The Road To Happiness
What Do We Want?
For over 25 years I’ve been working with people and personal development industries. I have been blessed to work with famous actors, professional athletes, foreign officials, CEOs of giant multinationals, teachers, doctors, lawyers, sufferers of substance abuse, career criminals, mothers, fathers their children and the next-door neighbours. Working in the public sector and in private settings has allowed me to examine the mechanics of some of the world’s largest and most successful companies. I’ve travelled and spoken across over 60 countries studying every type of human relationship I can with heavy focus on how we interact, our social behaviours and the history, philosophy, culture and religion underpinning them all. Through this journey, I have come to learn we are an incredibly simple species who all want the same two things:
- To be happy
- To like ourselves
That’s it. So, ten years ago I stopped travelling and embarked on my third edition of tertiary academic study. This time with specific focus on how we can best achieve these two simple goals.
We each have different ideas regarding happiness. This is because we experience different lives. Our cultures, social environments and educational platforms all vary and so do the things that make us happy. For some, happiness is found at the top of the career ladder, others have money in mind, a fair portion think of it as being loved by another, while many others value health as the best indicator of how happy they will be. Finally, there is a group of us for whom happiness is best described in terms of knowing we are running a secure and successful family. If you look at these measurements in their broadest terms, happiness is a product of how we are doing in our relationships with others and within ourselves.
In my two-plus decades of helping people to build and experience personal happiness, I have come to understand those who struggle in the relationship they have with themselves, tend to encounter difficulty in gaining and maintaining successful relationships with others. The good news is you can learn the necessary skills to build both types of relationships. The bad news is, it is not always easy to source the learning material. There’s more good news. If you do learn the material, and you practice the associated skills until they become your default setting, you will significantly increase your chances of being happy within yourself and enjoying happiness in your relationships with others. With that being said, this article is focused on building your relationships with yourself and with others.
Those who are familiar with my current work know I spend a great deal of time helping parents Bully-Proof their children. If you’re a fresh set of eyes and you are a concerned parent, please download my free ebook titled Five Practical and Effective Ways to Raise Your Child’s Self-Esteem (available here Child Self-Esteem Ebook). You may also be familiar with my television series, The Ex-Files on ABC iview Australia (available here The Ex-Files TV Show) in which I help people with repetitive romantic relationship issues to gain an understanding of their behavioural patterns by listening to what their ex-partners, friends and family have to say about what they are doing wrong. In both of these presentations, I have noticed once again, people are happy when they are doing well within themselves and then well with others.
Your efforts to always be a better person mean that you are already a better person!
About Our Relationship With Ourselves
In psychology, we describe the relationship with ourselves as our self-esteem: Simply meaning how much you enjoy being yourself. Or better still, how much you value yourself. The Oxford dictionary defines self-esteem as, “Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities”. Other definitions include the estimation of one’s own value, a person’s level of self-confidence and an individual’s self-opinion.
You may ask, “What if I don’t care about relationships? Why is self-esteem so important when it comes to living a happy life?” Let me answer you with this explanation. In all these years of working with people experiencing some form of personal difficulty I have treated depression, suicide, anxiety, stress, addictions, relationship issues (such as domestic violence, co-dependency, intimacy issues, fear of commitment, jealousy), bullying and youth-related issues, post-traumatic stress and many other psychological and emotional challenges.
In every single case, I have in some way found the common issue, at least in part, is lowered self-esteem. Of all the personal characteristics we must develop, enriched self-esteem is by far the most important.
Who Should You Be?
In a world of rapid change, social media, selfies, insta-love and internet fame, who must you become to be happy? How can you safely express our inner truth without fear of disappointing others? How can you be the true you, warts and all, without worrying others will not like you? I meet a lot of people who are confused. Confused as to exactly who they should be.
Is it any wonder why?
