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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.

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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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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. @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.

  4. I’m Margaret from Texas. I’m retired from the mental health profession and am very impressed by this young man’s thought. Happiness requires taking action. It is a result of living a life that is commiserate with our belief system. I, like Justin, am happiest when sharing the gifts God gave me to be a kind-hearted, listener. On the outside, my life doesn’t look very happy but it is. Over the last three years I’ve developed three chronic illnesses which have placed me in a wheelchair living in a nursing home. I’m only 60 and it’s hell. I cry everyday about it but just for a little while because I choose to do those things that bring me joy…hanging out with the other residents, listening to the staff members life stories, etc. I also surround myself with beautiful things, music, books, plants, and art. I dress nicely everyday because it makes me feel good. Happiness is an inside job that, for me, comes from these little things and my relationship with the God I worship. I have a 100+ year old Stitchery of the Serenity Prayer that my grandmother made hanging over my bed. It’s my life motto. I believe happiness is a choice and an inside job.

  5. ACD says:

    I think that this gets it backwards. Our purpose is to pursue happiness and life in society is arguably the key to that pursuit.

  6. Please give creativity as your purpose in life and use society as part of your toolset to this end. You provide the community with enjoyment when they experience your creativity and those that have helped you get the well-done job feeling. We must strive for more than a cat’s life.

  7. @masmurphy60 thanks for sharing so beautifully your experience of life right now. It’s very humbling for me to read.

    Yes this makes a lot of sense. It brings me satisfaction knowing that you have a relationship with the God you worship and that you get meaning from your life in a number of different ways.

    Yes, I think I haven’t phrased it very well. There’s a better article (in my opinion) on finding purpose here.

    For me, I’ve found that giving up the pursuit happiness has brought me a great deal of satisfaction. I think that we would probably end up agreeing on many things when given the chance to flesh out our understanding. I suspect that it may come down to what it means to “pursue” something. I see “pursuing” things as focusing on them, and I find I have a better relationship with the feeling of happiness by not focusing on it so much. But I pursue many things in my life that enable me to create the conditions that allow for the spontaneous feeling of happiness.

    Just like with happiness, I choose not to make my creativity a focus. It could simply come from my own inadequacies of “getting in my own way” and being an “overthinker”. I find that creativity is something that surges through me all of the time, every single day. It’s an inherent part of being a human.

    My own pursuit or focus is about dismantling structures or relationships of power in my life so that my creativity is more effective. It’s an “anarchist” goal in terms of political philosophy. It’s something I “believe in”, so no doubt it’s something I should do quite a bit of self-inquiry about.

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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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