How to Be Happy Even if You Don’t Succeed

By John Thatcher in Art Business Advice > Motivation

You want to be happy, no matter what life sends your way? The first thing you need to understand is that happiness is a choice.

It’s true. Endorphins are molecules that are created in your pituitary gland. We do not magically receive them from a joke or an event that happened to us. It’s an important distinction to make!

When I was struggling with my black hound, I intellectually knew that deep unhappiness was a new state of mind for me, that I had been happy once and therefore could return to it. British comic Simon Amstell described that dark cloud perfectly, when he said, “You wake up. . . and it just gets darker.”

The thoughts you experience, when unhappy, are often exaggerated, untrue or simply unhelpful. Our minds can easily stay on a loop of such thoughts. The good news is, once you’re aware of that loop you can decide to do something about it.

So here are 5 of my favorite ways to change my mindset and be happy, regardless of my circumstances or current feelings. I hope they help you, too.


1. Diversify your happiness

You might have heard of “diversify your income,” and in the same vein, I recommend you don’t put all your hopes and dreams in one basket. Personally I follow multiple goals. I read, I exercise. Recently I even took up olympic archery because I read Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones.

The book suggests that people who live the longest and are the happiest have a lot of friends.Therefore I made an effort to be more social. I noticed an uptick in baseline happiness immediately. Even if I lose a friend or I suffer a professional setback I will still have my body, hobby or my new archery friends.

2. Reduce risk

Every smart investor finds ways to reduce the downside of his investment. Elon Musk had no way of knowing Tesla would succeed. However he knew that even if his company failed that would allow for the next generation to build upon the technological advancements he made. Renewable energy was a noble goal to pursue even if he didn’t make it commercially successful.

I believe artists too have an important position in bridging the divide between big social problems and people. Your question shouldn’t be, “will I ever be successful?” but rather, “will my work be important, useful, and needed?”

3. Be grateful

Multiple “studies” reaching back to the last century show how practicing gratitude every day helps people have healthier emotional lives. People report increased optimism, happiness and higher productivity, simply by thinking positive thoughts.

It’s very humbling to read how someone loves your work or how a mother bought your design for her daughter and she loved it. I feel very grateful to get to do work that matters.

So remember those moments of gratitude. I personally don’t use a gratitude jar, but I know a few people who’d love something like this.

4. Take care of your body

I’m probably beating a dead horse on this one, because everyone already knows exercise makes you happy—but it’s true. Those pesky endorphins are released to make up for the pain of exercising. It’s like eating spicy food but for the body.

And while you’re at it, try to eat and sleep better. Yes, happiness is mostly in the mind, but the mind is still affected by the rest of your body. It’s a fundamental thing which people don’t want to do (we’d all rather have a magic pill that fixes it). But there is no magic pill. Just you, showing your body, that you love it.

Too often I see people struggling with sleep, depression, or relationship problems and they refuse to fix the obvious in their life like cutting out alcohol or smoking. Or something as simple as posture (which randomized trials have shown affects how you feel).

So listen to your mom when she tells you to sit straight and eat your vegetables. Those things really are good for you!

5. Metacognition

Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. Now this is tied to the points I’ve made earlier, but at a very simplistic level your brain follows patterns. From thought A to thought B there are multiple ways the signal can travel, and along with that comes the feelings or thoughts tied to that particular pattern of thinking.

Actively choose to look on the bright side, or see the silver lining. If you do it often enough, that will become the memory you experience. Retraining your brain IS possible. Just ask this guy, riding his backwards bicycle.

Being happy for a while is easy. Staying happy takes work. I realized that I was thinking negative thoughts so I made a conscious decision to think of something positive.

Like Harry Potter in “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” I thought about the smile of a good friend. It wasn’t a permanent solution but it worked and because I was happy for a moment, I knew I could be happy again.

You don’t have to make a 180 degree change in your life to be happy. . . In fact, it’s very hard to make a change like that. Just start with a tiny thought, and work from there. And no matter what life throws at you, you CAN be happy.


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