"If only I had a better job."
"If I could just find Mr./Mrs. Right."
"If I just had a higher-paying job."
We have all either made these statements or heard others make them as they seek what seems to be elusive: happiness and contentment. While many people believe that happiness will come to them through some external means like finding the right job, the right spouse or making a certain amount of money, research indicates this is not true.
According to 225 studies involving 275,000 people, psychologists found that people aren't happy because they are successful. They are successful because they are happy. The research showed that happy people are easier to work with, more highly motivated and more willing to tackle a difficult project. As a result, they are more likely to be successful. According to the researchers, happy people appear to be more successful than their less-happy peers in three primary areas of life: work, relationships and health.
While many people seek happiness through people, things, work, etc., the research suggests that happiness does not come from someplace or someone else. Those things or people might contribute to a person's happiness, but true happiness comes from within.
"Happiness is a choice," said Dr. Patrick Williams, clinical psychologist and master certified life coach. "In his book, 'Man's Search for Meaning,' Victor Frankl said that what kept him alive in the prison camp was knowing there was one freedom no one could take from him — his thoughts. He chose to make the best of a terrible circumstance.
As you think about the year ahead, perhaps you are considering some changes in order to be a happier person.
Here are a few things to think about:
* Love and accept yourself for who you are. This does not mean change isn't necessary. Recognize that we all have our strengths and opportunities for growth. Beating yourself up over your weaknesses does not contribute to being happy. All of us are gifted at something. Treat yourself kindly, and acknowledge that you are a work in progress.
* Be accountable for your actions. Instead of blaming others for all that happens to you, accept responsibility for your choices. It has been said that you cannot change the past, but you can impact the future. Make an intentional decision to do things differently.
* Stop trying to change others. The only person you can change is yourself.
* Determine your priorities, and live by them. Living out someone else's dream for your life can be a major source of unhappiness. For example, a young man who had been swimming since he was small started having headaches every time he prepared to swim in a meet. He was an exceptionally good swimmer, and there seemed to be no good explanation as to why he kept getting the horrible headaches. One day, his mom commented that she just didn't understand these headaches because he loved to swim. He responded, "No, mom. I don't love swimming. I am good at it, but I don't enjoy it at all." Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.
* Start with abundance in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don't have, look at what you do have — a roof over your head, clothing, food, etc. Someone once said, instead of looking at whether your glass is half empty or half full, just be thankful you have a glass.
* Define happiness. In his article, "Why Happiness Isn't a Feeling," J.P. Moreland says a classical understanding of happiness is virtue and character, a settled tone, depends on internal state, springs from within, is fixed and stable, empowering and liberating, integrated with one's identity, colors the rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self. What is your definition of happiness?
"The reality is this, if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the world, and if you have money in the bank, in your wallet and some spare change, you are in the top 8% of the world's wealthy," Williams said. "Happiness is a matter of perspective. It has nothing to do with the trappings."
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.