wellness

"At 80 years old, I've learned there are just 6 rules for happiness."

If you asked me at an earlier stage of my life if I’d rather be rich or happy or successful or happy, I’m not sure I’d have given the right answer.

I assumed money and success led to happiness. While there’s nothing wrong with doing well in life, neither of those clues make my top six tips for finding happiness.

Like most people, I’ve been on the hunt for that elusive quality called happiness for most of my life. While I’ve never been a life-long depressive, at times, I’ve been profoundly unhappy.

Watch: Scientific happiness hacks you can try. Post continues below.

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A desire to bring light to the darkness within has pulled me along the track to contentment and happiness I experience at this late stage of my life.

The cumulative effect of my search for happiness led me over the years to a combination of therapy, reading, a search within myself, as well as a determination to learn my lessons, whatever that meant.

Perhaps I have a touch of ageing hormones that’s softened the blows of life’s daily struggles, although many people my age are angry and bitter.

Maybe the brain doesn’t guarantee help with ageing. For that, you have to consult an expert.

I only know what I know about happiness from my own experience, from finally reaching prolonged satisfaction with my life, despite facing the same trials and tribulations that dog all of us.

Illness, death of loved ones, divorce, financial ups, and downs.

So, no, I haven’t won the lottery to explain a giddy change in fortunes.

I’ve learned these lessons gradually, over time. I wish I could have become wiser about them sooner. They’ve been in front of me since the day I was born. Despite that, this is what I finally learned about finding happiness.

Laugh at the devil

What do I mean by the devil? Anything that makes you yearn for what you can’t have.

It can be a pair of expensive shoes you can’t afford, a job offer you didn’t get, or a person who belongs to another.

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Jealousy and envy kill the spirit and sow seeds of discontent in the best of people. Just look at the headlines about celebrity scandals or search for your favourite politician facing jail time for trying to game the system.

Because, no matter how much you have, you can always want more, and that’s what gets us in trouble and stomps all over our happiness.

I know, the heart wants what the heart wants and all that.

But how about teaching the heart a lesson? Treat it like the zoom in a camera and pull it back to focus on all the other things available to you.

Shopping in your closet, choosing an unattached love interest, discover the joy of reading instead of spending.

That’s too hard, you say? So’s getting caught up in a triangle, or bankruptcy court, or depression because you think life isn’t fair.

Gratitude is not a practice. It is a way of life

Don’t “practise” gratitude. If you want to be happy, live and breathe thankfulness on a daily or even hourly basis. I’m sure you’ve read of the benefits.

But it’s easy to say I’m grateful for my job and my health when you’re tucked under a nice, cozy comforter with your favourite herbal tea and fragrant candle, making notes in a stylish gratitude journal.

But when you can’t afford a down comforter and don’t have the luxury of time to yourself because your child has sleep issues and cries until midnight and you have a 6 a.m. alarm, gratitude takes on new meaning.

Can you be thankful your child doesn’t have a life-threatening illness instead of behaviour problems? Turning to gratitude can change your mindset in times of stress.

If you can recognise that you and your child are not huddled together in a war zone ducking bullets, you might see her neediness differently. If you can have gratitude that your situation is what it is and not worse, you might discover that the road to contentment is, among other things, paved with moments of compassion for lives that are a whole lot worse.

At my age, I feel the daily assault of time on my body. I can write chapter and verse on the creep of aching joints, failing hearing and eyesight, dangerous blood pressure. But I know what they could be.

So what if I walk with a cane and need help getting in and out of a car. I give thanks I’m still able to yell at the taxi drivers who don’t wait for me to cross at the light. See? Always a reason to count your blessings.

Do something creative you love every day that you’ll never master

I’m lucky that I found writing relatively early in my life. Among other things, it has helped me understand that committing myself to creative work is the secret of youth because it will never get old. I’ll never master it.

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When you apply yourself regularly to something you love but a thing you’ll never master, you keep learning. You learn about your art, whether it is writing, gardening or growing tomatoes, and you also learn about yourself. Your limits and your capacities.

Frankly, you don’t know the boundless universe you enter when you tap into your creative life.

You might bore your circle to tears discussing the finer points of knitting. Still, you’ll never find life dull if you continue to explore the techniques of Estonian lacemaking or the challenge of growing the perfect petunia.

The happiest people I know are those who do something creative every day, not for money but for love.

Volunteer

When you give yourself to a cause that’s larger than yourself, you reach into the best part of yourself.

Whether you champion a community garden, a shelter for abandoned animals, or an after school program, enriching the lives of others has a payback that you can only count in happiness and a sense of meaning and enrichment.

And the good part: you pick a cause or issue that matters to you.

When you feel good because you’ve helped someone or something important, you’re entitled to that feeling and boost to your self-image. That’s what contributes to happiness.

If you don’t know where to contribute your time, just search online for volunteer opportunities in your town.

Everybody loves you, but some people have a funny way of showing it

I didn’t make that one up, and it took me a long time to learn the wisdom of not taking everything personally.

But from reading a negative review about my books on Kindle to realising a neighbour I’ve invited in for coffee doesn’t really have to rotate her tires when she says she’s, “too busy,” my life is a lot happier since I stopped acting like a delicate flower.

I’ve had thin skin all my life, so this took a bit of learning. But in time, I realised that taking everything personally only harmed myself.

By turning around my mindset and assuming everyone loved me, and why not? It’s my world too, I can think anything I want – it just became so much easier to brush off negativity from others.

Deep down, when you scrape away everyone’s neuroses, I’ll bet we do all love one another. We just don’t all know how to express it. Since I’ve been looking at the world that way, trust me, I’ve been a lot happier.

Love everybody, even people who refuse to love you back

You know the cliche, right? Love is the best medicine. But it resonates because it’s true.

I’ve met people who say they can’t love, or they are very choosy about the people they love.

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To them, I say bah humbug. It’s a no brainer to me.

Love doesn’t cost you anything. You don’t have a limited supply that you have to ration. You won’t run out and come up empty when you meet that special person deserving of all the love you can muster.

The thing to understand about love is that it really doesn’t do much for the beloved.

They may take your love for granted. Or have so much love in their life they don’t think they need your particular brand. Or they know you love them, so it’s assumed.

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Ask the mother of teenagers about this one.

Bestowing your love on someone else isn’t the point of love. Loving someone is for us. It makes us feel good; it heals us. It makes us better people.

If you don’t believe me, think of your state of being when you don’t love people. Compare the bitterness, anger, disapproval, judgment, and distaste.

Do any of those feelings occur when you love someone?

No, love makes us feel good, even when a loved one doesn’t reciprocate.

Sure, loving someone who ignores us or doesn’t love us back can make us feel sad. But that’s not the same as the void in our unloving state.

That produces apathy and dullness of spirit. Or worse, self-centeredness that pushes people away.

Am I saying we should love bad people? I don’t love Hitler, so let’s not get into hair-splitting.

But on the subject of strangers, I’ve worked in offices where I didn’t know everybody, yet I generated a good feeling for my co-workers. Why not? It didn’t cost me anything.

My love or benevolence made it much easier to go to work every day, knowing I surrounded myself with people for whom I had love in my heart.

Most likely, I treated them with a bit more civility and kindness, doubtless, they reciprocated, though not everyone did. (See my previous point.)

I just know my life runs more smoothly when I can say I love my fellow humans rather than picking and choosing who I love.

I hope these suggestions work for you. When it comes to happiness, they’re like chicken soup. They can’t hurt.

Feature image: Getty.

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