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It’s been a busy week, what with breaking a bone, a bunch of freelance deadlines colliding, heading out of town, a volunteer commitment and lots of work on a super-secret new project to be unveiled soon.

It’s got me thinking about what it takes to be happy. There have been times in my life when a week like this would have had me curled up in bed depressed and refusing to do any work, or at the opposite extreme, working myself to frazzlement and staying up nights in a caffeine- and nicotine-fueled flurry of crazed workaholism.

Somewhere along the way I learned to take life as it comes, doing as much work as I can in a day, and allowing myself plenty of time to rest, relax, and enjoy other parts of life too. If I don’t get it all done, the world won’t end. I may be a little poorer, but that doesn’t mean as much as it used to, either.

A large part of happiness, I’ve found, is being content. Instead of wanting things I don’t have, I enjoy the things I do have — and lately, have been wanting to get rid even of unneeded things. (After all, we all have a lot of unnecessary “stuff” hanging around, don’t we?)

Contentment is about being accepting of yourself, I think. Discontent comes from putting conditions on your own happiness. I’ll be happy when I lose weight, or get married, or have kids, or have ten grand in the bank, or get a better job, or buy a house, or buy a bigger house… And it keeps changing all the time, so you’re never happy at all. The trick is to look at yourself and your life and say that it’s good enough, and there’s no reason to wait to be happy till later.

Even when many things in your life are not what you dreamed of for yourself, it’s possible to be content, and even happy. If you can enjoy your pets, your garden, your home (or some things about it), your family (or some things about them…), and your interests, then you really do have a lot.

After all, only a few of us are ever going to have everything we dreamed of or everything we think we want. Wouldn’t it be better to be thankful for what we have already, and find ways to enjoy it more fully, than to strive endlessly toward an imaginary life we think we should have?

That’s my approach anyway, and I’m glad I figured it out in my third decade rather than later. It certainly has made me calmer, more content, and probably more fun to be around. Guess the last is up to my family and friends to decide, but even if not, it’s a better way to handle life for me.

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