Today’s society bombards us with a ridiculously confusing array of contradictory messages regarding exactly who we should be in order to be happy. We are meant to be sensitive, new-aged and gentle but we should also be incredibly strong, brave and powerful. We are told to be wealthy beyond measure and good-looking too. However, we are not meant to value money over love, even though we are apparently more attractive and easier to love if we have more money.
We should be hyper-intelligent though not too smart but more working-class, because that makes us more able, practical and useful. We should be well travelled though not so adventurous that we haven’t spent our years building a stable home life for ourselves, and our perfect match. Men should not be too masculine but must be raw and rugged. Women not too beautiful but must take care of their beauty, just like the magazines and media say. Men are to support a woman’s independence and allow them to pay for their meal, yet never be so rude and discourteous not to pay for their meal. You’re getting the picture right?
So how do you decide who you should be? How can you love yourself first if you don’t know who you are meant to be?
My work has taught me there is a way and it starts with you answering these three life questions:
Who am I?
What is truly important to me?
What will I do with my brief time on this planet?
In order to help you get started, I want to give you five practical and effective strategies you can immediately employ to begin building your level of happiness. If you can practice these you will come to learn more about yourself and in this way come to build that most important of relationships; self-esteem.
Five Practical and Effective Strategies for Building Your Self-Esteem
1. Behave According To Your Values
Life and its people will challenge you. That is a given. It is unarguable and true. At times, through no fault of your own, others will treat you unfairly. Friends will let you down, the boss might pressure and be rude to you, and your partner will disappoint or frustrate you. Loved ones will pass on. You may be become injured or fall ill. The list of challenges you will face is limitless.
These events are outside of your control. You did not cause them, but they happen anyway; and may lead you to experience intense sadness, anger and frustration. How you express these feelings is up to you. If your choice of expression includes behaviours such as shouting, hitting, giving up, storming out, castigating, arguing, abusing or any other unhelpful behaviour, then you’re not going to like the experience of being you. You’ll be adding petrol to an already unwanted fire which might then grow and prove hard to stop. It’s simply not worth it.
On the other hand, if you choose helpful responses, in line with your best self, then you will fare better. To do this, you must stick to your values. You must let them dictate your behaviour. Avoid running with whatever you’re feeling at that moment. Forget the need to be right. This means leaving your ego out of the situation. It may mean biting your tongue. It may mean apologising for your part in what has gone wrong. It may mean, forgiving, showing patience, embarking on teamwork, forgetting justice and fairness and taking ownership. No matter what you do, you must choose a behaviour, which makes a better you. This is what we call, behaving in accordance with your values. In line with who you are and what is truly important to you.
When acting in accordance with your values, you may be required to commit to a degree of effort you just don’t feel like doing at the time. You might rather be doing something easier. It is sometimes easier to give up on a friend than forgive them; easier to shout and storm off from your partner than sit and listen with patience; and easier to tell somebody what you really think of them right now rather than sleep on it and come back with a calm and fresh approach tomorrow. Life will squeeze you and you will be required to respond. How you respond says everything about you. The choice you make is a powerful one. For whatever you choose to say or do creates what happens next.
You choose. The biggest choice of all will be whether to stay loyal to your best self, or to waver and place short-term gain, habit, the approval of others or what feels like the least effort, higher on your choice of responses. Many times over you will be challenged by temptation to do what is wrong for the sake of short-term pleasure. Should you forsake yourself, you will be exposed and the world will know where your true values lie, and so will you. Your values determine your character, and your character determines your value.
Your greatest reward in life will come from remaining true to your value system and your greatest punishment will come from placing anything above it. Forfeit your integrity and you lose your freedom. Lose your freedom and you lose yourself. Lose yourself and you face a life of aimlessness and sadness. You will question who you are, wonder what is truly important to you and struggle with your brief time on this planet.
Top Tip: If you are not aware of the importance of values or your chosen values and their application to the eight domains of your life then you are a perfect fit for our Positive Change – The Business of Happiness program. It is one of our flagship events and I can say with my hand on my heart, if you do the program and follow the path, it will change your life.
