Recently I had a conversation with someone where they helplessly said “I don’t know…I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m just not happy with anything in my life.” Hearing that broke my heart; living unhappily is such a terrible existence. And yet, so many people live the majority of their lives in a permanent state of misery.
Sometimes, this misery becomes so ingrained that it doesn’t even feel like misery. I had no idea that I was living such a wretched existence until I separated from my ex-husband and felt little inklings of happiness stretch like tentative rays of sunshine after a storm. While I certainly knew I wasn’t ecstatic, I had no idea how bad that life really was while I was in it.
In this moment, if you were to ask me if I was happy with my life, I would unequivocally answer “yes.” This may seem strange if you know my present circumstances: recently laid off, freshly single, one million minor crisis’ happening at work on a daily basis. And yet, overall, I am joyful.
This got me thinking: WHY am I so happy? What is it that I, or anyone with a constantly positive state of mind, do or don’t do that contributes to this feeling of joyful contentment? After some contemplation, I settled on several key factors:
Have a reliable, positive, and multi-leveled network. This is such a big component because we as humans are wired to interact with others. However, you cannot have all surface acquaintances or all deep bosom buddies; our connections need to be varied. I have a couple of extremely close friends, several good friends, and lots and lots of positive shallower connections. Going through my recent breakup, I lost one of the major keystone connections in my life, and had he been all that I had, I would have been completely at a loss. However, with the help of my close and good friends as well as my continued positive interactions with everyone else, I have been able to stay afloat and keep my spirits up.
Putting in the time and effort to create and maintain these relationships may seem like a burden, but I firmly believe that if you do not have quality relationships in your life, it is impossible to be truly happy. However, these relationships must be reciprocal; you cannot simply mooch off of someone else, and you should never allow someone to mooch off of you. When both parties put in the same level of effort, that is when this piece of happiness falls into place.
Exercise. As much as we like to deny the hard science of how our minds work, putting in some sweat equity on a daily basis is a serious piece of the happiness puzzle. Although starting a workout is pretty much the worst thing ever, finishing it is one of the best feelings in the world. Your endorphin’s are kicking, and anything that negatively effected you throughout the day simply fades away into a haze of “ahhhhhh that was awesome”.
And lets face it, it’s hard to be happy when you don’t like what you see in the mirror. Presenting the best version of ourselves physically primes us to be the best version of ourselves mentally. It’s difficult to be miserable when you reach for something and notice a little baby bicep flexing as you bring it back. Hard work is hard freakin’ work, but it seriously boosts your mood to see results.
Work towards something specific. Throughout my entire life, I have always had something to work towards. First, it was my degree. Then it was finding a job. Then it was my Masters. Now, I am working on getting my real estate license and have plans for an admin credential and possibly a life coach certification within the next ten years. The point is, I am never resting on my laurels.
If you are working towards a specific goal, it is obvious if you have achieved it or not. And working to get that accomplishment tucked under your belt gives you a sense of purpose, which contributes to happiness. If you know you are on the road to achievement, you feel excited about getting up each day and have the gumption to persevere through the rocky patches.
Actively seek improvement. I am constantly looking for ways to make myself a better person and teacher. If I hear of an awesome teaching strategy, I try to implement it in my classroom. Outside the confines of my work, I am constantly reading all different types of books and online articles as well as listening to podcasts on various topics. I love getting into deep conversations about the world. All in all, I am always trying to be better than I was before.
Truly desiring to make yourself better requires a humble acceptance of yourself as you are right now. However, acceptance does not mean stagnation. Just because you have accepted that you have slid into the ditch does not mean that you stay in the ditch. Seeing yourself grow and looking back to see how much you’ve changed for the better is a big piece of long-term happiness.
Love the majority of your day. There are very few parts of my day that I dislike. I love breakfast. I love jamming to my tunes as I drive to work. I love getting organized for the day. I love interacting with my students. I (usually) love the gym. I love writing blog posts. I’m ok with learning new real estate things (although I’m not going to lie, I’ll be pumped when it’s over). The only things that I truly hate about my day are when I have some students act like a-holes, or when something goes awry that I did not forsee (usually traffic-traffic puts me in a TERRIBLE mood).
If you genuinely LIKE/LOVE 80% or more of your day, it is highly unlikely that you will be unhappy. So many people tie themselves to jobs, people, or circumstances that they hate, and then wonder why they are miserable. If you find yourself unhappy with something, make moves to change it. Money, “security”, and comfort are NOT worth a constant state of misery.
Be ok with YOU. You have to be ok with who you are as a person before you can truly settle into a state of contentment with your life. I recently went through a period of time where I thought that my career goals and life aspirations were not good enough because I saw other people passionately pursuing other things that seemed ‘better’ or that might bring in more money. My happiness severely diminished during that time. When I mentally slapped myself and replanted my foot firmly on the soil of MY dreams, my joy returned.
You are a unique person. It is impossible to accomplish the exact same thing that someone else has accomplished, so it is silly to even try. You know what gives you joy, you know how you want to live your life, and you know what gives you a sense of purpose. When you fully embrace what YOU want, not what the yoga masters, hardcore businessmen, or spiritual gurus tell you to want, THEN you can embrace your personal happiness.
Overall, your happiness is like an old, hand-pieced multicolored quilt that has been in your family for generations. It blankets everything. It is handmade. No one else has one just like it. Sometimes, a square or two might come loose, but if it’s a quality quilt, those squares aren’t completely lost and there are still enough squares to cover up with until the damage gets repaired.
If you find that you are unhappy with your life, take stock of all of the pieces. Magnify those squares that give you joy. Mend the squares that let in the draft. Sometimes, an entire square might have to be replaced, and that’s ok. Happiness IS something that you have complete control over, no matter how much we lie to ourselves and argue that we do not. Take charge now; in the end, our money will be spent or given away and our possessions will break or change hands. It is only the intangible-our relationships, our integrity, and our happiness-that we will get to keep for all time.
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