How to be happy: find yourself with this personal development plan
Are you struggling with how to be happy? Then find yourself by borrowing the personal development plan I use with my life coaching clients.
There are always points in life — specifically periods of significant change — when you must go back to the drawing board to figure out who you are and what you stand for.
At the age of 25 I had what I like to call a quarter life crisis. I don’t remember what specifically brought it on but I do recall suddenly wrestling with many of life's big questions.
Up until then I had always been a rather successful young person. I come from humble beginnings but broke many barriers to achieve stellar academic and professional success.
I was great at visualizing what I wanted and putting a process in place to obtain it. But there was one big problem: what I desired was devoid of a greater purpose so I wasn’t happy.
I harbored hidden desires to be a thinker, creator, and entrepreneur. But in blind pursuit of random goals centered around a generic image of what a successful woman should be, those desires were suppressed.
It wasn't until I committed to finding myself, and developed a personal development plan to help me along the way, that I was able to design a fulfilling life.
In this guide I will share my research-backed framework for how to be happy by finding yourself — as well as a personal development plan that outlines a process for doing so.
This is the exact process that I use to build life (and business) planning strategies for clients in my coaching program.
Why and How to Find Yourself
You need to find yourself because H = S + C + V.
That’s a scientific formula for enduring happiness developed by psychologist Martin Seligman and discussed in his book Authentic Happiness.
Seligman and his colleagues founded positive psychology, a field of study with happiness at the core. You can view his TED talk here and explore the Authentic Happiness website, affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, for a wealth of resources.
Enduring happiness is different from momentary happiness as Seligman states in his book Authentic Happiness:
Even though quick bursts of positive feelings won’t lead to the durable, substantive, long term happiness that Seligman is referring to, you have tools at your disposal.
Getting back to the formula, the first step in finding yourself is understanding and improving your level of enduring happiness (H) by::
understanding your set point (S)
influencing some circumstances (C)
exerting voluntary control (V)
Your set point (S) is a genetic predisposition for a specific level of enduring happiness. After most experiences in life, be they good or bad, you’ll revert back to this level.
50% of your happiness is determined by your set point. You can’t control it, but it’s useful to get a sense of what that level is so you can understand your disposition.
Circumstances (C) are external situations in life that you may or may not be able to control. Only 10% of your happiness is determined by this factor. When you can influence your circumstances you should, but this isn’t where the bulk of your effort should be spent.
Now, voluntary control (V) makes up 40% of happiness. It includes everything within your realm of power. Mostly it is your outlook, as I discuss in How to Elevate Your Mindset and Think More Positively. This is where the majority of your effort should be allocated.
In order to understand, influence, and exert energy in a way that has a positive effect on enduring happiness, you need to know how your Self Concept plays into this formula.
There are three main elements of Self Concept, according to the framework developed by psychologist Carl Rogers in 1959:
Self Esteem — how much you value yourself
Self Image — how you see yourself
Ideal Self — what you’d like to be
Consider Simply Psychology’s summary of Roger’s framework:
Self actualization is reaching your full potential (i.e. the epitome of thriving). Translating all of this into a more clarifying formula for happiness:
Self Esteem = Ideal Self — Self Image
Self Actualization = Self Esteem
Happiness = Self Actualization
Happiness = S + C + V = Self Actualization = Self Esteem
In other words, to be happy you must manage your external environment and internal outlook in ways that positively influence your self worth, and contribute to your ability to thrive.
The process of finding yourself is being aware of all the inputs that go into your happiness formula, so you are empowered to make adjustments for the better.
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A Personal Development Plan
The next logical question that follows is: what exactly can you do to find yourself so you can be happy?
Another way to ask this, linking back to the happiness formula, is how can you improve your self-worth so you can thrive in life?
You need a personal development plan. Here's the simple 5-step process that I use with my coaching clients that you can borrow:
The first three steps are focused on shaping your Ideal Self. The last two steps revolve around making internal and external changes to more closely align your Self Image to Ideal Self.
First and foremost you need to have a philosophy for life – an overarching set of principles that not only give you meaning but also help guide your decision-making.
It can be religious-based (e.g. Christianity), borrowed from schools of philosophy (e.g. Stoicism), advice passed down from your parents, or a combination of different systems of thought.
