Happiness First

Have you ever considered that the goal behind every goal you’ve ever set in your life was happiness?

Think about it.

“I will lose 10 pounds”, “I will become financially free”, “I will find true love”, “I will volunteer in a third world country”, all have one thing in common - we believe these accomplishments will make us happy.

But here’s the IRONIC thing.

If we work so hard to lose weight, to make money, to have a relationship, because we believe these things will bring us happiness down the road, why then wait??

Why not prioritize HAPPINESS FIRST and then go after whatever it is we desire?

Now, when I say “happiness first”, I’m not talking about that superficial happiness, where you grin like a toothpaste commercial 24/7 no matter what is going on in your world.

I’m also not talking about eliminating unhappiness completely.

No, what I’m talking about is PRIORITIZING happiness.

Although this sounds rather obvious, rarely do we put our happiness before anything else.

How many times, for example, have you had to win an intense argument before you allowed yourself to be happy?

Wouldn’t it be more constructive to argue FROM happiness rather than FOR happiness?

How many times, have you had to stress and make yourself extremely unhappy about your weight, finances, addictions, relationship, (fill in the blank) to make a change in order to be happy?

Wouldn’t it be healthier to motivate ourselves to change without poisoning our body with stress-inducing chemicals that literally shut down our immune system?

“Sure”, you may be thinking, "easier said than done”.

You are right. Managing our happiness is no small undertaking, if not impossible when we’re in a deep emotional state.

HOWEVER, the simple truth is that WE’RE IN CHARGE. We’re the ones who decide (consciously or subconsciously) what happiness means to us. Emotions are simply expressions of the meaning we attach to our life experiences. Change the meaning - change the emotion.

Don’t get me wrong, changing the meaning is still not an easy feat at times but… it’s POSSIBLE.

In the last few years, I've been more deeply exploring my own internal workings in relation to happiness. I came to realize that I literally handed over control of my happiness and that like many others in our society, I was conditioned to look for happiness in the wrong places.

In this post, I’d like to suggest a structured approach to CREATING happiness. I use the word “creating” and not “finding” because happiness is not something to be found outside, but rather CREATED FROM WITHIN. It’s a by-product of your personal beliefs and thoughts - not a set of circumstances...

With this in mind, let's get to work!

1. Our intention

All big things start with one small step and the first one is merely the INTENTION.

That is, the intention to put our goals, desires, and wants SECOND to our happiness.

“Happiness first. Goals second”
“Happiness first. Desires second”
“Happiness first. Winning an argument second...”

This is my early morning mantra, repeated over and over just before my day begins.

Each and every day.

You see, setting an intention only once is not enough. In fact, that is the main reason why most New Year's resolutions fail - we expect to undo years of emotional and behavioral patterns with just one night of resolution (one that we normally are making after a glass of champagne!).

Instead, what we want to do is to keep reminding and repeating to ourselves what comes first until it's deeply ingrained into our subconscious mind. Until the thought “Happiness first” automatically kicks in whenever unhappiness arises.

In fact, the next time an argument escalates, or tensions rise, or 'drama' drops into your life, this is the perfect time to practice “happiness first”. We can use it as a conscious reminder of our commitment to prioritize happiness above all else.

We have that power.

Practicing intention: Get into the habit of setting a simple “happiness first” intention each and every morning, right after you get up, so that it becomes an unconscious way of living.

2. Our wants

We all have wants, ranging from material yearnings — a new car, long vacation, the latest gadget - to deep emotional desires - acceptance, recognition, freedom.

However, more often than not, these wants are habitually elevated into needs - that is to say, we need to have (you fill the blank) in order to be happy.

We NEED to have the love, the success, the slender figure, the new toy, the right result, to feel contentment. If not, we’re dissatisfied. Something is lacking and we can’t possibly feel happiness until that “need” is satisfied.

As a result of this habitual cycle, life becomes one ceaseless quest to find happiness. Even when one satisfies his or her unmet need, often times, there’s still dissatisfaction. There is always the next need to satisfy keep happiness just out of reach or merely a fleeting feeling. .

Suppose we demote what we constitute as needs back into wants. Suppose we untie the knot between our desires and happiness.

How would it feel to go after what we want from from a place of contentment?
How would it feel to pursue a goal without the fear and frustration associated with not achieving it?

When I coordinated a house building project in Peru, I met a friendly housekeeper who serviced my hotel room. For weeks, I witnessed her working along everyday full of smiles, singing, and plenty of laughter. I was intrigued by the source of her constant happiness:

“How could you be so happy all day every day?” I asked in my less-than-perfect Spanish.

