5 Simple Actions That Guarantee True Happiness

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5 Simple Actions That Guarantee True Happiness

All of us, regardless of gender, religion, location, or financial status, do everything for one reason alone: happiness.

Nobody takes up a new job, buys a new home, travels, gets married, or has kids because they want to be less happy or want to be miserable.

Yet, no matter how hard we pursue happiness, it remains elusive. Why?

Here’s a thought. Most of us think money will get us things that make us happy. We can buy bigger cars, go on exotic vacations, and give our children the luxuries we never had.

Over the last few decades, the first bit has happened. Family incomes in many countries have risen dramatically, as have people’s standards of living. But has it coincided with an increase in happiness? Not really. If anything, people feel more stressed and anxious than ever.

So what offers true happiness? Your salary? The size of your house? The prestige of your job? The grades your children get?

The answer is none of the above. Turns out, the single most influential factor that dictates your happiness is how much control you feel you have over your life.

How are happiness and control correlated?

In an experiment, researchers gave participants a skill test and distracted them with a loud sound. One set of participants was told the sound would go away if they succeeded on the test. The other set was told the sound would continue regardless of what they did.

In the end, the first set showed significantly fewer ill effects of the stressful situation. Thus, the researchers concluded that a sense of control had calmed them, even though neither group had any say in whether the sound would get reduced or not.

As psychologist Angus Campbell wrote:

Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of wellbeing than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered.

We can make us happy today. Yet, we struggle to experience it because what we lack is the ability to decide where to spend our money, energy, and attention.

Social media platforms decide the messages we see, society decides the commodities we should own, managers decide what we should work on and for how long. Meanwhile, we helplessly give into others’ desires without knowing where to stop. And each time we cede control to someone—or something—else, our unhappiness grows.

Right. Now that we know the problem, let’s discuss solutions. How can you take back control of your life?

Do you have to quit your job and become your own boss? Give up on all pleasures and relationships and become a monk?

Not really. You don’t need to take drastic steps when small ones can offer better long-term results. Here are seven simple daily actions that will inject some level of control into your life.

1. Save money.

Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can let you rent control and peace of mind. In The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel put it well:

Money’s greatest intrinsic value—and this can’t be overstated—is its ability to give you control over your time…

A small amount of wealth means the ability to take a few days off work when you’re sick without breaking the bank… A bit more means waiting for a good job to come around after you get laid off, rather than having to take the first one you find…

Six months’ emergency expenses means not being terrified of your boss, because you know you won’t be ruined if you have to take some time off to find a new job… More still means the ability to take a job with a lower pay but with flexible hours. Maybe one with a shorter commute.

Then there’s retiring when you want to, instead of when you need to.

Money can give you the freedom to do what you enjoy. This brings us to the next point…

2. Pursue a side project.

It’s rare to find autonomy at work. You often have to do what your manager, colleagues, and clients want, no matter what your designation.[1]In fact, the higher you move up the ladder, the less control you have over your own time and attention.

But in a side-project, you can decide what to work on, when to work on it, what to do if things don’t go as planned, and when to pivot. You have agency over your actions, the process, and to a large extent, the outcomes.

Do something you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be fancy or big. Just a tiny project that you invest 30 minutes on for five days a week and a few hours during the weekends.

Regardless of how slow your progress is, you’ll look forward to working on the project because you will enjoy the sense of control and fulfillment it brings.

3. Exercise.

Many people spend time outside their work hours vegging out in front of Netflix or scrolling Instagram, watching people “killing it at the gym” and feeling guilty themselves.

You can avoid this trap by exercising just thrice a week. It could be as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood or as advanced as a complex round of calisthenics.

Exercise is a keystone habit that gives you control over your mind, body, and decisions, including how you spend your money.[2]Typically, people who exercise start eating better, become more productive and patient, smoke less, use their credit cards less frequently, and feel less stressed. For more on the topic of keystone … Continue reading

4. Journal just six lines.

Filling up two pages of a journal daily can be overwhelming. It doesn’t take long before you get stuck and wonder, “What should I write about?”

Instead, just write three small things you’re grateful for and three things you’d like to achieve during the day.

The former will make you optimistic. And according to research, optimists are 29% more likely to feel a sense of well-being. The latter will guide your subconscious mind to take action towards your goals. And the more you direct your actions towards specific goals, the more in control you feel.

Game, set, match!

5. Address your worries.

The present moment is one of the best gifts life offers us. Unfortunately, many people squander it by wallowing in anxiety and worry. This destroys their ability to concentrate, messes up their decisions, and exhausts them.

Both anxiety and worry stem from fretting over the outcomes of future events. Of course, you cannot control outcomes, but you can influence them to a large extent with your actions.

And guess what? Merely writing down how you’ll tackle a tough situation drastically reduces anxiety and fills you with a sense of control.

In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie shared a simple formula to tackle anxiety:

  1. Analyze the situation honestly and figure out the worst possible outcome.
  2. Reconcile to accepting the worst if necessary.
  3. Devote your time and energy to improve upon the worst which you’ve already accepted mentally.

99 percent of the time, the worst never comes to pass. And in the rare 1 percent, you’re already prepared to tackle it.

The more you face your fears instead of sweeping them under the carpet, the less intimidating they appear, and the more agency you have over your life.

You don’t need “more” to be happy.

You don’t need more money, more things, more vacations, more Instagram likes. You just need more of one aspect — a sense of control.

The points mentioned in the post won’t change your life overnight. But they will add control in tiny doses that compound exponentially to improve your happiness in the long term.

By spending just 30 minutes a day, you can start experiencing happiness, something you deserve.


1 In fact, the higher you move up the ladder, the less control you have over your own time and attention.
2 Typically, people who exercise start eating better, become more productive and patient, smoke less, use their credit cards less frequently, and feel less stressed. For more on the topic of keystone habits, you can check out the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

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