What would it take to make you happy? For you to ultimately find true happiness? A million dollars? A different job? A skinnier body? A better spouse? Everyone to stop bothering you? (Which brings me back to a different job and a better spouse…)
Are you trapped into thinking your unhappiness is a direct result of your life being a struggle, a disappointment, a chaotic mess?
What if I told you you don’t need anything different in your life to be happy? The answer: you’d probably want to punch me in the face. (I know. I’ve felt the same way.)
The truth is, it’s natural for us to repel the idea that our everyday happiness is our responsibility. Why? If happiness is solely in our hands, it’s our own fault we’re unhappy. I hate this idea. I want it to be everyone else’s fault I’m miserable.
How do I know about happiness despite difficult circumstances? Let’s just say I spent a decade of my life as a failure expert. I failed expertly in every area of my life. Serious illness of my first husband, eventual divorce, job loss, financial ruin, and then a simple misstep that almost cost me my life several times over and has left me with a chronic illness.
The question I get asked the most when I speak and perform comedy is: why are you so happy when your life has been such a mess? (My life’s still messy but-shhh-don’t tell.) Through the process of loss and hardship, I learned-albeit the hard way- what true happiness is and isn’t.
To be happy, it’s a good idea to understand what it is you are striving for.
Here’s what happiness isn’t:
–Happiness is NOT sprouted and grown in a petri dish of ideal, perfect conditions. It can be cultivated anywhere, no matter how harsh the conditions. (I have experienced happiness in my ex-mother-in-law’s house…and let’s just say those were formidably harsh conditions.)
Here’s what Happiness IS. Warning– you’re not going to like it: It’s a SKILL. Yep. Told you you wouldn’t like it. It’s an annoying, habit-induced skill that requires work and refinement. (That thought alone makes me very unhappy.)
Here’s 5 science-backed ways, plus 2 “Stacy-isms,” that help develop the skill of happiness.
Exercise. I hate this one the most, which is why I posted it first. It seems like a superficial answer for when you’re deeply hurting. Unfortunately, it really is an antidote to your unhappiness. I can get into the science, but we all know exercise is good for us-so why bore you with the details.
Gratitude. Thankfulness. (I’m posting these in order of my dislike.) Once again, this answer feels cheap. Like someone telling you to focus on peaches and puppies and rainbows when your life and heart are in complete shambles. I learned this one the hard way. This has been the most effective habit in developing a lifestyle of happiness for me personally. It took tremendous hardship and loss to appreciate what I DO have. No matter how much of a train wreck your life is, I promise there is always something-one thing-to be thankful for. Spending one minute focusing on that one thing can dramatically transform your temperament.
Community. Be around positive people. (Notice I said POSITIVE people.) If you find yourself in a place where you somehow are now alone, there are over 7 billion people on this planet and I promise you there are at least 1, 2, or 3 who would value you, inspire you, support you, and encourage you. GO MAKE FRIENDS!!! (Keyword is “go”. You actually have to leave your house and go out into this great big world and meet people.) Where do you go to make friends? Wherever there are happy, positive, people living a life with the same value system you want for yourself. This can be church, a club, a sport, a class, a shared hobby, a networking event…I am an extreme introvert. YET, I make it a weekly habit to meet people. Why? Because I know it’s ESSENTIAL to my happiness.
Bigger Picture Thinking. If you’re miserable, you may be honing in on some detail that – in the grand scheme of life – means absolutely nothing. Example: Lady at the store was rude to you. Someone cut you off while driving. Coworker interrupted you AGAIN. Kids made a mess. Yep. Those things have inconvenienced you…BUT in the grand scheme of life WHO CARES??? Why are you wasting your time and energy on something that is robbing you of your happiness and doesn’t even matter?
Big picture thinking also helps with being dissatisfied. One of the biggest reasons we are currently so unhappy, despite the highest standard of living in ALL of history, is that we are easily dissatisfied. Unhappy with your car, clothes, or house? Picture it in the slums of India. Not so bad now, is it? Don’t like your body? Visit a cancer ward. Spouse leaving toast crumbs in the butter again? Visit a group of widows and widowers. Frustrated with your job? Visit an unemployment line. When you step outside of your “unhappy circumstance” and look around at this great big world, what you are unhappy with isn’t that bad…in the big picture…
Stop focusing on you. Help others. The more you try and feed the unhappy monster inside of you, the more miserable you’ll become. Focus on what you can give instead of get. People who focus on helping others are scientifically proven to be happier people. In my mind, this makes perfect sense! It encapsulates the other 4 points. If you’re helping someone, you’re probably physically moving, you’re in community, the big picture thinking of seeing someone else’s struggle helps you be more grateful for the things you do have. If you just focus on 1 of the 5 steps, pick this one!!
- When you’re really in a bad place and deeply hurting, remember that your PAIN IS PRICELESS!! You deserve to hurt. Whatever it is that happened to you isn’t fair. You have earned the right to be bitter and to be broken. However, is being broken and bitter truly the life you want to live? Is it what you want to be known for? At some point, you will need to make a choice. You can either hang onto your pain-which you have a right to-or let it go. Letting your pain go will cost you something. It will cost you your “rights.” In exchange, you will be purchasing freedom, possibility, and hope.
Stacy Pederson is a Colorado based Funny Speaker who didn’t want to settle down and write this BUT she finally did it anyway. Stacy’s current life is far from perfect, but genuinely happy. For more on her story-read her bio section at https://stacypederson.info/about . Better yet-hire her and she’ll share it with your group!