In honor of the International Day of Happiness, as well as the First Day of Spring in the United States, I’ve dedicated this post to describing the mindset I use to find happiness in my daily life.
First, I want to talk about what I mean by “happiness”. I don’t think it’s necessarily possible to be giddy-happy about everything all the time, because life throws everyone speed bumps every now and again. Instead, I want to posit that it’s possible to find little pockets of happiness and joy in individual moments, no matter what type of day, week, month, year, etc. you are experiencing.
That’s the catch, though. Being happy has nothing to do with what is going on around you. What does it actually entail, then? Well, in my own experience, it has everything to do with a moment-by-moment mindset.
The most important thing is that you have to want to be happy.
Hold up there. Say what? Doesn’t everyone want to be happy? Why would I write something as obvious, as stupid, as this?
Well, as it turns out, this isn’t necessarily true. I think people have a surface-level desire to be content with their surroundings – we all want to be financially free, to live in our dream homes, to have good relationships, or something like that – but studies show that some of the unhappiest people in the world are actually people who “have it all”, like celebrities and CEOs. It goes without saying that you can have everything you’ve ever wanted and still be unhappy.
So what is it, then, that keeps us from being happy? If it’s not our station in life, or even our material woes, why can’t we be happy, in spite of everything else?
I discovered a few years ago that the only thing standing in my way was me. You read that right: I was the only thing keeping myself from being happy.
In our culture today, it’s commonplace to begin a conversation with complaining. This isn’t to say that we live in a negative culture – there are so many wonderful things about society which are positive and uplifting to individuals everywhere. But commiseration takes on an extra role in day-to-day relationships. It gets a lively conversation going. When we begin a conversation with “hey, you know what makes me mad?” how can anyone say they don’t want to hear what you have to say? In this way, we generate empathy. But is it really a good thing?
I personally don’t think so. Although the occasional rant can be good to get it out of your system, it turns out that starting out with negatives tints the entire conversation, and can even affect the mood of an entire day.
I set out a few months ago to stop this in my personal life. I found it to be, honestly, frustrating. Conversations stopped short. Some people didn’t know what to say to me. Especially at my workplace, my coworkers acted weirdly around me. I think, for a while, they weren’t sure if I was being genuine, or if I was some kind of happy-go-lucky psychopath who was going to have a breakdown at any moment. I even earned a few nicknames, such as “Positive Peggy”. My supervisors often groaned when they’d ask me to do a menial or undesirable job (like sorting through the trash for someone who’d thrown away an important paper on accident) and my reply would be, “sure, no problem.” I never took it as far as to say, “that sounds like fun” (I’m positive, but not a liar) but even so, this got a bit of attention.
Then one day, I started to realize the real-life impact this decision was having, not just on the people around me, but on myself.
When I’m by myself, I have less drive to be “happy” and usually just let whatever I’m feeling take free reign. (I think this has merits, too, but that’s another whole post). One day, however, I was feeling particularly depressed and had no motivation to do anything. When I got to work, though, I put on a smile (one that I didn’t necessarily feel) and went about my job as normal.
Within twenty minutes, I felt…happy.
What just happened here? Well, you could say that I lied to myself until I felt better. Or you could say that I was trying to convince everyone around me that I didn’t feel depressed, and so that tricked my brain into releasing the right chemicals to make me not feel depressed. Or, you could say what I’m saying all along: for as long as it took to truly change my mindset, I was able to let go of how I was feeling, in order to pursue how I truly wanted to feel.
I don’t want to say here that depression is something simply overcome by a decision to feel better. Anyone with mental illness knows this isn’t the case, and this doesn’t always work. But on a good day, in daily life, what does this discovery mean for finding happiness?
Well, I think it means we have to let go of wanting something to complain about. We also need to let go of looking for something to be unhappy about.
Even I’m guilty of this. Sometimes, I’ll make lists in my head of all the reasons I have to be upset. In a weird, off-hand way, I get satisfaction in knowing that I’m justifiably hurt. Feeling this way makes me feel powerful. But it’s a lie, I promise. There’s nothing powerful about clinging to unnecessary pain.
So what does this mean for you?
You may want to evaluate how you feel on a daily basis. Are you unhappy? Why is that? Are you subconsciously, like me, looking for things to be unhappy about?
Even if you’re struggling with mental illness (trust me, I understand) this idea can still take root in some ways. Here’s how:
Even if you are genuinely hurting, there is still something to be happy about.
And by being happy, I don’t mean “walking on sunshine.” I mean that there is a little pocket of something warm and peaceful you can dig into for comfort on really bad days. For me, oftentimes it’s a deep breath reminding me that I’m alive. Or it’s the reassurance that a better day is still ahead. On a very basic level, it’s the love and affection I get from my emotional support Guinea Pigs (don’t laugh) whose fuzzy little faces are always there to greet me, even when I’m having the worst day ever.
How do you go about finding these little pockets of happiness? Well, they don’t just appear. Sometimes, you’ll find a blessing just falls into your lap. But most of the time, you have to go looking. I promise you, however, that you can find them.
If you can change your mindset, you can change your life.
For more thoughts, check out my post, “Why It’s Okay to Live For the Weekend” here!
What helps you find happiness? I’d love to hear from you!