2. Place Your Relationship With Yourself Above All Other Relationships
How many times have you heard someone say, “If you can’t love yourself you’ll never be able to love somebody else”? It’s one of those sayings we all hear yet few of us truly take time to examine. Or if we do, we say, “I don’t know how to love myself!” So let’s examine it now.
Some people cannot stand to be alone; but what does it mean to be alone? Can you ever truly be alone? Maybe it is best described as being without the company of another person. At that time, you are only with yourself: However, yourself is made up of at least two parts (some would argue three); your conscience and your sub-conscience. So there you sit, just you and your deepest self, holding your innermost thoughts. Like two friends, or for many unhappy people, like two people uncomfortable in each other’s company. For these two cannot pretend to be anything other than their true selves. For even if we tried to pretend, these two know each other too well and as such there is no chance of believing anything but the deepest truth. There is no hiding. You cannot convince yourself of anything but the truth. You can try. Lying to yourself is the easiest thing you can do. You will always be the easiest person to lie to. However believing your lie, well that’s going to be a difficult exercise indeed. In fact, it’s impossible. You stand zero chance of convincing yourself of anything but the truth. In essence, if you are not the kind of person you’d want to be good friends with, you’re going to have a hard time enjoying your own company. More so, you’ll find it difficult to like yourself and ridiculously impossible to love yourself. Especially if you cannot honestly say something like, “I am an honest, hard-working, self-disciplined, healthy, patient, consistent and reliable individual. I show up. Others can count on me and so can I.” If you cant say that about yourself, you’ve got some improving to do.
Now we have that part sorted, let’s take it a step further. If you find it difficult to be with yourself (because you are not the kind of person you like spending time with), then you’ll do anything to remain in the company of others. Now we have a new problem. You are not so silly as to present yourself to others as the very person you don’t like. Why would you? It stands to reason if you don’t like the person you are, then you’ll expect nobody else will either. So, as a simple matter of survival, you present yourself as somebody different. Somebody you believe others will like. Not the real you. You may lie about how much you have achieved; you may exaggerate your wealth, your happiness or anything you think will show to others what a worthwhile person you are. In fact, what you will often do is present yourself as exactly the sort of person you wish to be. The big issue, of course is you are not that person. For, as you well know, becoming that person will take long-term sustained effort involving hard work, lot’s of alone time, and consistent application to becoming a better version of yourself. These factors are the very reason you are not that person. You could be that person. Any person can become whoever they wish to be. You’ve just chosen to pretend you’re there, thinking others will like you and if they do then you will like being you. Big mistake!
Remember the bit about you cannot lie to yourself. Well now you’ve got yourself in a whole new world of bother. Not only have you tried lying to yourself about who you are but you’re now lying to the others. No matter how you look at it you are behaving in a dishonest fashion. We call this living without authenticity, and it’s the worst form of poison for your self-esteem. It will push you down into a dark lonely hole. You will learn to despise yourself, suffocate your personal growth and one by one lose your friends as they each come to see your lack of integrity. At this point you will generally need to find new friends. A wise man once told me, “Cliff, watch out for people who always have new friends. Where have all the old ones gone?”
On the flip side, imagine this entire process in reverse. Imagine you have yourself a wonderful person to spend time with. You become the person you would wish to have as a best friend. You are somebody of which you are immensely proud and satisfied and so you no longer need to pretend to be anybody but your truly incredible self. You are excited about who you are and the manner in which you conduct yourself. You are committing to something far greater than the approval of others. You are reaching for a higher form of yourself: The best version of yourself. You face great challenges with determination, commitment and confidence and as such, your victories are sweet and your failures are honest. When others watch you they know they are seeing the truest form of yourself: An individual living in line with your deepest beliefs and desires. You become somebody truly worth having as a friend. At that time you know your relationship with yourself comes before that you share with any other. For in this place, of deep inner truth, you are safe, content and genuinely excited about the experience of being you.
