Growing up, I didn’t have the emotional knowledge I now have. What I know now was learned the hard way. Because of this, I suffered more than was necessary.
If I could talk to my younger self, this is the advice I want to shout to her: You can take charge of your own state of mind!
This saying resonates deeply with me, and it has been my compass on the road to being in control of my own happiness:
“You can’t control what others do. You can only control your reactions.”
When I first came across it, I snorted. I found it ridiculous. But thinking about it further, I saw that it’s true. It’s practical and empowering.
Right now, it’s what keeps me headed in the right direction when I take a wrong turn — and it could help you, too. Keeping this in mind, you, too, can have the power to be in charge of your happiness.
What do I mean by that?
To get a better idea, let’s look at what it was like before.
When I was younger, when bad things happened, I had a tendency to blame external forces and to mope and brood — holding on to the feeling of unhappiness — until someone does something to appease me or something happy happened to come along.
Maybe my boyfriend said something I didn’t like to hear (he could have been saying the truth; it didn’t matter). I’d be unhappy until he did something nice. Or maybe I tripped and injured my knee. I’d be hoping for somebody to notice my trouble, empathize with me, and say something to comfort me.
I complained too much.
Sure, it’s great when people empathize with you. But you can’t count on that happening. Maybe they didn’t notice. Perhaps they’re preoccupied with their problems. Or they disagree with you, so they sure as hell aren’t going to apologize.
Don’t let others’ reactions (or lack thereof) stop you from attaining happiness. You can choose to take charge of your emotions, your state of mind, your wellbeing — right away.
Why do that, though?
As a sullen and stubborn young adult, I thought, “Why should I? If I control my emotions by myself, then I’m letting that person off! Then I’m losing!”
But you know what? By staying unhappy until someone else comes and “saves” you, you’re the one who is losing out. What are you losing? Time, energy — and your mental wellbeing.
Instead of suffering for those hours, or even days, while you wait for someone or something to make you happy, why not do it yourself? You’ll get to be happy immediately.
Instead of moping and brooding with a dark cloud hanging over your head, you can be using the time and energy for so many other activities that are much more productive (like upgrading your skills on Coursera) — or at least enjoyable (like binge-watching your favorite shows on Netflix!).
Better still — embracing this philosophy is empowering and liberating. It hands the power back to you. You’re in charge. You can make a difference in your life. You can make things better — yes, you.
Is it hard?
Yes, especially at first. Can you do it? Also yes! As with most things, practice makes perfect.
In this world, there are two types of things:
- Those you can change
- Those you can’t change
For things you can change, DO something to change it.
As for things you can’t change*, learn to accept them and move on. It’s normal and healthy to grief and to be upset. But when it’s time, let it float away. Don’t hold on.
Ironically, the secret to taking charge of your emotions is letting go of things you cannot change. Remember that you have a choice, so choose the way you react to them. Choose not to let things that you can’t change ruin your day.
Let it go!Elsa (Frozen), 2013
Remember: “You can’t control what others do. You can only control your reactions.”
If it’s something you’re not sure you can change — or if it would take an immense effort of changing something not directly within your control (e.g., someone else’s mindset) — chuck them in the “things I can’t change” bucket and let it go.
At first, it may be difficult to recognize and accept things you can’t change, but you’ll get there. With practice, you’ll get better.
*There are exceptions, though. If you’re getting abused, or if a crime is involved, then please don’t accept and let it go. Insist and get help!