I’ve decided to start a new blog series called Happiness vs. Me. I feel like I’ve often made my own quest for happiness into a fight with myself, and that hardly ever works out well, but sometimes it’s all I’ve got. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years, and I am in such a better place now, but I haven’t quite signed up as cheerleader for the positive thinking movement either. No matter where you are happiness is a work-in-progress. It’s a relationship with yourself that you have to keep showing up for and keep putting a little effort into and keep talking out when things aren’t going quite so smoothly. That’s my working theory today, at any rate.
Happiness isn’t something you can be bullied into by people who tell you it’s just in your attitude, and it isn’t something you can bully yourself into by beating your habits and expectations into submission. It isn’t a feeling you can hold onto all day every day. It isn’t something you’ve failed to achieve if something happens to make you sad or if someone says something to hurt your feelings, and you react on the inside like a three-year-old having a tantrum. It’s not about the internal tantrums or the bad hair days or the high anxiety days of functioning on less than optimal levels of sleep coupled with freaked out hormones.
Happiness is more about where your center is than anything else. It’s about what your emotional default setting is when the tantrums are over and the sleep is caught up and the hair is looking pretty good. If your default setting is relaxed and grateful and hopeful and confident, that’s happiness. If your default setting is anxious and lonely and overwhelmed, that’s depression.
I am so grateful to have reset my default after years of swimming in the murky waters that I want to write about it. The blog seems like as good a place as any.
My happiness tips for myself and others today:
1. Fake it till you make it. Put a smile on your face whether you mean it or not. Smiles have anti-depressant powers for yourself and others, and the world is a lot more accommodating toward smiling people than it is toward scowling people. If you smile, and you are open and friendly toward those around you as you go about your business, chances are you will have a lot more to feel happy about when the day is done.
2. Be grateful.Don’t spend so much time wishing for what you don’t have that you fail to appreciate what you do have. Take time to notice the beauty and the love and the abundance of opportunities around you. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal on my phone this year, and I really believe it has gone a long way toward helping me reset my emotional defaults.
3. If you are in a bad situation, and you can’t see any way to be happy in it, just get out. Change is hard, but staying stuck in place where you can’t be happy is harder. I know. I’ve been there. I had to find a new job and move to a new town to get out, and I thought that leaving everyone I loved would nearly kill me, but the move saved my life. It saved my sanity. It saved my health. It saved my spirits. It made me feel like I had permission to really come to life again.
4. Roll with the punches. No matter how determined you are to be happy, life is going to throw some punches at you. Don’t fight them. Don’t fight your feelings about them. Just roll with them. No one can dictate to you what you ought to feel when people and events disappoint you or discourage you. You don’t even get to dictate to yourself how you will feel. You just have to feel what you feel and deal with it. Experience your feelings. Acknowledge them. Respect them. Give them the room they need to process on through. Just don’t buy your feelings a wedding ring and ask them to move in with you on a long-term basis. Let them be what they are and pass on through. They have other places to go, and so do you.
And this concludes my sermon to myself and others today. Don’t worry, my friends. Be happy.