Did you know that Amazon lists over 100,000 results when you search for “happiness” in books? Even when you narrow it down to books in the self-help category, you are still presented with over 20,000 results – and that is just books and doesn't even include the countless articles, courses, podcasts, documentaries and all sorts of other content. There surely is no shortage of insights and wisdom on the topic.
Why then, are so many of us still searching for this elusive thing called happiness? Why is it that at a time where we have more comfort and security than ever before, the 2017 Harris Poll finds less than one-third of Americans say they are happy and a 2015 U.K. study finds only one in ten people in the United Kingdom say they are happy, while 40 percent are unhappy with their lives. On a global scale, the 2017 World Happiness Report shows that the populations of 15 of the top 20 ranked countries report being less happy than they were the previous year.
How is it possible that there seems to be a sheer endless amount of knowledge, insights, and advice on how to find happiness and live a fulfilling life, and yet so many of us don’t seem to be able to find it? Are we not following the advice that’s given to us? Or are we getting the wrong advice?
As someone who used to be one of those unhappy people, I would say that a lot of the advice we’re given is not wrong, it’s just incomplete.
Today, I'm extremely happy. My life is fun and meaningful, I have amazing friends, and I'm fit and healthy. My life is better than I could have ever imagined. However, that wasn't always the case. My life used to feel boring, meaningless, and like it was going nowhere, and I felt lonely and disconnected. I was severely overweight, unfit and unhealthy, depressed at times, and without hope. I wanted nothing more than to be able to look in the mirror and feel a sense of pride and confidence. Today I do, but it was a long journey.
You might wonder what changed for me, what one piece of advice made all the difference? You might want to know which one of the countless books on finding happiness that I read, enabled me to get to where I am today. The thing is, it wasn't one book or one piece of advice. I'm a big fan of non-fiction books, especially anything in the self-help and personal growth department. Many of the books I read have been incredibly valuable in their own way. But no one on its own helped me find happiness. And yet, I did find it. And much of the advice I read about was, and continues to be, helpful. Much of what I learned about the power of positive thinking, attitude, and mindset had a huge impact on how happy I am. So did learning to be grateful, building better relationships, being more open, and understanding and leveraging my negative emotions. However, none of it on its own made the difference. I didn’t find happiness by following the advice in any one book to the letter.
What is the secret ingredient?
So if all the advice out there is valid and helpful, but it wasn't what made the difference for me, then what did? What is the secret ingredient that was missing?
It’s self-awareness! I found happiness when I discovered that it would never come from simply following someone else’s advice but from following my own. I realized that happiness comes from knowing myself, understanding who I am and what matters to me, and then creating a life based on that. What I discovered is that all the advice I had been reading is not wrong, it's just incomplete. Incomplete in the sense that it overlooks one very important factor: We're all highly unique individuals, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to happiness.
Most of the current advice tends to present "Five Steps to a Happy Life,” the “Six Principles of Happiness,” or “The One Thing to Change to Find Happiness.” While valuable in many ways, they often seem to overlook the fact that we are all highly unique individuals. Happiness is different for all of us. The kind of life that would make you very happy is likely to be different from what makes your neighbor, or even your sister, happy.
True happiness comes from being true to ourselves, from being able to view all the advice we’re reading about in the context of who we are and what really matters to us. However, that means we have to invest time and effort into really getting to know ourselves. It’s easy to think we know who we are, but my experience has been that true self-awareness only comes from making an effort to really learn about ourselves and from being open to what we might discover.
With this in mind, it’s probably no surprise that many of us struggle to find happiness by following the generic advice that’s out there. Too many authors and experts leave it up to us to analyze and interpret the information provided in the context of our personality, values, and beliefs. However, that is often challenging to do even for the most self-aware people and basically impossible for anyone who does not have a clear picture of who they are, what motivates and drives them, and what will ultimately lead them to a happier life.
So if you ask me how I found happiness, I would tell you that getting to know myself really well was the secret ingredient. Self-awareness is what made all the difference for me.
I'm convinced that without self-awareness, you will forever struggle, no matter how many books you read and no matter how hard you try to follow the generic advice. True happiness will come from knowing yourself well enough to view and action the advice you read about in the context of who you are. So maybe instead of reading another book or article that promises to show you to way to a happy life, read one that helps you to get to know yourself better. Stop following generic, one-size-fits-all advice and, instead, figure out who you are and what is most likely to bring you fulfillment. If you're anything like me, it will do wonders for your happiness – and many other aspects of your life.