“Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.” -Gandhi
Ten years ago I was a young executive working in a fairly high-profile job at a big entertainment studio. I had an office with a view, a gorgeous convertible, a huge wardrobe, and was invited to fantastic parties every week. From the outside, it seemed like I had it all. I was convinced that I did have it all, because everyone was telling me how great it was. It was the life I’d been conditioned to strive for.
The truth was, I was incredibly empty and unhappy inside. I wondered almost daily what was wrong with me. Instead of pausing to try to figure out the source of my grief, I kept going, convinced that it would go away on its own if I just stayed the course.
I was grateful for what I’d accomplished, but happy was another story. I was spending long days in what was a toxic work environment. I spent much of my time dodging people with negative energy and watching kind, capable people around me quit because of the stress or disappear due to office politics. I found myself laying low and wishing I were somewhere else.
I thought one of the answers to filling the emptiness I was feeling in my life was lots of stuff. I shopped like crazy. I was making pretty good money for the first time in my life and was on a mad mission to find the next thing to make me happy. It wasn’t working.
I went to parties, polluted myself with too many cocktails, and burned the candle at both ends thinking that I was creating a rockin’ life for myself, and that somehow, some way, it would lead to happiness. Yes, there were some good times, but it seemed that no matter what I did, I still felt empty. Like I was simply existing rather than living.
One night I was awakened by what felt like my heart pounding out of my chest. I was shaking, in a cold sweat, and could barely breathe. My pillow was soaked. I sprung up and realized that what was happening was a physical reaction to all the stress and the downward spiral I was in. My body was finally telling me to wake up or face serious consequences.
It was that next morning that my inner voice spoke up, loudly, and opened my mind to see that I was the only one who had the power to change my situation – and my perception. I’m a creative person. Why wasn’t I using that creative side to create the world I truly wanted to live in? I realized that morning that I was a major player in what was happening in my life, because I’d been allowing it to continue.
I decided in that moment to do whatever I could to make the changes I needed to make to start living the authentic, happy life I wanted to be living. I needed to get my priorities straight, and I needed to stop trying to please everyone else. It was time to let go of all the false ideas I’d been holding on to about what my life was supposed to look like.
I left the job. I had nothing else lined up; I just left and trusted that Life would create an opportunity for me that would be a perfect fit. I dropped all negative and draining obligations, gave away much of the stuff, and dove into every book and lecture I could find about transition, metaphysics, and happiness. I forgave myself. I channeled all my newfound energy into learning, taking responsibility, and creating a better life.
I couldn’t believe how quickly my world turned around and all that I’d been missing. I shifted my focus away from material things and away from worrying about the opinions of other people. I began to look inward to discover how I could be of better service to myself and to the world. The more I took action to create necessary changes, the more I began to love my life, and myself.
One of the first things I learned during this process was that for so long I’d been living externally rather than internally. I was paying way too much attention to what was on the outside – the stuff, the people, the projects, and my crazy, unrealistic schedule. I was rarely, if ever, checking in with myself to tune in to what my needs truly were or what my heart was telling me. My spirit was completely neglected.
I started spending time connecting with nature, practicing Yoga, and tuning in to all the love I was so lucky to have in my life. Through this, I discovered what some of my true passions were. Learning to turn inward was one of the greatest gifts I’d ever received.
Speaking of receiving…that was the next lesson I learned. Prior to this positive shift, I was so caught up in all that junk that I was mostly closed off to receiving all the good that was around me. I was going through life completely missing the joy and grace that can be found in little things. I was taking for granted all the love and miracles in my life, and not practicing nearly enough gratitude or forgiveness.
Once I slowed down and started practicing what I was learning, I began to find more joy in life than I’d ever thought possible. I started to feel peaceful and full, and reached a point of clarity that brought me to big answers I was looking for both personally and professionally. I finally realized that my most important job was being the CEO of my own happiness.
Doors began to open that brought me to places I wouldn’t have seen or even imagined before. I started my own business and began to use my creative side to help people grow their businesses and make improvements in their own lives. It was a great feeling to be of service, to live with purpose, and to finally be out of my own way.
Today, my life is super happy and full, and I handle challenging times in a much different way. Listening to my inner voice, slowing down, releasing, and letting things happen in their own time has leveled the playing field.
Five steps toward becoming the CEO of your own happiness:
1. Put yourself at the top of your list. This means tuning in to what your heart is telling you on a regular basis, caring for your physical and spiritual health, and slowing down enough to allow yourself to receive and enjoy life. Doing this will enable you to offer your best self to others.
2. Set boundaries. This means saying “no” more often than you may be used to. Saying “yes” to obligations that are not a fit for your emotional fitness or priorities will only lead you to feeling over-extended and stressed out.
3. Approach each day from a mindset of positivity and gratitude. Work to get into this place as soon as you wake up each morning. This leads to endless possibility. Focus on positive thoughts and keep an eye out for open doors, open arms, and open minds.
4. Look closely on a regular basis at what you’re tolerating. Ask yourself if there changes you can make to reduce or eliminate things or relationships in your life that are draining your energy and dimming your light.
5. The people you spend the most time with have a huge impact on the quality of your life. Choose carefully and then spend lots of time with them, especially the ones who make you laugh.
The truth is that it takes work and practice on a daily basis to create a truly happy life. The good news is that the more you practice, the easier it will come. If you’re willing to commit, you’ll discover that joy, love, and inner-peace are among our most beautiful of renewable resources.
Note: This post by Kristi originally appeared on TinyBuddha.com. You can view it on the site here.