Fear is an ever-present challenge in most of our lives. Although we each have a vision of what we would like our little corner of the world to look like, there are a myriad of fears that can keep us from realizing our dreams and living our best, most fulfilling lives. Fear of change keeps us in a comfortable spot, even when we know we could be happier elsewhere. Fear of the unknown keeps us from pushing our boundaries. Fear of failure stops us from even trying in the first place. Fear of success, however, might be the most insidious of all – what if you reach your goals, it whispers, and find that you are still not happy?
Here are five steps to help you in shedding those fears and going after the life you’ve always wanted:
Define happiness on your own terms.
My idea of bliss involves staying home with my child, taking bubble baths, cooking dinner most nights, and lots of reading. For another woman, this might be an absolute nightmare. Some people require a peaceful, quiet moment of solitude each day to recharge, while others find themselves invigorated by an environment rich with noise, people, and activity. When we find a lifestyle that works for us, we tend to promote it to others, especially our children. As a result, we can end up chasing a well-meaning parent’s concept of happiness instead of our own.
Before taking steps to pursue the life that you’ve always wanted, make sure it is your own dream that you are chasing, rather than society’s. Check that your plan is aligned with your personal joys, passions, and values. Take time to figure out what these are. Be honest with yourself. Ultimately your family may not approve of your choices, but they aren’t the ones who have to live your life – you are. The more sure of your destination you are, the more fearless you will be in taking the steps.
Consider the Trade-Offs.
I’ve never loved the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” After all, what good is having cake if you can’t eat it? However, the sentiment certainly applies here. Therefore, I’ve updated the wording to something I think we can all relate to: You can’t eat that whole cake and stay a size two. Unfortunately, reality does not work this way.
This message is especially important for women, as we tend to be the ones who demand too much of ourselves. Somewhere along the way, the feminist message that we can “have it all“, has gotten twisted – and many of us now put unfair pressure on ourselves, believing that we must “have it all”. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough hours in the day to devote our whole selves to everything we’d like. If we attempt this we risk spreading ourselves much too thin and accomplishing nothing substantial.
For this reason, when you construct your vision of happiness, be sure to keep the limits of reality in mind. You cannot be a full-time stay at home mother, attend law school, work seventy hours a week, and volunteer at the soup kitchen every night – even though all of these things might be important to you. Consider the limitations of reality, and construct a SMART goal regarding your happiness – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
Prioritize Your Happiness.
Because we do not want to be selfish, we often find ourselves molding our role in the world to fit the needs of our family, or community, and societal pressure. As Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Of course you still need to ensure that you are meeting your basic needs and those of your family. However, don’t let your own need for passion and stimulation fall to the wayside in the name of caring for others. You’ll be surprised how beneficial it can be to your children to watch you come alive – it just might inspire them to pursue their own passions.
Avoid Labels, Screw The Media, And Be Happy
Furthermore, this entire happiness project will be for nothing if you do not decide to put bliss maintenance on your daily to-do list. While the idea that happiness is a choice may seem to be a feel-good cliche, there is scientific evidence that this is true. Two separate studies published in The Journal of Positive Psychology suggested that simply putting effort into attaining happiness can increase your sense of bliss in a very real way. As psychologist William James put it, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”
Believe You Deserve This.
Each of us has the fundamental human right to live a joyful life. Even the Declaration of Independence offers us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Why, then, do we think of our sense of harmony and contentment as a luxury? Many of us don’t truly believe that we’re worthy of our best life, or the time and energy we must invest to achieve it, due to poor self-esteem. Thankfully, science regarding neural pathways suggests that by telling ourselves we deserve happiness, and continually looking for evidence that this thought is true, we can convince ourselves of it on a very deep level.
Although this step may seem to be the most obvious, it is by far the most likely to get ignored. It is also the most crucial in achieving this, or any, desired outcome. This call to action does not necessitate a complete overhaul of your life today – but it does require you to do something right now. Sign up for a class, go for a long walk, or buy a journal. Do one small thing in the name of happiness each day, and your life will begin to head in that direction. Tell a friend, and ask them to hold you accountable. Set up a time – weekly, monthly, daily, or whatever works for you – to check in on your progress. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come in a year’s time!