Happiness is one of the most misunderstood words in our vocabulary yet we search for this intangible state our whole lives: if I only had this or that/ if I met the right partner/ have a new house or car/ the job I’ve always wanted, then I would be happy.
We taught a workshop in Virginia, where a number of the participants had lost loved ones in the past years: one had lost her son to AIDS, another had lost her husband, son, and mother all within twelve months, another’s partner had drowned. Others were dealing with specific illnesses, or difficult issues in their lives. What really emerged for everyone was the realization that their real happiness lies within themselves, that it’s not dependent on someone or something else. They had lost what they had thought was the source of their happiness — a loved one or their health — and now had to look more deeply within. It was an amazing weekend of many ‘aha’ moments!
Here are some of the ways our workshop participants discovered how to feel happy again:
1. Not to take yourself too seriously. At times of hardship, such as loss or illness, it’s easy to get involved with the negative aspects of what is happening. Remembering not to take yourself too seriously brings a lightness and acceptance to the weight of circumstance around you. Remember — angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!
2. Not to identify with illness, loss or suffering as being who you are. Many of our participants realized how they’d been identifying themselves as a recovering addict / widow / cancer survivor or whatever the situation may be, but had not asked who they were without that label or identity. When you don’t identify with a challenging issue, then who you really are has a chance to shine.
3. It’s OK to be you just as you are, warts and all. You may think you’re imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But true perfection is just accepting your imperfections. It is accepting yourself, complete with all the things you like as well as the things you don’t like. In this way you’re not struggling with or rejecting yourself. Each one of us is unique, a one-time offer, but we can’t know this if we are facing away from ourselves.
4. Make friends with yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have that lasts for the whole of your life, and you can be a best friend or an enemy to yourself. So it’s important not to emotionally put down or beat yourself up. Just be kind.
5. Feel whatever it may be. It’s easy to want to deny or repress your feelings as they can be overwhelming when you are challenged. But if you can honor what you are feeling then it’ll bring you closer to the true happiness beneath the grief. Acknowledging and making friends with yourself is the greatest gift.
6. Forgive yourself. Treasure yourself. Each one liberates the heart and sets you free. Forgive yourself for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all the things you think you’ve done wrong. They are in the past and who you are now is not who you were then. You can take any guilt or shame by the hand, invite it in for tea, and open yourself to self-forgiveness.
7. Meditate. There is an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation changes the circuits in the part of the brain associated with contentment and happiness by stimulating the ‘feel-good’ factor. Meditating on kindness and love makes you much, much happier! And the only way to know this is to try it, so don’t hesitate.
Originally published at medium.com