Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What is the Secret to Happiness?

When I think of happiness, a world of things come to mind. Many of us think about "things" rather than feelings. "If I had a millions dollars I would be happy", or "if I had that new Iphone, I would be happy". We tend to focus on the “things” in life that we crave or long to own. In this day and age, you can do just about anything with a cell phone. You can press the "BUY NOW" button, learn who is pregnant in Hollywood and meet your soul mate with a few clicks or swipes. You can buy plans to build your own tiny-home! or live off-grid! or Simplify? These new trends to down-size and de-clutter are all a paradoxical desire to live with less because more "stuff" does not make you happier. A famous quote by John Stuart Mill said "I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them." Socrates said "The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less."We tend to focus on the “things” in life that we crave or long to own. These things may be concrete consumables or they may be intangible resources, such as “time,” “inner peace,” or “true love.” I have examined my past life and my present life to find what makes the difference in how I felt 10 years ago vs. how I feel today. First of all, we have much less belongings. We had 3 cars and a boat and now we drive 1 shared car. We had extra money to spend, now we work hard just to pay bills. We had lots of friends and parties, now we have a few friends and small dinners. We often had extravagant meals, spending more than $1200 per month on just groceries, not including several trips to the local Mexican Food Restaurant, now we buy a cup of ceviche out of a truck for $2. We ate gluttonously and now we live on fruit, rice and beans. These days, I can actually buy groceries for a family of 5 for $100 a week! We moved from Texas and lived in the rat-race and now we live in Costa Rica, take any work we can get and opened a small business. A beer is a treat and wine comes from a box, but we are so happy. What is the big difference?? What is the big deal? 

I decided to chart our progress and I came up with 4 reasons we were so unhappy before, living our overzealous lives:
  • BLAME - We constantly harbored blame. We blamed the president and the government for the failing economy. We blamed them for taking so much of our income. We blamed our bosses for the long commute. We blamed our friends when they were too busy to come to a party. We blamed ourselves for being fat, especially after chowing down a steak, loaded baked potato and cheesecake. We blamed each other for having a headache. The truth was, all this blame was pulling us into depression and the common tool used in the "blame-game" was comparing. We always were comparing ourselves to others, keeping up with the Jones' or these days, Keeping up with the Kardashians'.  We also often compared our  list of duties because when both parents are working full-time, who is in charge of the laundry and cooking and the children? Blame absolutely sucked us down a spiral of unhappiness.
  • CONTROL - We tried to control every situation. We considered every problem as if it was the sole existence of our survival, but we were were only consuming, not surviving. I would get so bent out of shape when I forgot to get the last Christmas present for our son, as if he did not have enough stuff already, or if the doctor's office kept me waiting. I would scream and yell and usually hang up on any customer service representative that I could not understand. I was so unhappy thinking I could control every situation to respond to my wants, but the problem was me and that I was unhappy, killing the potential for a happy ending. So, the first point on how to be happy is to see the world where there are greater and bigger problems. Then, your problems will appear smaller. The moment your problems appear smaller, you will get the energy and confidence to deal with it or solve it, releasing blame and control.
  • SELF SABOTAGE - I often think of dear Robin Williams, RIP I will miss him so much. He had the world on a string, but ultimately he died of depression, taking his own life. This is so sad, but self sabotage can kill and does every day. According to the World Health Organization, around 34,000 people commit suicide annually. Turns out, he is not the only one depressed. Think about it, start your day off happy, then stump your toe, slip in the shower, cut your chin shaving because your wife borrowed your razor, blame her, spill your hot coffee in your lap because you were speeding, get a ticket, be late to work, and tell me how hard it is to stay happy. Then sit in your cubicle and listen to the angry voice mails...and continue to slouch and self sabotage. We can't all be like Mr. Incredible and launch a secret mission to save the world all because we are tired of our jobs and bored with our lackluster lives all the while slipping into deep depression.
  • VICTIM - Are you a victim? Have you been a victim of a serious crime? or are you a victim of your own circumstance? Without 100% commitment, you will always be a victim to external circumstance. Once committed to change your self worth and focus on a goal, you become in control regardless of anything outside the scope of the decision made. So make the decision to not be a victim.