3. Understand You Can Never Fail While You Refuse to Quit
I once knew a fellow; let’s call him Mason. I guess you could call him the leader of our young social circle. He was a few years older than the rest of us and had experienced a life beyond what we had. I guess that’s why we held him in higher regard than ourselves. As the years progressed we came to notice something about Mason. There was a pattern to his speech. One of us would talk about how well someone had done (e.g., a sportsman in our local team) and Mason would say something like, “Yeah but if you look at him over the whole year he hasn’t been that good. I could have done that and had a much bigger impact.”
Perhaps we would talk about someone we know who’d succeeded at something else. Mason would say, “Yeah but really she’s not that good at what she’s doing. I would have done it differently.” Or one of us would come up with a new business idea and sure enough Mason would say something like, “Yeah but it won’t work because the economy isn’t right. Otherwise, I would have done it already.”
After a time, we noticed his pattern of speech; we also noticed something else. In all the time we knew Mason, we never actually saw him do anything! He had the same job, talked about the same things and spent most of his time finding the negatives in everything he faced. To this day we fondly call him, ‘Yeah But Mason’.
Over twenty years have passed since those days and you guessed it, our mate is still stuck in the same place. I came to feel sorry for him. In my opinion, he was stuck in rut. He talked a big game but never actually ran onto the field of life. He’s a spectator, not a player. Overall, I believe he fears failure. He sees it as a weakness, an ultimate loss and an embarrassing process. Rather than get in the game, he avoids it and as such, has never tasted the sweetness of victory.
You must be willing to make mistakes, to fall down, feel the sting of loss and then train to get back up and try again. You must know that to fail means nothing but the end of that phase of trying and the beginning of the next. You must understand your failures teach you as much, if not more, than your successes.
You must lose like a champion, look your opposition in the eye, shake hands as an honourable person then go home and practice harder for the next challenge. You must recognise common logic: That every champion or expert began as a fumbling amateur. All winners begin this way. All leaders are born equal. In every successful person you’ll find a history of consistent long-term application to personal betterment. The alternative is to do what Yeah But Mason has done. Stay safe, avoid failure, and subsequently avoid success. He’d rather do nothing than try and fail.
“Why haven’t you gone out and done what you wanted to do with your life? What is stopping you from starting today?”
Invariably this answer offered: “Fear of failure.”
I love this moment and I wait for it with anticipation. My response is always the same. I say this:
“You don’t fear failure at all! When have you ever not done something important because you feared failure? Do you remember how as a child, when you were learning to walk, you decided not to because you feared falling down and hurting yourself? Oh you kept trying? Oh ok, what about when you were learning to read and you mispronounced the words, so you gave up on reading? Oh you didn’t give up? Ok, how about when you learned to drive? Surely you didn’t try because heaven forbid you should stall or have an accident? Oh come on now don’t tell me you actually got on with it and now you can drive? You see you’ve never feared failure. Every time you’ve failed, you’ve got on with it and managed just fine.”
Yes, I love this moment. It’s an ‘aha’ moment for the audience. It then becomes a very challenging one. You see, when we cannot offer the excuse, “I fear failure” (and it is, as you can see, nothing but a thinly veiled excuse), then we must face a deeper truth. Often that truth is, “I’m not willing to work hard enough and persevere. I am not willing to get uncomfortable and to risk being the beginner. I am not willing to commit to long-term consistent patient effort. I am unwilling to do something, which might not work out, quick enough. I want it all and I want it now.”
You have to trust yourself to handle the failure. You’ve handled many failures before. Trusting yourself is one of your most powerful processes. It is an intelligent logical step in a journey toward long-term happiness. Accept failures will occur. Know that you can handle it. Remember you can trust yourself to pick yourself up, dust off your pants and march forward. You can deal with it. You always have. You always will.
To be successful is to grow from failure.
