“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
-attributed to Abraham Lincoln
Can we make ourselves happy?
A few years ago, I decided to be happy. I know, it sounds too easy. I get it. We’ve all heard the quips:
Your happiness is your responsibility.
Nobody can make you mad without your consent.
You can be happy if you’ve a mind to. (Thanks, Roger Miller.)
Each time I heard one of those seemingly mindless phrases uttered by some obnoxiously chipper person, I thought, Easy for you to say!
Surely, I thought, it’s different for me. You don’t know what I’ve been though, what I’m battling. You don’t know what I’ve done.
I assure you, it matters not in the least. Your past, your education, your mistakes, your health, your job situation, your relationships– none of it is determining your happiness.
You really CAN make up your mind to be happy. Here’s your roadmap:
- First and foremost, keep a gratitude journal.
Oprah Winfrey has made these famous. And for good reason. This single action will change the way you think forever. Write three things down every day. Three, minimum. I don’t care how small you think they are. Did you wake up? Do you have food? Does someone know you’re alive? Write it down. Take a few minutes to close your eyes and envision that blessing or provision in your life. Inform your face that this is something to smile about! Reflect on what would happen if this gift was absent from your life, and then you got it back. Feel your appreciation for it. Do this every day until you find you do it spontaneously throughout the day.
- Now, develop the habit of conscious focus.
This is easy. Simply identify any thought that makes you unhappy (worried, angry, regretful) and tell it to leave. Shut the door behind it very quickly and think about your gratitude journal. Or look at sloth videos on the internet. Envision Bora Bora, if you like that. Think about whatever makes you smile. I’ll tell you a secret. You know those thoughts that make you unhappy? You don’t have to think about them. Think about your happy place. The world will go on. Promise.
- Be mindful.
Mindfulness is just another word for being focused on the present. The present is the only thing you can truly affect. The past is in the past, and you’ll deal with the future when it’s time to. Remember that most things we worry about don’t happen, and most things we regret can’t be changed. If we think about these things, there’s a part of our brain that doesn’t know the difference in thinking about them and experiencing them. So we’re unnecessarily living through trauma in our minds when we dwell on the past or worry about the future. Don’t do it. Are you safe and comfortable right here, right now? Enjoy that feeling.
- Bring novelty into your life.
This can be as easy as driving a different route to work, or as extensive as learning a new language. Try a new skill. (It’s amazing what you can learn from how-to videos.) Write with your other hand. Set aside 30 minutes every day and research something you’ve always been curious about. Google “pizza toppings in other countries.” (If you try the durian pizza, let me know.) Sometimes, what we call unhappiness is just boredom. Change things up!
Come back tomorrow for more ideas about how to bring the joy back into your life! (Part Two)
Caveat: If you think you are actually depressed or may hurt yourself or someone else, please talk to someone who can help.
If you’ve been in a slump: Did you try any of these suggestions? How’d it go? Drop me a comment.
Best to you!