We all have the goal of being happy and some sort of idea about how we go about getting there. Yet, the evidence in our lives seems to suggest otherwise, and if we did really know what made us happy, wouldn’t we be happier? Ever had a similar conversation in your head? I know I have.
‘If I do X, then I’ll be happier,’ whether that be finishing with a boyfriend, getting a promotion, moving abroad or going on holiday. The idea is that happiness will happen when something outside of me changes. But what happens if those things don’t change, or they don’t change in the way you want them to? Is happiness an unattainable goal, or will we forever be living a half happy life?
If you remain trapped within your old beliefs about how to be happy, it is likely a lot of happiness will be removed from your life. This is why it might be time to explore those old rules that set you up to fail at happiness, so that you can start to live by new ones that will actually help you live a happy life.
Belief 1: Live ‘Right’ and Happiness Will be Your Reward
I was brought up like many others to believe that if I achieved certain things in life, I would have a happy life. Many of us are taught we have to earn our way to happiness, whether that comes from excelling at school, being nice to others, getting a good job or getting married. But what happens when, perhaps for reasons outside your control, you aren’t able to tick these boxes? Perhaps you can’t afford to spend every other month in Bali, or every man tends to be Mr Wrong as supposed to Mr Right. Does that mean you are destined to be less happy?
This is a flawed view of the world! How happy you are does not depend on how “good” you are, how much you “have”, how much you “earn”. It depends on how much good you can see in what already exists in your life. No matter what your personal circumstances, there is always something to be grateful for. Decide to look for the good and what is great in your life, rather than focus on the bad or what you feel is lacking, and you will increase your ability to experience joy on a daily basis.
Tip: Train your brain to look for the good in your life rather than the bad, by starting a gratitude practice. Everyday spend 5 minutes listing all the things in your life you are grateful for and why.
Belief 2: 100% Happiness is the Goal
In a society that values perfectionism it is no wonder we believe that
if we can do better, be better, work harder etc, then we will receive the rewards we are due. This means that when it comes to happiness, we believe nothing less than 100% happiness will do. This can lead us to pretend to be happy in the times we aren’t, which is exhausting. It can also lead us to give ourselves a hard time for not being happy enough (because you’re obviously not doing enough, being enough or just enough in general, or else you would be happier, right?).
What we have to remember is that being 100% happy is impossible! Why? Because you are a human! And as a human we experience emotions, which come in a whole spectrum from not so nice feelings (anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness) to blissful ones (joy, love, happiness, elation). No-one lives purely at one end of the spectrum because our relative world comes with constant ups and downs. What we can do however is even out the rollercoaster of our emotional life and live predominantly at one end of the spectrum. Creating this shift is a process, which you can start by creating the habit of daily gratitude.
Tip: Rather than aiming for 100% happiness, adopt the motto of “More joy more of the time”, so you’re aiming for day on day growth. When you are experiencing emotions from the left side of the spectrum, allow yourself to feel them. Don’t just ignore them or pretend they are not there, because this is counterproductive to wanting to experience more happiness. If you’re struggling with this, a great first step is to simply acknowledge your feelings by saying something like “I am feeling sad/angry/frustrated/mad”.
Belief 3: Other People Make Me Happy
The belief that others are required for us to be happy is ingrained in our language. A partner is meant to ‘complete’ you or ‘make’ you happy. Whilst relationships can enhance our happiness, relying on someone else’s presence, words or deeds to make you feel happy is like picking your happiness out of a lucky dip; some days you’ll hit the jackpot, but most often than not you miss out. The truth is YOU are in control of your own happiness, no one else. Whilst having the responsibility can be scary it is also a gift, as now you can start to create the happiness you want to feel, rather than waiting for it. Positive feelings and negative feelings can co-exist and you can move from one to the other quite fluidly if you allow yourself to and give yourself permission to feel good even if things around you don’t “look” good.
Tip: When those around us behave in a way we don’t like, we often make it about us, which has a negative impact on our happiness. Next time this happens, try the Reframe Game. Come up with all the reasons why the person could have behaved that way that had NOTHING to do with you. Eventually this will become a habit.