Emotions are fickle things. And sometimes, even when we feel an emotion strongly, we wonder to ourselves what the limits are, if it's possible to feel it even stronger. So even as you sit in enormous joy, there can be a nagging question burning in the back of your brain: Am I really happy, or am I fooling myself? Is there even more I could get out of this life?
We know that, despite the idea that things would be amazing if you just had millions of bucks, material wealth is a horrible indicator of happiness levels. Just ask people like Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade. So looking at your stuff or the number for your bank account isn't going to tell you if you've reached your best.
The single best indicator that your life is on track and that you've reached real happiness is that you're doing what you would do even if nobody were looking.
We care a ridiculous amount about what others think of us, because we crave connection and inclusion. That's natural. It's just part of being human, of being a social creature. But happiness can be defined as the feeling you get when your desires match your actions. And day after day, most of us allow others to mess that up. We behave based on social norms and expectations more than we do based on our genuine wants, needs and opinions. We pretend, pretend, pretend, sending out the image we believe others want to see. And at the end of the day, we're tired.
It's pretty exhausting to hide who you are.
When you do what you would do even if no one were looking, though, you bring your desires and behaviors into agreement again. The internal conflict is gone. You don't have deep regrets or a paralyzing fear of trying or learning something new, because you're no longer listening to the judgmental, critical voices that tell you that you should have taken another path or that you can't. You know that you are accountable to yourself and that the consequences of your decisions are yours.
But let's take this even a little deeper. Look one more time at the measure of happiness above. Now consider the definition of integrity, which is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. So in a sense, integrity is simply happiness with a moral compass. The more integrity you have in your life and business, the closer happiness is. That's incredibly important to remember, because people still try to promote the idea that, to be successful, you have to sacrifice some ethics. To be successful and joyful, you have to keep them.
But if the measure of happiness is doing what we'd do even if nobody were looking, what do we need to take that action? What's required for us to be that authentic with our behavior?
The most critical thing you need is emotional intelligence. This doesn't mean you have to be practically an empath or get every cue from others right. It just means that you try to pay attention to what you feel and why, and that you can express and control those feelings. It's basic self-awareness. Without that basic understanding of yourself, it's much easier to let others direct you and tell you what to do.
Part of emotional intelligence is awareness of others, too, though. You need that to do what you want with support instead of conflict, and to truly understand the influence your behaviors are going to have in the world. So don't make the mistake of thinking that happiness means you steamroll or don't consider others anymore. It simply means that your behaviors are internally motivated rather than totally externally directed.
Now, life isn't perfect. It's messy, and you'll have rough days. But just because you feel sad or frustrated for a while doesn't mean disaster has hit or that overall you don't have a happy life. See the big picture and know that every emotion serves a purpose for you. If you can do that and choose to spend your mental energy on the most positive things around you, you've nailed it.