“What do you want out of life?”
“To be happy,” we respond despondently.
It takes work, lots of it.
But what does it really mean to be “happy”. Are some naturally inclined and others just grasping at straws, destined to never experience that feeling of fulfillment, contentment? Do you have it or you don’t? If you don’t use it, do you lose it? Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline?
The answer is happiness is a hard state to achieve and once achieved it has to be maintained. Yes, happiness takes work, it’s essentially a full time job. Why is it that some people seem to be perpetually happy and others consistently down in the dumps? Is it because some are just born lucky, born with a positive outlook, raised in a situation where they never lacked and always had something to smile about. No. Happiness is available to anyone, anywhere, at any moment in time.
But you have to consciously choose to feel happy. Every single moment in your life provokes a thought from your brain and there are only two sides to every thought, it either feels good, or it doesn’t. The content of your thought has no bearing. You can take any situation and force happiness on yourself. Yes, I said, force happiness, because as stated prior it takes work to live a life where the majority of it is spent in a state of contentment. Let us say, for example, you are driving and you don’t notice the massive pothole that is about to send your car airborne (at least where I live they have that potential). Well, you hit the pothole and you either go, “Shit, that probably ruined my tire and/or front bumper,” or you could say, “Wooo, let this baby fly.”
You might think I’m being facetious but I’m not. The very first bridge you should jump off as you free fall into bliss is to actively change and monitor your thoughts, pick the thought that feels good no matter what the circumstance. “My boss is an asshole and has a personal vendetta against me,” or “My boss probably only has a few more years to live, I hope they pass swiftly.” I’m not saying that ignoring the bad will make it go away but it will definitely make you feel better. And isn’t what we are experiencing in this moment the very definition of our existence? Not the dinner you have to cook for your family later, or the bill that’s due tomorrow, but the present moment. If you can’t find the flipside of the thought within yourself then put your attention elsewhere, distraction is a powerful tool when negativity in any form starts to creep up.
Food for thought
I’m also going to put forth some other uncomfortable truths about happiness. It’s multifactorial, deliberately choosing thoughts that feel nice is step one. You need to treat your body right. I’m going to preach that you should be happy with your body, right now, as is. But if you are mistreating it, you can’t possibly, consistently, convince yourself to feel good. Bad foods literally make you feel bad. Inactivity makes you feel bad. Everyone experiences guilt when they know they consciously chose to do something unhealthy that their body tries to subconsciously oppose. If you are getting heartburn and gastrointestinal symptoms every time you eat chili cheese fries, maybe you shouldn’t. Your body is literally begging you to stop, not to take more Pepto. When your muscles are sore and ache because you left your couch only to use the restroom, your body is asking you to move it. Listen and look for the signs.
It’s no coincidence that your mental and physical wellbeing are inextricably linked. Doctors are even piloting programs across the country like “Prescription Produce” to treat certain illness and disease. They literally give you a prescription for a change in diet and increased physical activity. “Look good, feel good” is not a myth. You know you’ve tried on that one outfit that you think will turn heads wherever you go, and when you wear it you feel unstoppable. You can feel like that a large majority of the time. But you have to put in a lot of effort and work, and it won’t happen overnight. Even anxiety and depression are now being treated with a combination of therapy, a “cleaner” diet, and increased physical activity (https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety ).
Your body and mind are the only two things in this world that you have complete control over, you have to start there and I promise happiness, which is ALWAYS a fleeting moment, will follow. But you can’t give up when you don’t have the body of your dreams in one month, or when shit hits the fan and you have a million reasons to cry. Those are the moments where you can make the most improvement, by choosing happiness in the face of times that normally would send you on a downward spiral. All good things take time. Training your brain to be happy takes as much effort as it does for someone to train for the Boston Marathon. But the payout will be much bigger than just finishing a race, it will benefit you for the rest of your life. But be assured it will never maintain itself or become a condition where you can put yourself on autopilot. It is an active, voluntary, engaging process every single moment of the day.
You and only you
And lastly for the hardest pill to swallow of them all. No one is responsible for the way you feel, except you. Re-read that sentence over and over. Not your boyfriend, not your boss, not even Donald Trump. If some guy at a bar decides to call me fat because I politely decline his offer to “take me home” I can choose to feel demeaned and upset, or I can choose to laugh. Because anyone who attempts to make you feel “less than” is doing so for their very own deeply personal reasons. No one can think your thoughts for you, no one can feel your feelings for you, so why do we consistently put the blame on others for how we feel? We also need to acknowledge something that is very detrimental to interpersonal relationships, making someone else responsible for your happiness. This may be a temporary fix but the burden you have now placed on the other individual is only going to cause you both to crash and burn at some point. It has to start with you.
It sounds daunting, but there is an easy way to do it. Forget about what it is you are thinking and focus on how you feel, if it feels bad then engage your brain to swap it out with something else. Listen to how you feel, about every single thing in life. When you think about your work does it feel bad? Yea? Then start finding things to appreciate that feel better and then find your way out of that place, but only after you’ve achieved a state of contentment and acceptance. Anything you do that comes from a place of negativity is going to yield another negative result. Anything.
So the biggest task you are being asked to do in order to obtain a state of happiness is to… consciously choose the happy thought in the meantime, or the thought that feels better. I think it’s a small price to pay.
Below are some suggested short readings I recommend for anyone who just wants to feel better, today, in this moment. And then the next moment. One. Moment. At. A. Time.