anything else, your chances of success are doubled with a solid plan in place, and following any of these exercises can get you started. 

Keep in mind, too, that taking on more things than you should is a setup for failure.  After going through these exercises you may decide you want to change jobs, lose weight and learn a martial art.  I say you should do all of those things, but pace yourself.  First deal with the most pressing one, which may be changing jobs.  Then focus on losing weight, which may mean controlling your portions or starting a simple exercise routine.  Once that becomes a habit and you’re seeing results, sign up for the martial arts classes to support your weight loss goal.

There is no blueprint you can follow exactly to find happiness in life, because you’re unique and happiness is thus a concept unique to you.  Use these exercises as a jumping off point and a way to deeply evaluate who you really are, and what you really desire.  From there, create a life that resonates with who you are and you’ll be well on your way to finding happiness.