Today I turn 40.
In an attempt to not freak out about this "milestone birthday" -- it's what everyone keeps calling it -- I decided to do one of my favorite things: Make a list. A list of 40 things I would tell my younger self about what truly matters when it comes to being happier.
I've spent the last 4 years of my life unexpectedly becoming an expert in happiness. I say unexpectedly because if you had told me 10 years ago that I would found a company called Happier and make helping people become happier my life's purpose, I'd laugh you out of the room.
But that's the magic of it, as I've discovered, the magic of becoming happier: It's a journey within yourself, one that is likely to take you on a path you didn't expect. It can be difficult and at times seem impossible, but you have to keep going and learning, because it's the most worthwhile path there is.
As I was writing my list of 40 happiness lessons to my younger self, I realized that I kept thinking about my daughter. She is 11 now and the more I wrote, the more I wanted to share my list with her. What we all wish for our kids is to be happy, healthy, fulfilled, to live a life that brings them joy and meaning. The thing is, the best way we can help them do this is to do it ourselves.
I used to think that focusing on becoming happier was selfish; I am now certain that it's the least selfish thing I can do. In fact, I think of it as a great responsibility I have to my daughter and the only thing I can do to help her discover her own path to genuine happiness.
So here it is, my 40 Lessons In Happiness For My Younger Self (or A Letter To My Daughter):
- It’s really all about love.
- One sweater you really like is better than five sweaters you kinda sorta like and bought because they were on sale.
- Don’t wait for any one human to give you all the care and love you crave. No one can be your all, but some people can be your a lot. Cherish them.
- Stop trying to be fearless. If you’re trying and learning, you will feel fear. It’s OK. Feel it, and do it anyway.
- Read the entire recipe before you start cooking.
- Failure hurts and it sucks. But your greatest learning and triumph may often come from failure, as long as you remember that failure is not a state of being, but an occurrence on a path.
- Most things are better after a good night of sleep.
- Don’t save your nice dishes, nice clothes, nice shoes for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion, so use the good stuff!
- When in doubt, go for a walk.
- You can only change yourself. Not other people, not relationships, just you. If you want to change anything — including the world — start within yourself.
- Be. Here. Now. Don’t rob yourself of living today because you’re lost in yesterday or leaning into tomorrow.
- One spoon of the real stuff is better than one cup of the low-fat stuff.
- Happiness is not the absence of negative emotions. You’re not failing at happiness because you feel sad or angry. Let yourself feel what you feel, but don’t lose sight of the little moments of warmth, kindness, or beauty that are always there, even if you have to wipe away your tears to see them.
- See more art. Make more art. All kinds of art, even art you don’t like. Escape into it with your whole soul.
- Sweat the small stuff that makes you even the tiniest bit happier: Fill your shelves with books you love. Rush to the farmer’s market for the season’s first strawberries. Buy pens you like to write with. Move your desk to catch the morning sun. These make up the texture of your life.
- Creating a process works better than setting a goal. “Every day at 8am I will go for a walk,” is a lot more useful than “I’m going to walk 100 miles this month.”
- You. Are. Enough. You are lovable and amazing and deserving of true genuine happiness exactly the way you are. You don’t have to do anything more to earn it. You’re a being, not a doing.
- People care a lot less about what you do or how you look like than you think. Mostly we’re all focused on ourselves, so stop worrying about perceptions and live your life.
- You experience 100% of the emotions you give to others. If you feel angry at someone, you experience anger. If you experience kindness, you feel kind.
- It’s OK to have a mess of a day. Sometimes you actually do need to eat too much, watch too much TV, and hide under the covers away from it all.
- If you do something and it makes you feel spectacular, don’t ignore that feeling. It’s the universe trying to tell you: This thing you just did? Do it more often. Yes, this applies to what you do for work, too.
- Be more honest. Being vulnerable doesn’t make you weak, it makes you real. Be real. It’s a gift not just to yourself, but to everyone around you.
- You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. They are part of you, but not the entirety of you. Learn to be aware of them rather than become them.
- Make things with your hands as often as you can. Cook, paint, plant, play an instrument, anything. You’ll get a break from living in your head.
- When you’re having a horrid day, even the tiniest achievements feel amazing. Clean your desk, do a handstand, write things down on your to-do list, which you’ve already accomplished.
- Be intentionally kind and expect nothing in return.
- Give up your ideas of how something should be. Life is unfolding as it is, and you have a choice to either be awake to how it is and go from there or suffer wishing it were different.
- Most things taste a lot better right out of the container: Ice cream, milk, sardines.
- Find time for stillness and silence every day. Don’t be afraid of spending some time alone. Alone = ALL ONE.
- The greatest moments in a friendship often come when you text a friend and say: “Hey, I’m feeling awful and I need you.”
- One of the hardest things to do is to forgive. The hardest thing to do is to forgive yourself. Keep trying.
- Travel more and often. This may be one of the only ways to buy happiness with money. Also, take time to travel on your own. You’ll discover more about yourself than the places you visit.
- Break your own rules as often as possible. Try spicy food even if you’re “not into spicy food”. Wear something bright if you usually wear black. Read things “you’re normally not into”. Give yourself freedom to explore.
- Take care of yourself. It’s not selfish, it’s your responsibility to the people you love. There’s no glory in being a martyr.
- Bright red lipstick is pretty much always the answer.
- The greatest gift your kids give you is the ability to experience unconditional love.
- Never be too busy for a hug. Or too grumpy. Or too proud.
- Just because you can’t see it right now, doesn’t mean the path is not there. Keep taking steps.
- If you have to force it — an idea, a piece of writing, a job, a relationship, a shoe — it’s not meant to be. Working hard and forcing something are two different things. Learn the difference.
- It’s all really about love. Not romantic love, not any specific kind of love, just LOVE. It’s within you. Find it. Nurture it. Share it. Grow it. Swim in it. It’s always the right answer, although sometimes you’ll have a hard time seeing it. Keep looking.