6 Steps to More Happiness
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6 Steps to More Happiness

Have you been coasting along, feeling quietly unfulfilled? Even small changes can reshape your life in dramatic ways. Start here.

Turning Points

There is, for many of us, a moment in life when we make a choice that changes us forever. This moment marks a turning point, a threshold of sorts, when we realize that the life we're living is not a reflection of who we really are.

For some, the moment comes as a result of something dramatic: the sudden loss of a job, the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, or the death of a loved one. For others, it's prompted by dealing with difficult situations, such as financial hardship or the long, slow end of a marriage.

As a life coach for the past 18 years, I've also seen many transformations not motivated by any crisis. Instead, some women simply opened their eyes and their hearts to a new way of looking at themselves and the world, a way guided by a positive energy that I call "the unmistakable touch of grace."

In these challenging times, it's more critical than ever for us to embrace the possibility of positive change. As I travel and talk to people about their lives, I often see a distant, almost-vacant look in their eyes -- a look that says, "I'm so busy trying to survive my life that I have no soul left to live it." Frightening world events, along with the overwhelming amount of information and stimuli that assault us daily, have caused our anxiety levels to soar. Living on the edge of uncertainty has made fight or flight our standard operating mode.

As a result, our most soul-nourishing relationships start to deteriorate, and we end up feeling lonely and isolated. Yet we keep on going the way we've been going, locked into a comfortable state of denial about what isn't working in our lives. We tolerate high levels of stress at work, take important relationships for granted, put our health needs on hold, or continue to overspend in spite of the anxiety we feel about mounting debt. We get so caught up in the details of living that our busyness becomes a convenient diversion from the pesky inner voice that begs us to listen. Here's the irony: When you finally pay attention to that little voice and begin to make even small changes, you slowly emerge from the protective cocoon of denial.

Text excerpted from Unmistakable Touch of Grace, by Cheryl Richardson. Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Richardson. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. of New York City.

Making the Change

To initiate positive change, you need to harness the power of your mind by using a specific life plan. I've come up with a six-step strategy that will help you lead life on your terms. Instead of drifting along in a haze of busyness and denial, you will be able to identify what you want and then go after it. It's easier than you might think.

1. Reset your happiness set point. And don't limit yourself! When I decided nearly 20 years ago that I wanted more control over my life, I set goals in eight areas: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, intellectual, professional, material, and play. At first I challenged myself to consider every possible option -- a difficult task if you're not used to allowing yourself to want more than you need. If you're like I once was, you're limited by your happiness "set point," the level of success that you feel worthy of or comfortable with. It's time to raise your set point. Imagine things you've never believed you could achieve. Don't let your past determine your future.

2. Shift your beliefs. Once I had a long list of goals, I reexamined it to decide which ones would be my top priorities. Then I thought about how I would have to adjust my beliefs to support my pursuit of each goal. To facilitate this, I identified people who were already successful at creating what I wanted. Then I asked them about the specific beliefs they thought had served them best, so I could begin to incorporate them into my life.

3. Trust your gut. Too often, especially when you're first learning to take control of your life, you doubt yourself. It's crucial to develop a strong connection with your inner guidance system. I've heard many stories that underscore the importance of listening to that persistent voice inside your head.

4. Get into gear. Once you have set goals, adjusted your beliefs, and connected with your intuition, you can start making things happen. Again, turn to those people you respect -- the ones who are achieving what you desire -- for support and guidance. They will both inspire you and give you practical advice on what steps you need to take, whether you're pursuing a new career, finding a home in a different part of the country, or developing an artistic talent. Then make a list of at least three steps you'll take to get started.

For example, in my late 20s, I turned to my colleague Wendy to help me come up with concrete steps to transform myself from debt ridden to debt free. I had become so overwhelmed by my unpaid credit-card balances that I spent a lot of time obsessing over how bad things were. I needed to get out from under -- fast. Wendy shared with me her debt-elimination plan -- how she set up a minimum-payment schedule, using any extra money she earned to pay off the debts with the highest interest rates. I developed a similar plan. What's more, I decided to reward myself. After I paid my bills at the end of each month, I celebrated the fact that my debt was dwindling with a friend. Within 14 months my burdensome debt had vanished.

5. Have faith. Believe that the positive energy of grace will support your efforts to improve your life. When you've done all you can, let go and trust that the right result will occur. When we have faith, we surrender the need to be in control, and we set ourselves up to actually enjoy the process of change.

Think about it. What are you trying to control in your life right now? For example, to improve your relationship with your teenage son, stop badgering him to clean his room and make your expectations (and the consequences of his not meeting them) clear. Then allow him to find his own way. Or instead of arguing with your spouse, try letting go of your need to be right and focus on reaching a compromise.

6. Be patient. This can be the toughest step of all. It's not easy to trust that your life will unfold in a way, and at a pace, that is best. To remind yourself of the benefits of patience, write the following phrase on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet: "Haste will take the place of something better born from grace." When you're frustrated, take it out and read it. In my experience, those truly beneficial life changes, when they happen, are always worth the wait.