I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to be happy with yourself. Notice that I didn’t say I’ve been thinking about how to be happy, which any Stoic will tell you is a misnomer (more on that later). Although I fall firmly in the Stoic camp and believe the ultimate goal in life should be contentedness and not happiness, I do believe you can be happy with yourself. By that I mean, how to like yourself no matter what’s going on around or happening to you.
I think it all comes down to radical responsibility. Yeah, I know, that’s probably the last thing you wanted to hear. Responsibility is one of those words we associate with paying taxes and eating bran flakes, but there really is a payoff to putting on your big girl panties and growing TF up. There is no better antidote to stress, worry, regret, and self-pity than taking radical, brutally honest responsibility for your goals and your actions.
What do I mean by radical responsibility?
I mean stop bullshitting yourself. We all tell stories, all the time, about who we are and why we do the things we do. Everyone does this, and I’m not saying it’s bad. Our brains store information this way, so it’s not just another bad habit you can work on breaking. What you can do is check the story for self-indulgence.
We self-indulge all the time; I know I’m guilty. When we mess up, we tell ourselves it wasn’t our fault. When we move away from our goals, we tell ourselves life got in the way. When we overindulge, we tell ourselves we can’t lose weight because of health conditions or stress. Taking radical responsibility is hearing those stories you tell yourself, correcting them, and then changing course. Now that’s how to be happy with yourself.
I mess up on my diet a lot, and I know I’m not alone. Even though I have go-to mental tricks for how to stop food cravings, they’re not 100% effective (or sometimes I just don’t use them). After eating too much, I would routinely tell myself how good I’d been all week. Sometimes I would tell myself it was someone else’s fault for pressuring me into a situation with food that didn’t work with my diet. It wasn’t. It was on me. The only thing standing between me and hitting my goals was myself and the stories I told about the actions I took.
How to be happy with yourself
There are two things you need if you’re wondering how to be happy with yourself: goals and values (call them morals if you want). You need a clear sense of what they both are for you personally. You’re not going to be happy with yourself until your actions bring you closer to your goals while adhering to your values. And I’ll give you one guess as to what gets in the way.
The stories you tell, unless they’re imbued with radical responsibility, will only take you further from your goals and values.
You’re not going to be perfect out of the gate. You’ll catch a self-indulgent story only for it to be replaced with another. But you can work toward a bullshit-free relationship with yourself. Each time you fact check these stories, you’ll get better at aligning your actions with your goals and values. And here’s what’s at the root of how to be happy with yourself: You’ll learn to trust yourself.
When you know and you’ve proven to yourself that you’ll always move closer to your goals and stick to your values no matter what life throws at you, that’s when you’ll be happy with yourself. No political bullshit at work, no small spat with your friend or drama from extended family can take that away. So what story are you telling yourself today?