One of our dearest, dearest topics – I’m so happy many of you wanted to read more about it. First: it sounds like the most fundamental thing, knowing what makes you happy. But at the end of the day, a whole bunch of us has no clue. We do things because we’re used to doing them. Because others do them. Because we think we like doing them. Because we think we have to. Because we’re scared what will happen if we stop. Because we’re afraid we’ll lose friends if we stop. Because we don’t know any better. Because. Because. Because.
It’s a much rarer scenario where we do things because they make us genuinely happy. It’s almost as if happiness isn’t enough of a reason. We need productivity, time efficiency, monetary profit, muscular gain. We need improvement, growth, logical reason. Genuine happiness, not so much. Instead we go on expensive soul searching trips where the utmost purpose is to find that elusive happiness. We read books on the subject, take classes on the subject, talk about the subject, all the while continuing to live our everyday lives the way we always have, very often not filling them with whatever it is that in fact does make us happy much at all.
It’s not a utopian scenario, imaging a “normal” life that actually makes you happy. All you need to do is find what your things are, remind yourself every day until you don’t need to anymore that what others think doesn’t matter one bit and then start filling your life with them. There IS room. I promise.
“It’s not a utopian scenario, imaging a “normal” life that actually makes you happy.”
The best way to start out is by asking yourself our favorite self-help question there is: how would I live my life if no one was watching? Really let your mind wander freely here. What are the things you would start doing? Do more of? Stop doing? Trust your gut in what pops into your head. Things turn up there for a reason, don’t forget that. Allow your thoughts and dreams to be silly, irrational, unrealistic beyond words. Just take note of what does indeed show up. Perhaps you see yourself spending much more time outside, living in a different place, pursuing a hobby, working as something completely different. Or, you see much the same life with a few alterations. Or, you see much the same life with no alterations. In that case, congratulations. Today we’re not too far away from that ourselves – but if you’d asked 5 years ago, the answer would have looked much different!
A big challenge in all of this is to distinguish between what you do for yourself and what you do for others – or what you do because of what you think others will think. If this resonates with you, I hear you. This might very well have been my biggest challenge until very recently. I deal with this issue by boiling it down to who the “others” in fact are. I go through the people I have around me – whether close or further out in the periphery – and essentially ask my gut who is making me feel a certain (negative) way. It can be one single person, it can be a group. It can be vague, it can be clear. If, let’s say, you’re not sure if you should this one particular thing and you have an uneasy feeling about it, I would simply remove (in my head) person by person and feel when the uneasiness would let up. When we had decided we were leaving New York, I had a very unsettled feeling for a while. I went through it in my head and realized I was bothered by the fact that I’d let go of my self-perceived coolness when doing so – and that mattered to me in the eyes of my former classmates. The ones I felt like I impressed upon through social media by living in New York. By realizing that, telling myself I can’t let a bunch of people I don’t even talk to anymore dictate how I live my life, I could let go. If I hadn’t identified where the feeling of unsettledness had come from, I would have been much more inclined to assume it was because MY gut feeling told me it was the wrong move. Are you following?
Now, list the things – whether physical objects, activities, people, seasons, places etc – that you feel make you happy. It can be anything from climbing mountains to having a cup of coffee in the morning. Think big, think small – and really do think small. It’s easy to forget how many small things there are that truly make life worth living. To me, it’s the act of growing vegetables. Of harvesting homegrown food for dinner. Of walking barefoot, picking wildflowers, go for dips in the ocean. Of running, of skiing, of drinking hot chocolate outside in the middle of winter. Of placing my butt on the couch next to Mike and watch a movie, all the while eating the ice cream he just made. Of writing, of reading. And of course of looking at, admiring, playing with and loving Theo, our little baby boy. It’s not so much about the grand things at all, anymore. Again – my answer would have looked much different 5-10 years ago, but I would have been answering highly influenced by what I thought was expected of me. Of what I thought was cool and what I should be doing, thinking and feeling.
When you look at your happy things, what do you see? Do you see lots of big things that would require you to uproot your life, rob a bank or win the lottery? My guess is that you don’t. My guess is that you see plenty of things that could fit into your current life with a few altered priorities, perhaps some smarter life management moves and maybe a few money saving tools. That is not to say those are all the answers – but we’re both convinced a lot of contentment can come from small actions and changed perspectives.
“When we do things because they genuinely make us happy, I find that it’s much easier to stand up for ourselves and our choices.”
When we do things because they genuinely make us happy, I find that it’s much easier to stand up for ourselves and our choices. I like to say that you own your decisions, your actions and ultimately yourself when you lead a life that resonates with your values, your passions and your true desires, and through that, I believe that you can find a new sense of self esteem.
I’ve never had great self esteem. From time to time in my life, I’ve had decent self confidence in certain areas, but my self esteem has always been shaky. I realized recently that it’s grown significantly stronger in the past few years, and that I also never find myself making excuses or feeling embarrassed about my life or myself in the way I used to. I truly believe that when we try hard to fit into norms that aren’t for us and live a life that doesn’t resonate with who we are, you won’t feel steady in your footing. You’ll be accompanied by that feeling of being lost in life, of never being settled, of wishing you were someplace else. Of feeling like a failure and a loser. And you won’t feel very confident when attempting to voice a desire for a different life than what the norm dictates.
When we started sharing our plans to move to Sweden and our desire to live a different life, we both felt insecure and uncomfortable answering people’s questions of what we were “going to do” and if it wasn’t going to be too quiet and too boring and all of that. We even said yeah, you know, it might be. It’s only for a year though, then we’ll be moving to Stockholm and get an apartment. And if someone called us odd, different or funny, we politely laughed along and said yeah, you know, maybe.
And sure, we’re a little odd and funny. But if we compare how we speak of the life we’ve chosen now compared to three years ago, it’s a world’s difference. We own our decision. We own our choices, desires, dreams and wishes. We’ve grown so much and realized heck, what is ANYTHING worth if we don’t get to wake up happy in the morning?
“Our happy comes from having TIME. Time to be, to talk, to sleep, to live, to love, to laugh, to run, to ski, to care for this planet.”
And our happy comes from living in a place where we can roam freely. A place of trees, ocean, a vegetable garden and foxes playing outside our window. Our happy comes from trying to become as good runners as we possibly can, even if we’ll never be the best or even close to. Our happy comes from having TIME. Time to be, to talk, to sleep, to live, to love, to laugh, to run, to ski, to care for this planet. To cook, to eat, to brave the cold and to enjoy the sun. And none of that really needs a pay raise, you know. For us, it took a logistical challenge of a trans-Atlantic move, but beyond that, it’s been the result of a journey that mostly has been about learning and accepting who we are, realizing what we truly love and cramming as much of that as possible into our daily lives. No, it’s not simple and shouldn’t be made it – but it’s far more doable and not nearly as difficult as we might think. And with those words, we’ll leave you to daydreaming and creating your own set of happy visions.
PS. For a little more on our background and our journey here, head to Thank you, life (part 1) and Thank you, life (part 2), as well as Decompression. And if you’re curious about what it is that we love so much with this life, you’ll find the answers in The Simple Life.
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– Sophia & Michael