Furthermore, I came up with 3 things we did to change our lives

  • PURGE - Do I really need to expand here? You know you have too much stuff. I once helped my mother clean her closet and we counted 114 pair of shoes!! Who needs that many pair of shoes? Some of them had never been worn. I mean my friends mother, not mine ;) Anyway, the less you have, the less stress you will have. Very simple. Purge. Like Isaac Newton said, "Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things."
  • PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE - If you are reading this article now from your fancy smart phone, do not put down your phone, but remember that unless you are a travel writer, you really should not be staring at your phone all the time, especially when traveling, or walking down the road, or during conversations. I know, pictures are great, I carry a camera too, but are you going on vacation to tweet and post to facebook, or are you going for the experience? When we go to dinner, everyone is staring, swiping, checking, sometimes across the table from each other, disconnectedly connected. Are conversations a thing of the past? We witnessed a bike race last weekend and all the onlookers were holding their phones up as the cyclists passed. No one was watching the actual race, instead they were standing at the race, watching through an external monitor. Why did they come to the race at all when they could have just watched from their phones or television or computer?
  • SPEND QUALITY TIME WITH EACH OTHER - Spending so much time at work and commuting was ultimately killing my husband inside. He was making good money, but little time for us. Even when he arrived at home late at night, he was stressed and agitated and wanted little to do with us, much less devote attention to us. We made a decision to make a complete change in our lives. We slowly researched another way of life, sold most of our belongings and moved to Costa Rica. I am not telling you to move to Costa Rica, please do not. It is already full of people searching for their happiness. Our focus was more about where can we go to live simply and on a tight budget while enjoying the true values in life like spending time with our children, developing our Spanish and making life-long friends during our experiences. Costa Rica was the place for us. It is not convenient, it is not perfect, but it allows us to learn and build our new life together. Today we are happier and healthier and conquering our passions. We make time for each other daily and we constantly say "thank you" and "I love you".

No one is responsible for your own happiness but you. It is not something you can buy. You can't place an order for happiness and have it arrive in 30 minutes or less. You do have to chose to be happy, but not off a menu. Happiness does not cost any money. It takes willpower and practice.

Below are 5 ways to be happy, but I warn you, these things must be practiced religiously and from within, no fake happy people allowed.

