All any of us really want in life is to be happy. There are roughly six billion different ways to go about achieving happiness, as it looks a little different to each of us.
While there are countless self-help books on the topic, Perfectly Yourself by Matthew Kelly, provides a refreshing perspective. The author hit the punch line of the entire book in the first few pages: “We focus too much on our desired outcome and not enough on the progress we make.”
Are you happy? You might think, “Sometimes” or “Sure I am, but there’s always room for improvement.” Of course, there’s no limit to happiness. On the other hand, for some, it may feel like something is wrong. You don’t know what it is, but when you really consider if you’re happy, your honest answer may be “Not really,” or worse, “Not at all.” So, what is it? What’s preventing you from achieving enduring happiness?
The Hunger for Happiness
There are things that tug at our heart, the faint whispers in our head that we often dismiss quickly. We know these thoughts are there, but sometimes they feel like such a gentle nudge we don’t give them the attention they deserve. You may not fully understand why you aren’t happy; something is missing or just feels off. Maybe, every time you attempt to figure it out you get discouraged. Especially if you feel like no matter what you do, nothing seems to help.
Patterns of defeat can lead us to hate who we are; they can have us wishing we were more like someone else. And when we can’t overcome what’s holding us back, we can become complacent, resorting to excuses like “This is just who I am.” But the truth is, we all have a hunger to constantly improve, and we all want to live up to our potential, even when we can’t admit it.
The people, experiences, and things we fill our lives with either help us become the best version of ourselves or they don’t.
Matthew Kelly says, “There are astonishing similarities that exist between men and women of all ages and cultures, all countries and creeds. The greatest of these similarities is what I like to call ‘the hunger’: a common yearning in the people’s hearts for something more or for something that has been lost, a yearning that seems to be growing stronger and deeper with every passing day.”
This hunger is ultimately for happiness. We fail to recognize, though, that we stand in our own way. “The people, experiences, and things we fill our lives with either help us become the best version of ourselves or they don’t.” It’s that simple.
What We Can Do about It
We tend to avoid change until we can’t take our own indifference anymore. We hit a breaking point, and the whispers within us are now screams that we can’t simply ignore. We choose to believe this lie that people can’t change, but of course, they can. It isn’t a matter of possibility, it’s a matter of the will. The question isn’t can you change, it’s will you?
The question isn’t can you change, it’s will you?
Change doesn’t always mean progress. For example, Kelly relates this issue to wishing the world was a better place. Most of us would prefer that the world was better, but we aren’t actively doing anything to make it so. Progress is the result of desire being put into action. This book covers how to bridge this gap “between our desire for change and actually creating real and sustainable change in our lives.”
Here are Matthew Kelly’s nine lessons for enduring happiness:
1. Celebrate your progress. “Am I better today than I was yesterday?” Progress means you’re moving in the right direction. Don’t consider whether you are succeeding or failing at something — the better question is are you learning? Life isn’t about doing and having, it’s about becoming.
Progress is the result of desire being put into action.
2. Just try and do the next right thing. Dwelling on the past doesn’t help anyone, so focus on right now. One step in the right direction leads to another, and gradually you will work your way out of patterns of defeat. What if you don’t know the next right thing? In every circumstance, just promise yourself you will do whatever you honestly believe is the next right thing.
3. Put character first. Focus on being patient, kind, humble, gentle, forgiving, honest, loving, and a person with integrity. Your ego is your enemy. Your character is what will see you through the good times and bad.
4. Find what you love and do it. “Of all the unhappy people, the unhappiest are those who haven’t found something they want to do.” If you could do anything, what would that look like? If financial commitments won’t allow you to change careers, adjust your lifestyle, or if doing what you love won’t pay the bills, at the very least make space for it. Try and root out anything you do with half-heartedness; focus on things you can put your whole self into.
Try and root out anything you do with half-heartedness; focus on things you can put your whole self into.
5. Live what you believe. What we believe bleeds into everything: how we live, how we work, how we feel about ourselves and others. Consider this question: “Do my words, thoughts, or actions align with my beliefs?” Take time in the classroom of silence to reflect in your heart on what matters most to you and what you believe. It’s one thing to not believe in something, but it’s impossible to be genuinely happy and live a divided life.
6. Be disciplined. Pleasure and happiness aren’t equal.
7. Simplify your life. Simplicity brings clarity. No one functions better from chaos and conflict. Stop saying yes when you want to say no. Ask yourself often, “Is my identity closely linked to money and possessions?” Remember half of the world lives on $3 a day.
8. Focus on what you are here to give. What’s your mission? If you don’t know, that’s okay. Try being mindful of the needs of others. You can make a difference in the lives of others, whether you realize it yet or not. Helen Keller said, “Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
Try being mindful of the needs of others.
9. Patiently seek the good in everyone and everything. Don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t control. The more goodness you seek in situations, the more you’ll find.
We over-complicate happiness; it’s simple. All you can do is try your best every day to be better than you were yesterday. Matthew Kelly refers to happiness as a similar feeling to coming home from a long trip. There’s a peace, a comfort, a familiarity in being home that we long for when we’ve been away for too long. When we are truly living in a way we are proud of, in line with who we truly and intimately are, it feels as though finally, all is well. For more in-depth reflection of these lessons, check out Matthew Kelly’s book, Perfectly Yourself.