“Oh, why wouldn’t I?”, she smiled back, “I'm able to put food on the table…”

Right. Food. Now, there’s a real need for you.

This hard-working woman with very little material wealth to her name was probably the happiest person I’ve met during my world travels. She was happy because her needs were few and simple.

Now, by telling this story I'm not suggesting you limit your desires and wants.

Quite the opposite.

Dream big. Aim high. Relentlessly pursue your goals. WANT it all.

But, if you want to stop the tiring ceaseless search for contentment and experience that intrinsic sustained happiness, transform most of what you see as needs back into wants and make them few and simple.

Practicing turning needs into wants: Look back and think of one of the times you created unhappiness for yourself. What was the need you were trying to fill? Now, stop and think, is this need really a must-have for happiness? Can you perhaps transform this need into a want and untie the knot between what you were trying to achieve and happiness? Repeat this practice whenever you feel unhappiness in the future.

3. Our perspective

We can't control certain events in our lives but we can always adjust our perspective. In each and every moment, as long as we are present and aware, we can choose to pick different lens through which to view the world.

Choose to see the glass half full and you’ll experience challenges as opportunities and develop a deep appreciation for what you already have.
Choose to see the glass half empty and you’ll be the person who complains, blames, and takes no accountability for the life he has.

Our whole reality and how we experience it starts to change when we shift perspective. However, as you already know, this can be challenging - it’s not easy to give up the stories you tell yourself about your life and the world around you.

But once again, all big things start with one single step and the best place to start is by ritualizing the the perspective of gratitude.

From my experience, an ongoing attitude of gratefulness is the single most reliable way to create sustainable inner-happiness.

No matter how challenging or difficult your day may seem, there is always at least one thing that you can be grateful for: The ability to smell, touch, taste, hear, see, feel... The wonders of nature: sunrise, sunset, rainbow, sunny day, rainy day… The comforts of home: warm shower, cozy bed, hot tea… And the list goes on and on.

As a matter of fact, when you think about it, it is literally impossible to be unhappy when you’re sincerely grateful.

I recently asked my father, on his 65th birthday, “How do you feel about being 65 years old? Does getting older bother you in any way?”

“I feel enormously grateful to have lived to to the ripe old age of 65“ my dad answered in his usual cheerful voice, “so many are not as lucky….”

I looked at my half-glass-full dad and felt a rush of gratitude for having such a wise presence in my life.

Practicing the Perspective of Gratitude: One great way to train ourselves to feel gratitude on a daily basis is through writing and self awareness. At least once a day, preferably at the start of each day, set aside calm time for yourself in which you do nothing more than write lists of what you’re grateful for. Go deep. Don’t just be thankful for being alive. Sit in that moment, observe your surroundings, close your eyes, and get really specific.

4. Our language

“You made me angry...”, “This movie frustrates me...”, “Grey days make me unhappy...”.

We all use that sort of language from time to time but do we ever really stop to consider its validity?

Think about it, can someone (or something) really make you angry, unhappy, frustrated, or whatever, without your permission?

Using this type of statement you assume no responsibility for your own feelings. You communicate to yourself that others (or the external world) have some magical power over your happiness or misery - like you have no choice in the matter.

The language we use, regardless of the particular dialect spoken, can have a significant impact on our feelings. How we use language frames the way we think, feel, view, and experience the world. More importantly, it colours our experiences and predispose us to certain ways of thinking.

This becomes extremely important in the context of happiness.

What if we started using our language more precisely? What if Instead of saying “It’s frustrating”, we said “I make myself frustrated because of it”, or instead of saying “You made me unhappy”, we said “I made myself unhappy because of your behaviour”? How empowering would it be if we took back complete ownership on our feelings…?

Practicing a new vocabulary: Start noticing where you are not taking responsibility for your feelings (e.g “This made me unhappy”) and make a conscious effort to use a more empowering language (e.g “I create unhappiness because of this”). The vise versa is also true. Aim to avoid taking responsibility for other people’s unhappiness or happiness (e.g “I’m sorry I made you feel…”) - You can still be sensitive and acknowledge someone’s feelings without taking ownership on them. Furthermore, aim to drop the “musts”, “need to’s”, “shoulds”, and “have to’s” from your vocabulary and replace them with “want to’s”.

5. Our Judgements

Acceptance, not judgement, is the foundation of inner peace and contentment. Fully accepting a person for how they are or a situation for what it is (as opposed to what it should be) can truly liberate us from unhappiness.