Whatever it is, you need a foundation upon which you establish a meaning for life. Without that as a base, you'll be like a ship without an anchor blowing wherever the wind takes you.
I recommend a non-conventional but quite effective approach to figuring out your life philosophy: use design thinking.
I studied design thinking at Stanford University’s d.school (you can take their free virtual crash course here) and have been using it to problem-solve ever since.
The premise is that you meld a designer’s intuition with a strategist’s sensibility for a creative yet practical way to generate viable solutions.
Here’s how you can adapt the design thinking process to assist with developing your personal philosophy:
Empathize — This step is all about gathering information in a nonjudgmental way. Reflect on the ideologies you've already been exposed to, but also seek out different different schools of thought and try to learn about them with an open mind.
Define — Synthesize all of the information you’ve gathered and start to shape your point of view. Of the different schools of thought that resonate most, ask yourself: how might I use these principles to improve by sense of self and build enduring happiness?
Ideate —In this step you want to brainstorm answers to the question posed in the define phase. For example, if Stoicism really resonates with you, cycle through all the different principles of this philosophy and start figuring out which ones would be most useful. Repeat for the other schools of thought.
Prototype — Now you are ready to write a draft of your life philosophy. After the ideate session you should have a core set of principles that you really believe in. Summarize them into a succinct statement.
Test — Stress test your draft philosophy by seeking outside counsel on it (from trusted friends, family, mentors, etc.) and applying it to real life situations. As you get feedback, feel free to fine-tune.
Once you have a high-level philosophy of life, this needs to be translated into a short set of core values.
These are a bit more specific and granular — almost like a set of rules or standards of living. These are the principles that help you make decisions on a daily basis.
For example, let's say you determined that you will adhere to Stoicism as your life philosophy.
From doing your research you know that this philosophy is built on exercising self-control through logic so that you can overcome destructive emotions.
Stoicism provides a set of virtues that are supposed to help you accomplish this: wisdom, courage, justice, moderation (or temperance).
You could adopt these virtues verbatim or reinterpret them so they are more personalized.
Writer James Clear curated a set of core values that you can use to jumpstart your own list.
Now that you have a life philosophy and a core set of values, the final step in figuring out your Ideal Self is crafting a purpose for your life.
As exclaimed by Harvard Business Review in "You Don't Find Purpose — You Build It," you don't need to wait for some miraculous revelation, epiphany, or aha moment either.
In "The Perfect Life Design Inputs: Your Natural Interests," I discuss why reflecting on your interests is the easiest way to build your purpose, and offer a free personalized life design assessment.
By looking to the past and taking inventory of all the different things you've naturally gravitated to, you can get a good sense of what matters to you most.
The alignment of Ideal Self with Self Image comes into play with your life themes. You may know who you want to be but have to make specific decisions and changes to get there.
You have a "wheel of life" comprised of key themes like career, money, education, relationships, health, and interests. Ideally you want to make sure these are all in sync with your life's purpose.
Read my wheel of life article for more information and resources on managing your life themes.
The wheel of life will help you monitor your life themes, however you will still need a set of tactics (i.e. actionable ideas) that aid you in making the necessary changes.
The easiest way to find actionable ideas is to read books that you can borrow insights and mental models from.
First, explore the editorial "How to Read: 9 Ways to Get More Out of Books." Then, browse "The Best Books for Improving Your Life", a list of reading recommendations that were specifically curated to help you with the soul-searching process.
Just a warning that sometimes you'll try tactics that don’t work for you. That shouldn’t automatically compel you to change your philosophy or values.
Try to stay true to what you want to live by unless there’s undeniable evidence that you are on the wrong track.
Take Inspired Action
Of course, all of the above is much easier said than done. The process outlined above helps you overcome the most difficult step in figuring out how to find yourself: knowing what to do, how, and why.
Nevertheless the work actually required to execute each step of the personal development plan can feel nebulous. This is why I created the Growth Mindset resource library. I created a comprehensive collection of tools that help you design and implement your life vision — and overcome any obstacles along the way.
If you believe you need more support and accountability, explore my one-on-one coaching program. With a customized personal development plan and a dedicated accountability partner, you greatly increase the likelihood of achieving your goals.
Curious if coaching could be right for you? Book a complimentary call with me so we can discuss your goals and challenges and explore how we might work together to help you thrive.