Happiness is a worthwhile thing to pursue. So say the Dalai Lama—the purpose of life is to strive for happiness—and the U.S. Constitution—every citizen has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what constitutes happiness? Let’s just say it’s easier to capture a moment of fleeting happiness, like the rush of pleasure you get from an ice cream sundae, than to find meaningful, long-lasting happiness.
However, meaningful, long-lasting happiness often requires hard work and sacrifice. But that is the kind of happiness that is the most worthwhile. And sometimes even small behavior changes can add to that happiness. In other words, there are things you can do to have a happier life. You don’t have to just hope and wait for it. Your mindset is critical.
Vanquish negative thoughts. Evolutionary adaptation has taught us to learn from bad experiences so we can avoid them in the future. But when this involves replaying unpleasant situations over and over in our minds, we have to work to overcome negativity.
The trouble is, when you tell yourself to stop thinking something it only makes you want to think about it more. When you can’t get it out of your head, adapt a Zen-like approach. Accept your negative thought. Acknowledge that you feel how you feel. Own the negativity. And then try to let it go.
If you’re down on yourself for something you’ve done, give yourself a break. Everyone does stupid things. It is just one setback from which you can learn. Think about strategies to avoid doing it again. Look at the gestalt picture. It’s really one little thing in your life, which has mostly been pretty good.
If you are worried about something like money or work, take some action that can assuage that worry. Like pay a bill or get something done on your work to-do list, even if it’s one small thing.
If your negativity persists, challenge your thinking. Ask yourself if it’s really as bad as you think. Would someone else judge you as harshly as you’re judging yourself? How would you think of this situation if it happened to someone else? Chances are, you’re toughest on yourself, so lighten up.
Create a new narrative. You already have a personal narrative that shapes your world-view. And when that narrative has been shaped incorrectly, or by others, then it’s time to change it to the way you want it to be. Say, for example, that you grew up feeling unloved. That you are unlovable. That you will never find someone to love you. That is a story that needs rewriting, because it’s wrong.
You can literally write down what the problem is or you can explore the root causes in your head. For example, your mother may have been a narcissist and made you feel you were unlovable. That is the obstacle that got in the way of your desire to be loved. Now that you understand that, you can write a new story—as if you were an objective observer. You did have a tough childhood, but you’re over it now and you are healing. Write about the new direction you want to take—meeting new people and enjoying life. Sooner or later, you will find love. Or better yet, love will find you when you aren’t even looking.
These are just the first steps toward a lasting, meaningful happy life. We’ll talk more next week about finding happiness in our relationships and environments.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.co.m/contact.
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