To be clear, this isn't a "get-happy-quick" post. Rather these are some concepts and mindset shifts that you can apply to your life in a way that makes sense for you.
1. Make peace with your past
I used to drive myself crazy trying to figure out why certain things happened the way they did. Usually it was some kind of negative event that I wished had happened differently. I would replay different scenarios in my mind over and over again, wishing I would have said this or done that, etc.
Doing this stole a lot of my happiness. Even if something wonderful was happening in my life at the moment, I couldn’t fully enjoy it because I was mentally stuck in the past.
Have you ever experienced this?
I’m going to tell you something that you already know, but may need to hear again:
No matter how much you dwell on the past, you will never change it. Reliving or holding onto the past will only take away from your ability to enjoy the present moment.
Also, obsessing over negative past events makes it more likely that you’ll recreate those same kind of events in the future since that’s where your focus is.
We’ve all had challenging things happen to us—maybe even things that seem unfair or undeserved. I don’t mean to discount these at all. I only want to remind you that focusing on things you cannot control (like the past) greatly diminishes your happiness and focusing on things you can control has the power to increase your happiness.
What you can control is what you do today, right now. For example, focusing your energy on something that excites you right now—no matter how small or insignificant that thing is—will make it that much easier to change your thoughts and emotional state. It’s hard to think of negative things when you’re doing something you’re excited about.
Figure out a way to mentally re-frame events in a way that allows you to leave the past in the past and not let it disturb your present. I'll talk more about mentally re-framing things in an upcoming blog post.
2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
It may sound cliche but there is always something to be grateful for. Even in difficult situations. Seriously.
The truth is, learning how to cultivate this mentality will not only improve your mood and enjoyment of life, it will also bring more things into your life to be grateful for. Let me explain.
Many of us currently are living our “dream lives” (in whole or in part) and don’t even realize it. What I mean by this is that we may have the job we once dreamed of having, be with the partner we once dreamed of being with, live in a place we once dreamed of living in, and so on.
However, because it is human nature to adapt to our circumstances, we sometimes take for granted the successes in our lives. We may celebrate them for a short while, but we then become used to our pleasant circumstances and accept that as our new “normal.”
Instead of enjoying what we have, we come up with new, bigger goals and dreams that we think we need to fulfill in order to be happy.
But if we aren’t grateful for what we have now, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?
This idea is rooted in Stoic philosophy, which I find very helpful in many respects. In the book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, the author points out:
“Most of us spend our idle moments thinking of things we want but don’t have. We would be better off...spending this time thinking of all the things we have and reflecting on how much we would miss them if they were not ours.”
I'll give you an example from my life. About 8 years ago, I wrote down in a notebook all the characteristics I wanted in a romantic partner...in great detail. I literally described my “dream woman.” Shortly thereafter, I forgot about the notebook.
Fast forward to a couple years ago, I found it again while unpacking some moving boxes. I turned to the page where I had written about my "dream woman" and was amazed at what I found.
I was overcome with gratitude and appreciation when I realized that my girlfriend for the past two years was literally a PERFECT match to every single thing on that list. I had manifested my dream lover! (We’ve been together 5 years now - hi Vanessa!).
It wasn’t that I had taken her for granted up until that point. It was more about realizing that I was actually, genuinely living my relationship goals. This made me take notice of all the other things in my life that I had already accomplished but wasn’t celebrating enough.
Even if you’re not exactly where you want to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy where you are right now. In fact, when you make peace with where you are, you'll be able to get to where you want to be much faster.
Learn to appreciate what you have while pursuing what you want. And take time to periodically reflect on the days you prayed for the things you have now.
Learn to consciously think of the things you are grateful for and appreciate in your life and I assure you that your happiness and quality of life will improve dramatically.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is a tough one, especially in today’s social media-driven culture where it seems like everyone’s "perfect" life is constantly on display.
I make it a point to remind myself that we chose what we share on social media. Meaning, I see what people want me to see. This helps me have a more grounded perspective about perfect looking selfies, people who seem to be on permanent vacations and those who seem never to have bad days.
It's important to understand that it is basically impossible to accurately compare yourself to anyone else—even those you know personally—for two main reasons:
You don’t know the all the nuances of their life
You don’t know (and can’t know) how they personally experience/interpret their reality
We may think someone has a wonderful or "perfect" life, but there are factors that we just cannot know and therefore can’t consider in our comparison.
This doesn’t mean that everyone who seems to have a wonderful life really doesn’t. It just means that reality is subjective and what someone may view as a "success," others may experience as a challenge.
Admiring people is perfectly fine but beating yourself up because you’re trying to live up to some arbitrary standard of "success" is unhealthy and damaging to your psyche and to your happiness. As Emerson so eloquently put it, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
If you want to compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself to former versions of yourself. Let that be your indicator of improvement. Not only will it be more accurate, it will help you actually pursue things that are more in line with who you really are, thereby increasing your joy.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you have other ideas that have helped you personally increase your happiness, I'd love to hear those too!