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How to be happy: 5 unconventional life lessons

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard the following advice:

The path to happiness comes from looking after yourself first.

It’s good advice for people in toxic relationships. They need to take a stand for themselves.

But this advice isn’t so useful for the majority of people. In fact, more often than not it takes you away from living a happy and fulfilled life.

The reason is this:

If you consistently put yourself first, you’ll live an isolated life. Yet human beings are social animals.

Our purpose in life is to live in societies with other people. It can be frustrating to give up your individuality for the collective good of others. But it’s a reality that everyone has to content with at some point in their lives.

Life becomes most fulfilling when you create value for other people around you. When you put other people first.

With this in mind, here are five unconventional life lessons that will help you live a fulfilling and happy life.

For those unable to watch the video right now, keep on reading for the five unconventional life lessons.

Let’s jump in:

1. Stop trying to be happy

The brutal reality is that we are not on this planet to be happy.

We are here to live a life of purpose and meaning in collaboration with others.

When you focus on being happy, you end up creating an idealized definition of what it means.

Instead, you’re better off focusing on things you can control. For example, you can make sure your actions and behaviors are aligned with living a life full of purpose and meaning.

Because when you focus on getting meaning from what you do in life, happiness usually emerges spontaneously.

This is because comes from within. It’s not something that can be achieved.

2. Happiness is not external to you

Happiness comes from within and it emerges spontaneously from the values you have.

If you start to value things that emerge from whatever your habits, routines, behavior are creating in your life, you will be happy.

When you value your relationships and treat people with respect, you will find yourself becoming happier much more spontaneously.

But if you look for happiness from external things,  it becomes difficult to achieve.

Happiness has to be generated internally.

3. Happiness comes from being satisfied with what you have right now

Happiness comes when you’re satisfied with where you’re at in life.

As soon as you start to want things that you don’t currently have, happiness becomes a very elusive goal. You end up chasing happiness but not finding it.

When you want what you already have, happiness becomes a regular condition in your life.

4. Start being useful to others

The way to be useful to others is to provide something of value.

We are social beings. We need each other. Happiness doesn’t come from focusing entirely on yourself.

Instead, happiness can be achieved through collaboration with other people.


You can be useful by being a role model, living a life of virtue, having good values, being friendly, acting with kindness and generosity.

If you have this deep respect for other humans, you will end up having respect for yourself.

For happiness, it’s always the other way around.

Don’t focus on yourself first, focus on other people first. Find yourself acting in service to other people.

5. You can’t make others happy for them

You can’t help other people become happy because it needs to be a very unique journey that everyone must take.

When you try to make others happy, you end imposing your own values on other people. That doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help you, too.

It ends up creating needy, toxic relationships. You end up being clingy in a relationship.

You need to focus on yourself in this journey. This is where the usual advice gets it right.

Be useful to others but don’t fall into the trap of trying to make the people you’re being useful to happy along the way.


If you follow these 5 tips, you will start to live a virtuous life. You will more easily find meaning in your life and happiness will be the consequence.

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Do you want to live your life with purpose and meaning, but you struggle to figure out how to do this without needing to completely change your life in the process?

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Notable replies

  1. Nice article Justin. I particularly liked point 4, start being useful to others. I will follow through on that today, it is wise advice. I also liked the point about not making happiness a goal… this is my greatest challenge… avoiding misery can become a full time exercise… I have found there is a deeper place beyond good, bad, right and wrong… but, geeze, on a bad day… it sure is hard to connect to that place! Thanks.

  2. This is such an important insight to share. What do you focus on now?

  3. " Happiness comes from being satisfied with what you have right now"

    So, Ideapod is finished?

  4. @BillAmes I don’t understand how this comment is related to what we’re discussing here. I’m not looking for happiness. Rather, I’m in the pursuit of fulfilment.

    Sometimes I experience frustration with Ideapod, and I do my best to channel this frustration into taking steps to keep on improving it. At other times I feel a spontaneous expression of joy and happiness. For example, I felt this today when publishing an article that was submitted via our guest contribute feature. It’s only a small thing, but it shows that one of our new features is being used to share an idea.

    I don’t want to control my reactions so much, but rather want to keep on channelling these reactions into a productive direction moving forward.

  5. “I felt this today when publishing an article that was submitted via our guest contribute feature. It’s only a small thing, but it shows that one of our new features is being used to share an idea.”

    There is nothing wrong with this feeling. But may I ask, would not the enjoyment by those experiencing the article be more rewarding? Have we not seen a business where the proprietor was very pleased with their establishment but it failed because of a lack of customers? I am not comparing this to Ideapod. Ideapod is not a business yet. But it can not become a business if it is just a hobby. For something to be successful it must support some demand, not enough demand and it just goes away. I am my most critical customer, what I do in retirement is for me and if there are others that enjoy what I do I make sure I share it. People who do not enjoy what I do are not a failure, we are just different people. The kinds of material Ideapod posts is focused at an audience I do not understand. When I was in that age group I had been drafted, taught some technical stuff and after 2 years released and quickly started a family. Because I lacked formal education, just a GED the Army gave me for passing a test, I had to do all of the things I did by teaching myself as I moved from job to job. Because of my focus on Science Fiction I was able to ride the wave of tecnology to my retirement. I truly do enjoy helping others using my skills. Not all that many people today can use these skills, people today are not participating in the world anymore. I see at a table in that web camera I mentioned, 4 people at a table and three are on their cell phones. How can I help them? How many conversations have you had with people like me concerning Ideapod? Do you talk to people that are critical of what you are doing? I have a friend on Facebook, he is about 50 or so, and we argue all the time. However I am learning from him because I am learning to see things as he sees them. Very helpful in my story writing. Can you put on the hat of any person who might coe across Ideapod and see it as they see it? I have user manuals for my digital cameras that seem to have been written by people who have no photographic experience. All they do is say “button A does this” but they never say when it should be used, why it should be used and how it should be used. Can you write a manual for Ideapod that will help potential users?

    There is no reason to be frustrated with Ideapod because if you see something that is not working you just talk to a dozen differnt people about what you observed and get their opinion? From what you learn you make any necessary corrections. This is how I learned to program, when it just did not seem to be working I found insight from others. I found that “others” often enjoyed helping me and I was not reluctant to ask as what I was doing was mostly work related and they had an investment in all of our jobs. Never be reluctant to ask and ask the same question in a dozen different ways, words have meaning and one must find the right combination. Just like I am doing in this reply.

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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