Every year I would make a wish as I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, and every year I’d wish for exactly the same thing: to be happy.
Sometimes I would try and think of something else; a different, more specific wish. Maybe a fancy career or meeting my dream partner. But those individual things simply wouldn’t suffice – they would only make me happy in an individual area, and I wanted to be happy in all areas. Whatever it was I had, whatever it was I did, I just wanted to be happy.
Why is it that we wish for happiness? Why is it that we talk of happiness like it’s a future goal? We strive to achieve it; to find it.
It’s as if happiness itself is that pot of gold under the rainbow and we’re on a lifelong journey to obtain it. But if we see it in such a light, it will end up being as obtainable as that mythical pot of gold.
Firstly, we need to cut out the ideology of finding happiness or wishing for it in the future. Of course, not every day is going to be a Utopian bliss and that’s okay – because let’s face it, we need our occasional downs to truly enjoy the ups. Instead, we need to see it as something we practise in the present: mindful thinking and positive attitudes, for example. It’s ultimately a mindset, so here’s how we can modify it:
Ditch The “I’ll Be Happy When…” Attitude
“I’ll be happy when my exams are finally over!”
“I’ll be happy when I land my dream job!”
“I’ll be happy when my finance situation improves!”
“I’ll be happy when I find love!”
Sound familiar? The list could go on forever but it all boils down to the same message: the fact that there’s always something that prevents us from enjoying the present. I hate to break it to you, but there’s always going to be something that can deter you from enjoying the present. The very moment you’re released from what’s currently missing in your life, something else will feel wrong – or at least you’ll find something else!
Think of it like a yearn for money. You make a living, but in order to feel truly happy you want enough money to go on lavish holidays and own fancy products. “If I were to just win the lottery, I could do all these things and then I’d finally feel content!”, and there you go, you envisage your perfect life with this added bonus. So every week you religiously buy lottery tickets – lets just say £5 worth. And every week you fail to win. 10, 20 years later, you still haven’t won. What’s worse? You’ve actually thrown away thousands of pounds worth of money. And what for? To have more money.
While we ourselves might not be dreaming of money, the point still applies to many of us. We actually end up throwing away little snippets of happiness in wishing ourselves more happy. We all dream of that lottery in one form or another. The problem is that it’s largely unrealistic – we think we’re finally reaching it and right there another obstacle moves it further away.
Instead, we need to learn to co-exist with discomforts. Rather than imagining all the exciting things you could be doing once your exams or stressful work period is over, think about what you can do to relax with it present.
Try Not To Feed Too Much Energy To Worries
Let’s face it, we all worry about one thing or another. Just when we think we’ve escaped one worry, another packs its suitcase and comes to stay.
That’s the problem with the human mind – it can’t just calm down and relax; it’s always on the look out for threats. We have our ancestors to thank for that: they always had to be weary of any potential predators hunting them down, and unfortunately that mindset carried through evolution.
The difference is, we don’t need to banish our threats the same way our ancestors did. Most threats and worries aren’t going to maul us to death. Unfortunately, sometimes we mistakenly think they will. Too often, we overthink the results and consequences of whatever it is that’s concerning us, or we overplay a potential reaction we’re dreading from someone. Almost just as many times, we’re left feeling relieved that it didn’t turn out as bad as we thought after all.
Grab your notebook or a note page in your phone and make a list of absolutely every worry or fear you have either faced or overcome in the past. Maybe it was an exam you thought you’d failed, but didn’t. Or a childhood fear you now laugh at. Perhaps you were worried you wouldn’t be able to cope with a distressing event, but you found the strength. Try and remember as many things as possible, then list them down.
When you look back at all of these past worries, they might seem so trivial to you now, but back then, they were far from it. That’s how your current worries will probably look to you in a year’s time. Reminding yourself of all the things you’ve already faced and overcome will simultaneously remind you of all the strength and endurance you have to face and overcome the present.
Focus On What You’re Grateful For Over What You’re Not
It is estimated that we go through around 60,000 thoughts a day, of which around 80% is negative. By nature, we are very cynical beings – making it all too easy to become trapped in a negative mindset, and ultimately, a negative view of life.
How many times have you woken up and the first thing you’ve said/thought is along the lines of “Urghh! I really can’t be arsed with this s***!”
How can you then expect yourself to go out and enjoy your day when that is the example you’ve set? The way you think heavily influences the way you feel. So waking up with a negative thought is just like that one low mark you got that annoyingly brings the rest of your entire grade down.
I’m not going to lie, I certainly feel like that some mornings too! Of course there are going to be prospects in our day that we’re not looking forward to. You don’t need to lie about it and convince yourself otherwise, but merely change what you choose to focus on. We can’t stop negative thoughts coming into our head, but we can stop giving them the spotlight. Instead, try listing 5 things you’re grateful for every morning before you even get out of bed. It could be something really simple (but often taken for granted) like actually having a warm, comfy bed to begin with.
Imagine you go downstairs to make yourself a bowl of cereal in the morning. Bowl out, cereal tipped in and then you open the milk and out drops huge clumps that must have formed as the milk prematurely curdled in the night. “Nothing ever goes right! Now I’ll just have to starve, for goodness sake”, might be the kind of thoughts running through your head. But do you ever acknowledge when the milk isn’t off? When pouring and eating a bowl of cereal actually goes right?
This is the same for most things in our life. We just automatically expect things to go the right way. For every little thing that goes wrong, 10 other things probably turn out right. I’m not telling you to lovingly acknowledge your luck when the milk still turns out to be fresh, just try and pay more attention to the things that go right rather than wrong.