Success will not challenge your willpower, as failure will. When you face life’s challenges and trust yourself to forge ahead, regardless of the outcomes along the way, then you will learn how strong and determined you truly are. Build this in yourself and reap the reward of experiencing pride in your effort. Enjoy the sensation of being inspired by your own commitment. Or, you can always quit or not try at all. You can play it safe, be a Yeah but Mason and suffocate your spirit, eliminate your potential and with it your chance of success and happiness.
4. Walk Tall Walk Proud
“Walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye
That’s what my mama told me when I was about knee high
She said son, be a proud man and hold your head up high
Walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye.”
I have a secret to tell. The moment I heard that song, when I was six or seven years old, I fell in love with it. There is something so powerful in those words. Since then those famous lyrics by Val Doonican have stuck in my mind. I cannot count how many times in my life I have walked into a room full of strangers and sung those words to myself. They have served me well indeed.
Speak and act with confidence. Walk purposefully with a confident stride, stand up straight, pull your shoulders back and open yourself up to the world. You don’t have to feel confident to do these things just like you don’t have to feel comfortable jumping into a cold swimming pool. It’s a decision you make, and although it may be uncomfortable at first you will warm up to it quicker than you expect. You have to own your attitude. Present your best self to the world and the world will thank you for it. You are putting something special there that would not be, if not for you. You don’t behave with confidence because you know you are going to be a roaring success. You act with confidence because you have the inner strength to overcome self-doubt. You are not worried about failure, or inferiority or what anybody else thinks of you. You know you can count on yourself to get through any challenge and that is all you need to know. Remember this about yourself. You are courageous and determined. Therefore, you are capable of anything you put your mind to. When you can count on yourself you have nothing to fear.
I’ve heard others say, “Just act as if you are somebody else.” I’m not so flash on that angle. It suggests you should discard your authentic self. Why can’t you present your true self? You have been confident before now. You know what it feels like and you can choose to be confident like that again. It’s a personal choice and it’s one you can make. Bring that style of yourself to the event. Be your best self, with pride and without excuses. Here are three top tips I’ve used to effectively improve my confidence.
- If you want others to see you as confident then be frank with knowledge. That is if you don’t know the topic, or the answer to a question, respond with a calm, “I am unsure about that.” Confident people are well aware of the impossibility of knowing everything about everything. They are secure enough within themselves to let others know when they don’t know. If you stutter about and grasp for answers, when in honesty you do not know the answers, you will appear weak and uncertain. Alternatively, answer slowly and admit you do not “yet” know and you will not only appear as confident but strong as well.
- Focus on the person speaking and make strong eye contact. When you pay close attention to another person they will notice you are connected to them. They will read you as interesting, focused, appealing and confident. Moreover, when you listen to the speaker visually as well as audibly, you will deliver interesting and appropriate questions. The speaker will identify your interactive style and ability to engage as a sign of your confidence.
- Everybody here has loved something, lost something and is afraid of something. I love knowing this fact. Many times I have walked into a room full of strangers and said this to myself. I call this ‘The Great Evener’ because it places everybody on the same even playing field like me. This statement is as true as truth can get. Think about it. Everybody has these three things in common. With that you know we are all one and the same. Sometimes I find public affairs or meeting new people a little daunting. I have at times been guilty of comparing myself to others and wondering if I will fit in, wondering if I stack up and worrying I might not be on par with the rest of the room. No problem, I simply look at each person (one by one if it feels right), and as I size each one up, I recite The Great Evener. This does wonders and I gift it to you today to use at your leisure, whenever you need it. I promise you, the effect it has on your confidence is priceless. Suddenly, you will be quietly self-assured you are even with every person you meet.
5. Understand That Love Is A Behaviour
If you want to build your self-esteem you must know love is a behaviour. Love is not a feeling. It is a series of behaviours which you combine in your head and equate as love. The feeling is happiness and the thought is one of joy, safety and belonging. The purest behaviour you can choose is to love. In fact, many would say love is the only permanent facet of life.