Acceptance allows us to see the other side of a story, to be at peace with a set of circumstances, to appreciate a challenging event as a natural part of our development.

Our judgments, on the other hand, can limit our view and box us into a narrow labeled way of thinking. When we judge we leave no room for love (as true love is always unconditional) and the innate happiness that comes from accepting what is.

Now, when I say acceptance, I don’t mean giving-in or putting an end to one's goals and dreams. Acceptance simply allows us to stop wishing for a different outcome and instead immediately stir into action. It allows us to move forward on our journeys rather than staying stuck in a story.

As with everything else here, choosing acceptance and letting go of judgments is not always easy. It can be challenging at times.

One of my old friends used to say that making judgments is like breathing: You just do it without thinking and it keeps you alive. And while, in some ways, this statement is true—that is, judgments may uncontrollably come and go into your mind by the subconscious—letting go and not holding onto the judgment is definitely in our control.

We can decide to observe and dismantle judgments that don’t serve us. We can let those judgments come and go without becoming attached to the them as "facts." We can free ourselves from the stories and drama that so often control our lives.

Remember, the secret to lifelong happiness lies not in particular events but in how we CHOOSE to respond to them.

Practicing letting go of judgments: Observe yourself when you're with other people – Notice the judgments, the labels and comparisons, you make. Just notice - don't judge your judgments. The more you practice noticing your judgments and just letting them come and go without doing anything else, the less power you give to these judgments. It might take months but eventually, you’ll start to feel more at peace within yourself and with the world.

6. Our Stories

We all tell ourselves stories, all the time – Who we are, how the world is, how people are, what is possible, what is not… There’s no escape from it, It's the way our mind works. We create meaning through those stories, refine our subjective experience, and develop a sense of self.

But stories are just that, stories; they are not set in stone. Stories are just practical descriptions of past and future events. When we make a conscious attempt to drop them, all that's left is the present moment with its accompanying peace. There’s no space for unhappiness during those times.

When we are completely immersed in the present moment, staying attentive to the senses and present events - our breath, body sensations, the sounds around us - rather than the continuous mental past and future noise, unhappiness cannot exist.

In fact, unhappiness can only exist as a reflection over the past or as a projection into the future.

That is not to say that past and future are not important - they are. However, when you find yourself feeling unhappy, dropping the story and bringing awareness to the present moment is one of the best skills one can have.

David Hawkins, In his book “Power vs. Force”, reminds us how powerful being present can be:

“The Presence is silent and conveys a state of peace. It’s infinitely gentle and yet like a rock. With it, all fear disappears, and spiritual joy occurs on a quiet level of inexplicable ecstasy. Because the experience of time stops, there’s no apprehension, regret, pain, or anticipation; the source of joy is unending and ever-present. With no beginning or ending, there can be no loss, grief, or desire–and nothing needs to be done, for everything is already perfect and complete.”

I couldn't express it better...

Practicing letting go of stories: Start cutting through the mental noise and become more present in your life. Do it in small increments. When exercising, be aware of your breath and body. When eating, bring your awareness to the food in front of you. When listening, listen deeply. When driving, be aware of your surroundings. When working, focus completely on the task at hand. As you continue to practice mindfulness and staying present in your day to day life, you will find you become more relaxed and less reactive to challenging circumstances.

Tying it all together

Putting goals at second place might sound strange coming from a guy who made his life mission to live his biggest dreams and spent the last decade pursuing every big goal he had.

Strange, but not contradicting.

From my experience, pursuing goals from a place of inner peace yields better results. It’s also more enjoyable.

But wait, there’s more. When you unlink your happiness from the goal process all together, a truly wonderful thing happens.

A sense of real freedom arises.

Since your happiness is not dependent on particular outcome anymore, your fear of failure diminishes and you find yourself able to take bolder actions and greater risks.

Better results. Less fear. More enjoyment. That's what I call win-win-win.

But the real prize is a deep inner happiness. Happiness that has no conditions, no limitations, no restrictions, no strings attached… Happiness that cannot be reined in or suppressed by others.

After all, that's why we embark on any journey in the first place: to experience happiness.

So, now you know. “The journey is more important than the destination” is not just an empty cliche - It’s a profound philosophy to live by.

Enjoy the journey!
Tal Gur


P.S If you found this article helpful, please forward it to someone you love and click the sharing buttons below. The world is a better place when people actively follow their dreams.

- Photo by Caleb Roenigk.
- Gratitude to Bears Niall Kaufman and other wise people who inspired me to stop looking for happiness in the wrong places.


Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.


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Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.

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