  1. FRIENDLINESS - Friendliness is about offering warmth and good humor to those around you. duh, so are all friendly people happy? or are all happy people friendly? gotcha! I absolutely catch more flies with honey as the saying goes. When you kill people with kindness, you can actually hear the happiness level change in them too. Try it, I dare you. Next time you encounter a rude person, patiently and calmly speak to them with a big smile. I promise, you can change their whole day with your friendliness.
  2. CHEERFULNESS - Similar to friendliness, but basically, if we had default program to set for all humans, Cheerfulness should be the default demeanor and we could end world war. When you have a sunny disposition and display it to the world, regardless of your inner cold, you can actually encourage others and yourself to feel better and get well! After all, smiles are contagious too! Research even shows that simply imagining smiles can improve your mood and offer healing. Plus, you are a LOT MORE FUN to be around if you are cheerful and  feeling good about life! 
  3. COMPASSION - Always lend your smile and your ear to those in need. Wikipedia defines Compassion - motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts and pains of another. Compassion is often regarded as having sensitivity, an emotional aspect to suffering, though when based on cerebral notions such as fairness, justice, and interdependence, it may be considered rational in nature and its application understood as an activity based on sound judgment. Whatever you have in life and wherever you are, you can find some reason to be grateful. Acknowledging your own good fortune – no matter how seemingly slight or minimal at the moment can actually enhance your overall well being. This can help you sleep better and improve existing and future relationships. True compassion is knowing not everyone is 100% on their game every day, but we can be constructive rather than destructive and improve our lives and the lives around us. This also accounts for people who volunteer their time and energy for good causes. Not only can volunteering improve others lives, but also your own self worth out of pure compassion, it feels good!
  4. PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE - ahhh...Confucious said "It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop." Amen, I learned patience when I married my husband. He would tell me to slow down or life will pass me by. I call him Tortuga. I somehow thought that if I hurried, I could get more done. I hurried through my work, making me an average employee, I was fast, but I missed important points; I hurried through dinner, but I was so exhausted after cooking I couldn't enjoy the food; I even hurried through conversations with friends, making me a terrible friend. I never took the time to listen and appreciate my relationship because I always felt like I had something better to do. After meeting my other half, my yang, I vowed to slow down and enjoy life. That being said, patience is not to be confused with laziness - Don't put things off for tomorrow, Happiness comes from embracing NOW.
  5. GRATITUDE IS GOLDEN- If gratitude filled a glass, and there were 90% gratitude, how much is left in the glass for sadness and depression? 10 % Being gracious is more than just saying "thank you". There are many ways to show gratitude. But first you need to remember to be grateful. Start by keeping a journal or sticky notes called "I am thankful for". This will be an ever changing and growing list, so sticky notes work great. Reflect on hard and challenging times and how you overcame those obstacles to remind you to be grateful for today. You can make a collage with your kids of actions, not material things that make you happy, like riding a bike, or going on a family picnic, an afternoon hike, or a trip to the river. These are visual reminders that we all need to offset the constant bombardment of media ads to buy something to make you happy. Don't forget, say "I Love You" more often, this tiny phrase has a boomerang effect! Say it! Also, make sure to continue or start a hobby that relates to your dreams. Enjoy what you do, then it will not feel like work and you can be grateful for your production. Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed. Consequently, you should make a personal and public declaration that you are going to be more grateful. Write it down. Share it on social media. Tell your friends and closest people.

GRATITUDE can change you physically, psychologically and emotionally:
Physical Benefits
Stronger immune systems
Less bothered by aches and pains
Lower blood pressure
Exercise more and take better care of their health
Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
Psychological Benefits
Higher levels of positive emotions
More alert, alive, and awake
More joy and pleasure
More optimism and happiness
Emotional Benefits
More helpful, generous, and compassionate
More patient
More forgiving
More outgoing
Feel less lonely and isolated

Have you ever noticed in the movies, when a beautiful young woman targets a faithful and happy man, as he declines, you immediately feel happy and proud of him. Happy people say no to even amazing opportunities. They will not sacrifice freedom for security. They will not get derailed by distractions—even sexy and attractive distractions.

Happy people live in the present and focus on the NOW. They don’t miss the moments that matter most. They take their time, enjoying each moment in life. They are incredibly grateful for all they have. They focus their lives on the important and essential. They forgo the many good opportunities in order to focus on the few best ones. They have conversations with eye contact. They take time for themselves and most of all, doing for others as they would want done to them.

Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” The smaller the gap between what you should do, and what you actually do - the happier you will be.

How do you define success? No two human beings are the same. So why should we have one standard of success? Seeking society’s standard of success is an endless rat-race. There will always be someone better than you. You’ll never have the time to do everything. Happy people enjoy less stressful lives! Happy people are protected against some forms of chronic illnesses. In fact, happy people actually live longer, too! Check out the Happy Planet Index and all the Blue Zones Studies and the common factor contributing to longer life in all the top countries is a happy people, surrounded with a strong, tight-knit social group sharing life-long experiences and healthy habits. This proves that it is not what you have, it is who you are. I chose to be happy - patient, friendly, compassionate, cheerful and gracious! Pura Vida!

The Five Love Languages Book by Gary Chapman
The 5 Love Languages of Children Book by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell


  1. What a great article Niki! So much great information. I love how you guys decided you didn't like how things were going, so you stopped what you were doing and completely re-invented your life! Most people are on auto-pilot and don't even think about it.

  2. Thanks Nancy, I agree. Most people have settled for their situation in their so called "life" but with a few steps toward change, their lives can be reinvented using patience, kindness and commitment. We can all be happy, but it is up to us to make the changes necessary, no matter where we live!


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