How many times have you heard the following biblical quote from 1 Corinthians at weddings?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
This is a list of behavioural descriptions. You behave lovingly. If you are still not convinced then ask yourself the following question. “How do I know when somebody loves me?” Yes, you answered right when you said, “I see it in what they do and what they say.” Now we have that cleared up, what does this mean about self-love? I’m glad you asked. Happy people know exactly how to behave lovingly toward themselves. They know it is their behaviours on which they must focus, and they are brave enough to deliver and receive them. If you want higher self-esteem you need to be happy and comfortable in your own skin and pro-active with your self-loving behaviours.
Tell yourself every day, “I love you” and be the first to say it to the people you love. Do not sit passively waiting for somebody else to make the first move. Understand the world does not revolve around hesitation but rather it runs on your positive energy. Once you deliver love, unconditionally, for the sake of yourself and for making others feel safe and worthy, then the universe responds to you in kind.
You must accept yourself as powerful and loving. With this understanding comes a great responsibility to rise above pain and suffering and offer your best to the world. In this place you can realise your true potential for creating greatness.
Florence Scovel Shinn said, “Life is a game of boomerangs.” Your deeds will ultimately return to you with “astounding accuracy.” The loving person is well aware of this principle. The loving person knows they will receive whatever they are sending. Loving people think before they act, sending out exactly what they wish to receive. They act deliberately, ahead of time. They cause in the life of others that which they wishe to experience themselves.
Some struggle to achieve this state. They struggle to separate feeling unloved from behaving that way. When they feel neglected, hurt and uncared for, they choose to behave as neglectful, hurtful and uncaring. This is where they run into trouble. They forget the boomerang effect. They forget behaviours have consequences. They lose touch with their power to create happy fulfilling relationships and so forget their responsibility to act lovingly, regardless of what somebody else chooses to do. They become caught up in a tit-for-tat battle with somebody who was not showing love. They forget two wrongs will never make a right.
The happy and loving ones can differentiate between their feelings and behaviours. You will come to understand your defensive ego will misbehave in accordance with whatever it is feeling. This has been referred to as the knee-jerk response, or as being reactive. It is often the cause of behaviours we later regret. Much of our pain and suffering is caused by our knee-jerk responses. It does not matter what another individual chooses to do. You do not suddenly drop your mission of being a loving human. Just because you have a feeling does not mean you have to act out on that feeling. You can notice your feeling and make a conscious choice as to how you behave. Choose love; to forgive them and you become powerful. You don’t have to be their best friend and spend your life with them; but hurting them, because you feel hurt, will only end up hurting you.
We create happiness in our lives by creating happy relationships. In order to so, we must behave lovingly. We do this by conscious choice. One behaviour at a time. The great news is, you have complete choice over your behaviours. Nobody can force you to behave in a certain way. Let me say it again. You have complete choice over how you behave.
Let’s Sum It Up
If you want to create happy relationships and so be a happier person, you must practice paying close attention to your behavioural style. You must become self-aware of the way you act and what you say. As you become more reflective of your behaviours and how you treat others you will notice a building discomfort with anything you say or do that creates pain and conflict in yourself or another.
The more attention you give your own behaviours, the quicker you will reduce the number of negative acts you commit. Your ego driven self will almost effortlessly diminish. Your knee-jerk reactivity will not make sense to you anymore. You will come to appreciate a more valuable and deeper level of yourself and with it, an awareness of how unhelpful behaviours are of no use to you in your quest for happiness. At this point I notice people who are striving for higher self-worth become acutely aware of the difference between their feelings and behaviours. Behaving lovingly and creating happiness within yourself, and therefore with others, is your responsibility.
Happy people understand their behaviours are choices and as such, they choose the consequences they experience.
The more you put into this work, the more you will be rewarded with clarity and insight regarding your personality style and how your behaviours may be helping or hindering your emotional growth, your self-esteem, your relationships and in turn your happiness.