Is the pursuit of happiness stressing you out and making you sad and even more anxious? You may have noticed that we are in the midst of a "happiness movement" with uplifting quotes from exceptionally cheery life coaches everywhere on social media. Everyone seems to be writing about positive psychology and giving advice on how to change thoughts and behaviors to "create the life you desire." It's so easy, right? If, like many, you're having trouble learning to manifest all this "happy," you aren't alone. Perhaps you should opt for the entry-level course. You've been living in the mud for so long -- go slow, be easy on yourself, learn to notice where you can make small shifts in your thoughts and approach. Clients often seek therapy or coaching because they have a desire to be happier. In fact, I find that while many say they have much to feel grateful for, happiness seems out of reach. With finding happiness as their primary goal, clients tend to feel that they are "therapeutic failures" when happiness eludes them. While freeing people from the neurotic conflicts that interfere with feeling happier, restructuring thoughts and helping individuals live less constricted lives are good therapeutic goals -- have we forgotten about acceptance, contentment and the goal of the "good enough" life? As clients begin to heal, it is important to remember that a general improvement in happiness and improved overall functioning will inevitably include periods of time when old patterns resurface. In addition to occasional set backs, the realities of life are ever-present and include events outside of our control, disappointments and challenges. Sometimes bad things happen and people hit their bottom; the upside to this is that crawling out of the mud can be a real catalyst for change.
You don't have to wait for things to fall apart, and perhaps the pursuit of happiness in every moment is just too difficult. How about making a shift -- it's all about increasing your opportunities to experience more positive emotions. First, consider which emotions you'd like to experience more of, then focus on ways to bring more of that into your daily life. Below are some simple suggestions for increasing positive emotions, which may serve to squeeze out the negative, leaving less room for misery:
- Cultivate - Shift your focus to what right in your life. Keep a gratitude log if that's your style. Jot down a few things each day that you are grateful for (these could be as big as your family or as small as someone who showed you kindness this morning).
- Connect - People who are engaged and interested in others feel better than those who spend their time alone.
- Beauty - Looking at beautiful things whether art, nature or whatever happens to move you improves emotions. Try connecting with nature at least 10-20 minutes daily. This gives you a chance to appreciate the beauty and the rhythm of life. There is so much beauty to behold in the simple pleasures of life and your environment. Begin an awareness practice of simply noticing things that you normally take for granted. Keep an awareness journal if this is a practice that helps you.
- Join - Be a part of something bigger, join a cause, an organization and volunteer. The act of doing for others has been proven to increase positivity and feelings of wellbeing.
- Identify - Find your strengths -- what you do best, what makes you feel good about yourself, your passions and do more of these things. Incorporate them into your work and play. If you are unsure about your strengths, ask someone who knows you well.
- Practice - A regular self-care practice would include anything that takes care of your body, mind and spirit. Learn yoga or practice meditation, Tai Chi, kick boxing, Reiki.
- Add - If you feel pockets of emptiness in your life, fill the void by learning new things -- think language, gardening, instruments, artistic endeavors, creative writing, knitting, martial arts... the list is long.
- Develop - Developing and building resilience is an important aspect of healthy functioning, but it's not easy. Think of times in the past when you've recovered from negative events. How were you able to do that? What was helpful in those instances? Here are some tips for building resilience from Psychology Today.
- Ask - Not sure how to do something or having trouble adopting a positive, adaptive approach to a situation. Ask someone you know and admire how they might handle something similar.
- Compassion - Learn to mute the inner-critic and practice self-compassion and acceptance. Some have good results practicing Loving Kindness Meditation as well as Mindfulness and learning to live in the present moment, which means accepting the moment for what it actually is.
- Create - develop realistic but inspiring goals for yourself. This gives you something to look forward to.
- Relax - Relaxing should be a priority for yourself and you should never feel guilty about taking precious time for yourself. Don't have time? Making time for yourself to "chill" will actually improve your day and increase your productivity, if that's your goal. Relaxing lowers your stress level and increases feelings of contentment. Try a guided meditation, walking meditation or body scan. or an exercise designed to help you shift your emotions to a more positive state.