Answer these 4 questions to be happy right now

It’s easy to blame circumstances for our unhappiness. But according to studies, circumstances of our lives only account for about 10% of our long-term happiness. (Source)

We get stuck on what psychologists call the hedonic treadmills. Treadmills are kind of the worst, but this one is especially terrible. It’s a treadmill that takes us through a never-ending desire for more.

More money, more house, more lean body, more, more, MORE. There’s always more to be had and there’s no end to this journey unless you step off the treadmill.

So how do you get off the treadmill?

That research I mentioned says that our long-term happiness is most influenced by how we choose to think and what we choose to think about.

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.
— Buddha

That means happiness doesn’t come from the outside. It comes from within. To start to get in there and pull out that joy, answer these four questions.

Are you "shoulding" yourself?

I removed the word "should" from my vocabulary and it's amazing how much that small change has shifted my thinking.

Instead of looking at your life and criticizing it, pointing out things you "should" do and judging yourself harshly when you don't (it's OK if you don't make it to the gym every day), what about your life is going right? Let go of expectations and embrace the gift of the present moment.

What's one thing you love about yourself?

I bet if I asked you to list things you didn't like about yourself, you would have a long list completed rather quickly. But how often do you consider qualities you love about yourself?

Self-love doesn't come when you do XYZ or when you finally lose that weight, etc. It comes when you choose to practice it. And it takes practice. So start right now with just one thing. Consider writing it down and placing it somewhere prominent like your mirror so you'll be greeted with loving words.

Who has helped make your day a little brighter?

If you're anything like me, you are harshest to the people you love most. Second to yourself, of course.

The criticism we place on others is often a reflection of our own insecurities. And criticizing others doesn't effectively change them.

In Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People (Husband is reading it right now and sharing tidbits with me), he says that people are more motivated by positive reinforcement rather than punishment. So ask yourself, who has made your day a little brighter? I challenge you to let them know.

We recently filled out these "gratitude cards" on my team at work. We passed around cards with each person's name and anonymously wrote a few words expressing what we appreciate about that individual.

A photo posted by Cara McDonald (@caramcdo) on

It was awesome. All the feel good vibes. People don't hear enough good things. And especially right now, we could all use a little extra love.

What can you appreciate right now?

We just got back from vacation in Florida, and my 4-year-old niece reminded me of the power of presence. She was riding in a car seat attached to one of the bikes we rented and we were all having a blast riding around by the beach. She screamed: "I LOVE MY LIFE!!!!!" with authentic joy sprawling all over her face.

A photo posted by Cara McDonald (@caramcdo) on

Yeah, me too, Tinley.

I was enjoying myself, but she reminded me to fully experience the joy of the moment. To choose gratitude and joy and let it soak into every fiber of my being.

You don't have to be riding a bike by the beach to have a reason to invite some gratitude into your heart. What can you appreciate right now? In this very moment I am sitting on my couch with my dog and cat cuddled in my lap and a cup of coffee within arm's reach. I'm grateful for their unconditional love and for this quiet time to start my day doing something I love.

Gratitude is a choice. Joy is a choice. Happiness is a choice. So is ingratitude. Anger. Bitterness. Hate.

What are you choosing?

I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.
— Groucho Marx