It's simple really. Figure out what makes you the happiest and then, allow every action you take in life to be influenced by them. Of course, your happiness list will be populated by multiple items. Sort them in order of priority mentally. The most important item should influence your decisions the most, the next most important factor should have a secondary influence and so on. So a list of happiness influencers might look something like this:
1. Being with the one I love the most (partner)
2. Being with the other people I love (family and friends)
4. Travel and nature
5. Financial security
6. Art, music and literature
How do I apply this list? If I go a month without any exposure to art (theatre, art house cinema, classical music), I will be unhappy. However, if I go a month without meeting my partner, my unhappiness quotient will be much, much higher. Therefore, if it comes to a choice between the two, I should prioritise time with my partner, at least four times out of five. The math may not be totally accurate but you get the gist.
On my list, financial security comes fifth while being with the people I love is number one and two. So if I get a fantastic job offer in a city far away from the ones I love, I might be tempted to accept it. But if I do, I won't last more than a few weeks. Because the distance would make me intensely unhappy. Would the sacrifice be worth it in the long run? The answer is debatable but in view of my happiness list, I'd say no.
If you allow your actions to be influenced by anything other than the items on this list, you will be unhappy. One might say - 'why would I do that? It would be totally illogical.' But it happens more often than you would imagine. In fact, it happens all the time. And here's why:
We have only a vague idea of what really makes us happy. If you don't know what exactly you want, you'll never go anywhere in life. That's harder said than done of course. So, conduct an experiment. Maintain a log of the moments during which you were really content and see which ones get repeated the most. Sooner or later, you'll figure out what makes you tick.
We invest more in 'should' than 'want'. I should make my parents proud. I should earn a good salary and work for a respectable company. I should earn more than my peers. I should accomplish the goals I had when I started out. Well at some point, you should start doing what you really want to do. Because all those shoulds are dictated by society, insecurity and sometimes, overly involved well-wishers - none of whom/which are going to contribute to your long-term happiness.
We are taught to be future-oriented. I think I read this in 'The Elephant and the Flea'. We live our whole lives in preparation for an unseen future. It's sad - we toil, save and plan for this time when we will finally allow ourselves to be happy. But before that time comes, often, our time is up in life!
So in a nutshell, learn to recognise what makes you the happiest and every time you make a decision in life, check if it's motivated by one of your happiness influencers. Your happiness quotient will never drop.
(I'm not sure about this but I think the list of happiness influencers varies for men and women and that can cause some dissension. Men (by large) might place financial security higher while women prioritise love. Is this true or am I wrong in my assumption? It would be great if you could comment and let me know what you think.)