Four Steps to Happiness: A Short Path with Big Rewards

People generally want to be happy, but there seems to be a definite difficulty in achieving it. I don’t mean the kind of happiness that is absent the tapestry of human emotion. Our lives are filled with difficulty and challenge. No, the happiness that I’m talking about is the kind that embraces all aspects of life—the sorrow and the joy.

Many years ago, I was presented with an adaptation of the “Four Steps to Happiness” by Angeles Arrien that I often recall, think about it, and share with others. They have great wisdom in them and give you a wise pathway to happiness.

Step One: SHOW UP (choose to be present)

The first and most important thing you can do is to be present. Unfortunately, research indicates that we are not present at least half of the time. We are lost in thought—thinking about the past, the future, or struggling with the present.

The good news is that your ability to show up and be present is facilitated by practicing mindfulness. You can practice informally or formally. For instance, you can bring presence to your breath, to sitting, to walking, to standing, and any other activity that you do. You can practice formally through sitting meditation and yoga.

In my experience, the practice of mindfulness—the willingness to be open to the present moment with curiosity, kindness, and without judgment—is the first step to being happy because it moves you from judgment (which is generally automatic and often negative) to nonjudgment.  This step takes you to a neutral observation of whatever is happening. And from that perspective, you can have much more clarity and wisdom.

Even if the present is wrought with difficulty, your decision to show up with compassion and kindness is your first step toward freedom from suffering and is essential to your ultimate happiness.

Step Two: PAY ATTENTION (to what has heart and meaning)

When you pay attention, what do you notice? As James Redfield said, “Where attention goes energy flows; where intention goes energy flows!” Setting your intention to pay attention to what has heart and meaning will help you focus on what is most important for your happiness. We often get stuck (I’m talking to myself here!) on things that don’t really matter. For instance, when our egos get involved, we tend to focus on more petty things like “who’s right and who’s wrong.” There is another saying that I really love, which is “you can be right, or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.” Focus less on right and wrong, good and bad, and more on what it is you hope to accomplish, how you might work together for everyone’s best interest, and what gives you purpose and brings you joy. Tune into the channel that’s bringing you toward your highest good. All of the rest is static.

Step Three: TELL YOUR TRUTH (without blame or judgment)

This step asks you to do a couple of things. First, when you say what is true for you, realize that it is only your truth. It is not THE truth, and it is certainly not everybody’s truth. Second, say what you need to say without blame or judgment. Your truth does not need to include an insinuation that someone else did something wrong.

Here is a simple example. I like it when meetings or classes start and stop at the appointed times. That might not be something that everyone cares about. But, it is a priority for me. I don’t take other people’s time lightly. It is one of our precious economies. I start classes no more than 5 minutes late to allow people to arrive, and I end almost exactly when I say I will. When people come late, they know I will have started. And I am happy if people leave if I ever run over, which I rarely do. I don’t blame or judge people for doing what they need to do, and I do what I need to.

Step Four: BE OPEN TO OUTCOME (not attached to outcome)

The more expectations you have, the more you will be disappointed. This doesn’t mean that you don’t do things to create a particular outcome. Just don’t be attached to having things end up the way that you think they should. Instead, when you open yourself up to what is happening with fresh eyes and an open mind, you can have the best outcome possible under the circumstances.

For example, I decided at one point in my life that I was going to quit dating, get a cat, and write a book. I was done with men! Two weeks later I met Bud (my now husband). I already had a cat, and I was writing a book, but Bud had not been a part of the plan. I am happy to report that eight years later, Bud, the cat, and the book are all still a part of my life. Although I had made the commitment not to date, I guess I just hadn’t met Bud yet. Being open to outcome showed me my life could be better with another person after all.

I hope you consider these four steps as you work on happiness in your own life. Yes, happiness takes work. It takes work every day. But it’s good work, and it’s worth the effort. If you would like to know more about happiness, I recommend the book “How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People–Their Secrets, Their Stories” by Rick Foster. Although it’s been a long time since I read it, the one choice that all these people made was to set an intention to be happy.

Where intention goes, energy flows. May it flow in the direction of happiness for each of you.

If you want more ways to create joy and ease in your life, pick up my new book Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy.