How to Be Happy Without Trying All That Hard

by Tiago on September 10

happiness 2

If you want to be happy, be.

Leo Tolstoy

Setting happiness as a goal is a bad idea. A simple Google search immediately reveals titles such as “Why I Stopped Making Happiness My Goal”, “Want to Be Happy? Stop Trying” and “Happiness Is Not the Goal”.

Yet this kind of advice can be very frustrating because if someone’s asking you “How can I be happy?” and you reply “Stop trying, dummy”, you’re going to sound like a Grade A, 100% asshole.

I’m offering a simple perspective on this problem: happiness isn’t the kind of thing that you have to grit your teeth and make a monumental effort to achieve. It’s fairly effortless; it’s effortless effort.

To be fair, there are certain things that may require some amount of effort to get through, especially bad habits.

Harvard Study on Happiness

There is a 75-year Harvard study on happiness that reveals a lot about the human condition. To sum it up, they discovered that having more money, power, and even intelligence does not make you happier past a certain point. It also explains that relationships are a very importance source of happiness, and alcohol, commonly distributed at celebrations, actually bums you out.

Nothing trumps love. Love is the most important thing. The Harvard folks said, and I quote, “Happiness is love. Full stop”.

Maintaining a relationship could be classified as effort, but would you call love itself effort? Not in my experience. Have you ever felt like falling in love with someone or enjoying a new hobby is effort?

Love (and happiness along with it) can enter your life in lots of ways. It could be through a warm relationship with a friend, family member or pet. It could be through the passion you feel for a new hobby. Love can even be experienced through the food you eat.

Happiness and Physical Well-Being

No, I’m not talking about falling in love with your pasta like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. I’m talking about eating foods that make you feel good.

If you eat certain foods, ingest certain chemicals, drink to the point of a hangover, or ingest other harmful substances, you will trigger reactions in your body that will make you feel unhappy.

Oftentimes, the most direct solution is to solve the physical problem. If you go to Burger King every two days and you’re feeling miserable all the time, there’s probably a connection there. People who are allergic or sensitive to some kind of food often lose all their energy upon consuming it—gluten is a common culprit here.

Is it “effort” to avoid doing things that kill your body? Perhaps. But if you’re giving your body alcohol or drugs or junk food, you are heavily contributing towards your own unhappiness.

People will sometimes try to meditate these feelings away, not realizing the true source of their discontent. Just as you can’t outrun a bad diet, you can’t meditate or mind hack it away either. A bad lifestyle is something best faced head on. Meditation and mind hacks are tools to help you, not solutions.

Happiness Does Not Mean Being Happy All the Time

Children are masters of expressing their emotions. Whatever they’re feeling at the time, they express it, whether it’s sadness, anger, happiness, or boredom. A great number of people believe that happiness means being happy and cheerful all the time; 24/7 smiling and flowers and rainbows.

But did you know that there are many studies that say that experiencing a wide range of emotions is linked to a healthy mental and physical profile? A constant state of happiness is unnatural, for humans and animals alike. Have you ever seen a gorilla desperately trying to keep a smile on his face? No! He howls in anger and moves on with his life. The next time you feel anger or sadness or some other “negative” emotion, realize that it’s a natural feeling and just let it throw through you.

Happiness is Effortless Effort

Most of us aim to lead happy lives and when we’re not happy, we think something is wrong with us. We pop pills, read books, visit counselors, all in an effort to attain this elusive emotion called happiness. As the saying goes, “Happiness is not a fish you can catch”.

But as I said before, attaining happiness is effortless effort!

Think about it:

  • Love is a natural state of being. We love pets, activities, and people without having to try.

  • You have to eat. Eat the things that make you feel good.

  • All emotions are natural. If you resist, the emotion persists.

Happiness might not be a fish you can catch, but it will jump right into your boat if you’re open to it.

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Tiago uses his forbidden Internet skills to forge the basic framework of the Spiraling Up website. He teaches English in three languages on his English website. He was born in a small city in Portugal and now resides in Barcelona. His personal development journey started in 2006. He eats more lentils for lunch than you eat in a year. He’s also hilarious.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason September 12, 2015 at 7:19 am

Ahh the balance between trying and doing… I think there are definitely times you have to dig yourself out of emotional habits, that is, make an effort towards achieving your own happiness by recognizing when you are in negative downward spirals, but I agree with the message that happiness is a state of being that cannot and should not be forced. For when too much force is applied, only emotional turbulence remains digging oneself deeper. Also really enjoyed the diet message. My mother is a chinese doctor and thoroughly believes ones diets is, like, THE key to ones life. Also I’ve heard people say cashews are really good for emotional regulation, a handful a day. Others say getting enough vitamin D is a great one too. Anyway blah and blah, thanks for the read…


Sandra September 13, 2015 at 4:51 pm

I agree that when you are mostly unhappy, or most of the time not-happy, it is time to put some effort into reducing that time 🙂


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