The reality is that there is no magic formula for achieving happiness. But we can bring ourselves closer to the mark by living in alignment with our authentic self. When we act and live according to who we truly are, what we truly want and the values we truly stand for, we can unmute our inner voice and live a happier and healthier life – both personally and professionally.
Admittedly, it’s not always easy to unlock your authentic self and to listen to your inner voice. But fortunately, there are some steps you can take to get moving in the right direction.
1. Identify your picture of ‘happiness’
Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, many of us convince ourselves that we’d finally be happy if only we checked off certain goals. Get promoted, find a partner, lose weight – the list goes on and on.
When we are on track to achieving one or more of our goals, most of us feel somewhat happier for a period of time, but once we’ve accomplished these goals, the happiness can quickly wear off and be replaced by a feeling of deflation.
In many cases, we aren’t actually chasing goals that will create lasting happiness because the goals aren’t truly meaningful to us. On a superficial level, we believe we want and need certain things, but deep down they are meaningless to us.
The turning point often comes when we ask ourselves the following questions:
- What does happiness look like to me?
- Which of my goals relate to my vision of happiness?
- Which of my goals refer to other people’s vision of happiness?
The most important contributor to our happiness is whether we feel that our life is meaningful. That is, meaningful to us – and this is the important point!
What you see as being meaningful will likely to different to what your co-workers, parents, siblings, partner and/or friends consider to be meaningful.
To identify what is meaningful to you, write a tribute to your future self! This could take the form of a letter to yourself on your 90th birthday or a eulogy. Writing down how you would like to be remembered is an effective way to get in touch with who you really are and what is meaningful to you.
2. Take responsibility for your choices and actions
It can be easy to think that negative outcomes in life are caused by other people and factors outside of our control. We all know someone who often feels like a victim of circumstance and believes the world has treated them unfairly.
Of course, adverse events sometimes just happen, and we’re forced to play the hand we’re dealt.
But, more often than not, we can influence what happens in our life. How? By taking responsibility. When we take responsibility, it becomes easier to change things that make us unhappy. Likewise, taking responsibility encourages us to attribute our successes to our own effort and hard work.
We begin to shift when we see control of our lives as sitting within ourselves, rather than in external factors like the world and people around us.
When we make this change in thinking, several things can start to happen:
- We can stop blaming others.
- We can focus on what we CAN control and set goals accordingly.
- We can harness our strengths to achieve our goals.
- If need be, we can seek training, coaching or other support to achieve our goals.
- We can learn from mistakes with self-compassion (mistakes are part of learning).
To understand how you perceive control over outcomes in your life, I recommend taking Julian Rotter’s 'Locus of Control' test.
3. Shine a light on your inner critic and identify your strengths
The inner critic is the voice in our head that makes us worry, frequently reminding us of our ‘failings’ and causing self-doubt. It can pop up when we try to do new things, be creative, and challenge ourselves – and it can be debilitating.
Healthy self-reflection can be key driver of personal growth, but only if we are able to distinguish between constructive and destructive self-talk. Is your inner voice speaking to you compassionately and in ways that enable improvement your life? Or are you simply putting yourself down and jeopardising your potential?
Our inner critic stops having power when we shine a light on it. Next time your inner critic pops up, don’t try to quickly push it away.
Instead, acknowledge its presence and say:
- “Here you are visiting me again, inner critic.”
- “I know you are trying to protect me, and I thank you for that.”
- “But I am okay now and no longer need your protection.”
Then, remind yourself of your many strengths and think about how you can use these strengths in the future. If you’re not sure what your key strengths are, you can start by taking Martin Seligman’s VIA Strengths Survey.
Learning about our strengths and using our top strengths - frequently and in new settings - is a sure-fire way to engage our inner cheerleader.
4. Harness your strengths and values to align your authentic self with your work and personal life
The people we surround ourselves with contribute greatly to the way we think, feel, act and live. Likewise, many of us spend significant amounts of time at work, so what we choose to do for a living often impacts on our way of thinking and happiness.
Therefore, it’s important that our personal and professional lives allow us to harness our strengths and stay true to our values.
One way to align your authentic self with your work and personal life is to use your key strengths from the VIA Strengths Survey. as often as possible, in both personal and professional contexts.
Another important aspect is to determine what your most important personal values are. To identify your top personal values, select your top 10 values and prioritise these both at work and in your personal life.
These values might include anything from acceptance, community, balance, empathy, equality, fairness, family, freedom, gratitude, fairness, humility, and faith, through to love, innovation, diversity, compassion, health, trust, wealth, simplicity, wonder and spirituality. It’s your values list, so you need to decide what matters most to you.
As we start to live our life more authentically, we often begin to attract more people and opportunities that align better with who we really are.
5. Know how to effectively ask for what you want
A lot of the time, we don’t get the things we want in life because we don’t ask for them effectively. While every person and situation are different, there are steps we can take to boost our chances of receiving a ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ when we’re hoping for a specific outcome.
Zoe Alexander from Happy at Work has a brilliant set of steps to use as a reference when asking for things you want.
- Appreciate that other people cannot read your mind!
- Overcome your fear of rejection – there is no shame in asking.
- Ask the person who is in a position to say ‘yes’.
- Get their full attention – schedule a time to talk with them.
- Get the timing right – don’t ask someone while they are busy or stressed.
- Think about what you want before you ask.
- Be direct – hints rarely work.
- Get to the point - be clear and specific about what you want and when you want it.
- Give something to get something – what benefit will there be for the other person if they say ‘yes’?
- Accept graciously that other people can say ‘no’ and move on – be proud of yourself for asking and don’t hold a grudge against the person who said ‘no’.
By Renata Porzig-Drummond – Psychologist and Lecturer at the Australian College of Applied Psychology