We are all searching for happiness

Some people find it more easily than others, but it’s safe to say that humans, as a species, crave contentment.

Yet rates of anxiety and depression are higher than they’ve ever been, and increasing every year! Technology, medicine and standards of living generally improve year over year, so why are we getting more and more unhappy? Whatever the causes are (“environmental mismatch,” anyone?), it’s clear we can use all the guidance we can get to improve our levels of happiness.

Enter Bill Gates, perennially one of the wealthiest people in the world. One might assume that money buys happiness and therefore disqualifies Bill from weighing in, but wealth is not necessarily a strong indicator of happiness. In a recent discussion on Reddit, Gates shared his thoughts on happiness and the four tangible actions he takes that have made him happier in his 60’s than he was in his 20’s.

The best part of his strategy is that they are simple and free, accessible to all of us non-billionaires. And here they are…

Follow through on your commitments

An article on this topic in Inc. Magazine refers to this as “intentionally choosing and following through on what matters most.” This is about listening to your inner wisdom, your gut, about what you should be doing with your life and then doing it.

Not only will this satisfy your longing for a life of meaning but it will close any “open loops” you have rattling around in your brain. Research has shown that unfinished projects or tasks weigh heavily on your subconscious and cause anxiety, but by completing these items you resolve them, you effectively “close the loop.”

This also matches with has been described as the number one regret of the dying: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

In short, Gates is saying the same thing Shakespeare said as the character Polonius in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.”

To which I would add: “And then take action on it.”

Have a mindset of giving

I love this one. Not only because it is inspiring and generous, but because there’s real research to back up the benefits for the giver AND receiver.

Obviously, Bill Gates has more freedom to spend his life serving the well-being of others. He doesn’t have a 9 to 5 anymore and he has a net worth of $98.4 billion.

Nevertheless, what he’s saying is spot on.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done amazing things for a LOT of people.

But you and I can give, too. We can spend a few hours volunteering at the dog shelter or at a facility for abused women. We can pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor or take part in a fundraising 5k. There a limitless opportunities for us to contribute to our communities by sharing a little time or money.

And it makes you feel good! Humans are highly social animals. We are engineered to cooperate and collaborate with other human beings. We are hardwired to share resources and protect each other. We benefit by helping each other.

Research clearly shows it’s benefits:

“Science has confirmed that giving makes us feel happy, is good for our health, and evokes gratitude. One Harvard Business School report even concluded that the emotional rewards are the greatest when our generosity is connected to others, like contributing to a cancer-stricken friend’s GoFundMe Campaign.”

Source: Inc. Magazine

Treat your body like a sacred temple

Bill Gates believes that exercise leads to happiness. And he’s right. The tonnage of research to prove this is overwhelming.

You wouldn’t put Coke in the engine of your car, would you? No. Because it would kill the car. Cars are not built to run on Coke. Neither is the human body.

When you put garbage in your body, your body becomes garbage. When you refuse physical activity your body decays. When you fail to sleep properly your body suffers. When you neglect actions to manage chronic stress your body (and mental health) deteriorate.

Prioritize your health. Respect yourself. Treat yourself with care. You will feel a LOT better and, as a side benefit, you’ll LOOK better.

Put family first

This seems obvious, but I think we get lost sometimes. We get caught up in pursuing things (money, status, material goods) that we think are in the best interest of our families but actually take us AWAY from what our families want most; our time, attention and love.

Longevity studies consistently show that one of the biggest contributing factors to a long, healthy life is having strong social and family connections. So, it’s not just that your family is your responsibility, it’s also your refuge from the travails of life, it’s your battery, it’s your joy.

Your family doesn’t have to be made up exclusively of blood-relatives. It can be made up of whatever you want; friends, co-workers, the people you take yoga with, your pets. There are no rules. But remember, humans are social animals, and isolation has been shown to promote depression. Spend time with people who bring joy to your life.

None of us will ever be as wealthy as Bill Gates. But all of us can have the same degree of happiness. Sometimes it takes time. But if we are mindful of our right to contentment we can put in place the practices we need for happiness without waiting until the last third of our lives.

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Jonathan Aluzas is co-owner of Arena Fitness, a fitness center that offers group training in Encino as well as personal training in Northridge.