Have you ever felt that something was missing in your life?
Who am I kidding, everyone has. I used to be unhappy. But not just unhappy—miserable.
I’d look at other people and wonder what they had that I didn’t. I was sick of living my life. And being sick of it was the tipping point that changed it all. It’s what got me moving in the direction of what made my heart sing.
As I moved forward, I discovered that what was making me miserable wasn’t outside of me, but the habits I had built up over the years. I’d like to share with you what those habits were, and how I overcame them.
1. Waiting for clarity.
I thought that in order to do what I loved and be happy, I had to know where I was going. Turns out that was a mirage. It was a thought that I believed. When I took action despite feeling confused, and simply did my best, I discovered that I could always take one step forward, clarity or no clarity. It was like walking in a heavy fog. As long as I kept moving forward, more of my path revealed itself. But if I stood still, nothing would happen.
Fix: Don’t wait for clarity. Listen to your heart, and take one tiny step forward. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
2. Seeking permission from others.
I wanted others to tell me I was on the right track. The more I did this, the emptier I felt inside.
Why? Because I was giving my power away. Instead of listening to my own guidance system, I was relying on someone else. It was confusing and disempowering. I’ve never had an easy time just trusting life. I worry a lot. But over the years, I’ve realized that trusting myself is the only way toward living a fulfilling life. Once I stopped trying to seek permission, or figure things out, my inner wisdom grew stronger, because it was no longer clouded by thoughts.
Fix: Don’t look to someone else for validation for your dreams. Go after what makes you come alive. That’s enough.
3. Hoping for future salvation.
Another unhelpful habit I have is living in the future, thinking that reaching my goals will make me happier.
However, I’ve noticed that once again, this is just a thought that I give power to. I’ve also noticed that I’ve reached plenty of goals that I thought would make me happy, but didn’t. Like me, you’ve probably heard the following phrase over and over again: “Happiness comes from the inside. It’s available right here, right now.” For a long time, I wondered, “That’s all fine and good, but how do I use that in my life?” The answer was to witness my thoughts, and let them pass by. I don’t have to believe in every thought that tells me that the future holds the key to my happiness. Once I let those thoughts pass, I notice that there’s a source of joy within, always available to me.
Fix: When you find yourself living in the future, just notice what you’re doing. Let go of the tendency and observe what’s going on. This is a practice, so don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect.
4. Wanting to take big leaps.
When I get caught up in thinking that the future will save me, I want to take big leaps. I want to hurry to my goal. Yet this behavior makes reaching my goal less likely. It introduces sloppiness into my work. It produces an aroma of selfishness. But, if I let things take their time, and if I let those thoughts pass, there’s a sense of peace. As I write this, I’m not in a hurry. I sense the wanting to finish, but I witness it. I don’t get involved. Then I return my focus to writing, and letting the words flow on paper. And my soul smiles. My heart nods. My breath deepens. I remember: “This is it. This is life.”
Fix: Big leaps assume that happiness is in the future. Take a deep breath. Notice how much happiness is available right now. No big leaps needed, just a remembering of who you are.
5. Having faulty expectations.
For a long time, I chased after the belief that I could eliminate negativity from my life. But every day does not have to be a happy day. Life is sometimes difficult. The problem isn’t the difficulty, but how I relate to it. If I think it shouldn’t be there, I suffer. Again, it comes down to my thinking. Life is as it is; my thinking gives me my experience of life. When I notice my expectations, I can let them be. This doesn’t mean I don’t feel the sting of something I label as bad; it simply means that I don’t have to pour more gasoline in the fire. I can’t control life, but I can control how I use my attention. I don’t have to change my thoughts; just notice what’s going on, and how I’m creating my experience of the present moment.
Fix: Notice how your expectations make you unhappy. Bring your attention to this moment. Do the best you can with what you have.
6. Taking your thoughts seriously.
“You’re not good enough.”
“You’ll end up homeless if you follow your heart.”
“What will people think of you?”
We all have thoughts that freak us out. Yet I have days when I don’t care about those thoughts. So what’s different between the good days and the bad days? Simply my state of being. When I feel good, my emotional immune system is more stable. I remember that my feelings are simply an indication of how trustworthy my thinking is. When I feel bad, it’s a sign that I need to take my thinking less seriously. When I feel good, that’s when I can solve problems. But often I find that problems solve themselves, if I’m willing to get out of the way. So what I’m repeating over and over again is the fact that it’s our thinking that makes us unhappy, not our circumstances.
Fix: Experiment with taking your thinking less seriously for sixty seconds at a time. See what happens and how you feel.
7. Playing things safe.
When I push the boundaries of my comfort zone, I tend to get anxious, afraid, and worried.
But after a while, the discomfort becomes comfortable. It becomes familiar. What changed? My thinking.
When I let anxious thoughts pass, eventually my thinking returns to normal. But if I try to figure things out, I prolong the “healing” process. I’ve realized that to be fulfilled in life, I have to grow and challenge myself. To do that, I need to step outside my comfort zone. I have to stop playing things safe. There are no guarantees in this world. All I can do is follow my heart and be aware of my thinking. That’s it. I’ll have scary thoughts, but that’s okay. I can still take one tiny step forward.
Fix: Become aware of the fact that being outside of your comfort zone is simply believing a different set of thoughts. You can always listen to your heart, and take the next step.
8. Focusing on lack.
I can have wonderful relationships, do work I love, and have life go swimmingly. But if one thing goes wrong, and I focus on it, I make myself miserable. And the thing about life is that there will always be something “wrong.” The key to happiness isn’t to get rid of your problems, but to learn to live with them. To notice how your thinking gets you in trouble. This doesn’t mean I neglect problems. It means that I don’t stress over them. I solve them as well as I can, but I don’t try to force solutions. I’ve noticed that when I stop thinking, I allow my inner wisdom to help me. I often get solutions to problems when I’m not thinking, such as when I’m on a walk, washing dishes, meditating, or in the shower. I do my best, and then I let go.
Fix: Notice your tendency to focus on the thoughts that tell you something is wrong. Rest your attention in the witness of those thoughts. You are not them. You can observe them, and breathe.
9. Resisting obstacles.
For years, I ran away from challenges because I saw them as obstacles to getting what I want. And I thought getting what I wanted would make me happy. But then something changed: I saw that these obstacles weren’t obstacles, but stepping stones helping me follow my calling. Instead of remaining in the habit of resisting obstacles, I get curious. I ask myself: What can I learn from this? Everything seems to have a purpose. The more I surrender to life, the more powerful I become. And to me, this surrender simply means not trying to figure everything out, or trying to control life.
Fix: Don’t fight life. Embrace life. Become curious about the problems in your life. Don’t rush to fix them. Let them be for a while and notice the results.
10. Neglecting your calling.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to happiness is neglecting your calling. When I neglect my heart, my purpose, my inner wisdom, I become miserable. And the way I neglect my calling is through thinking too much. Thinking that something is wrong, or that I’m on the wrong track. When I notice this mental habit, I let it be, and I take a deep breath. To follow my calling, I have to let go of what I think my path looks like. I can’t figure out where my life is going, I can only live it one moment at a time. That’s scary to my mind, but that’s okay. I can let thoughts pass, and I can rest my attention in my heart.
Fix: Let go of what you think your life should be, and let it become what it was meant to be. Live life one moment at a time. It’s all you can do anyway.
Happiness is not something you get, but something you are. What’s stopping you from being happy is taking your thoughts too seriously.
You have wisdom within you, waiting to guide you. All you have to do is let go and observe how you stop yourself from accessing it.
It’s not easy. It’s a practice. Sometimes it takes time. But notice that even the rush to get it right is a thought. Let it be.
Do your best. Follow your heart.
And remember to breathe.
~ Henri Junttila, Source