Yanno, everyone wants to be happy, and we all have plenty of reasons to be happy – and yet – we don’t act happy. We snip and snap and snipe and snark and snarl, we vent and shout, and cold-shoulder others, we carry grudges – sometimes for decades, and we lose our temper and feel angry and depressed and sad and deprived. Counting our blessings sometimes only makes us think how much greener that grass over there is.
Some people think you’re born to be happy or not and there isn’t much you can do about it. Others think happiness comes from other people, or even from things – those people are partly right. A lot of our happiness, though, comes from within ourselves. We control whether we are happy or not most of the time. That old adage of “Fake it until you feel it” is a good piece of advice. Most of the time, if you pretend you’re happy and actively seek out reasons to be happy, you will start feeling happy and then, voila! There you are – happy! Say Aunt Martha gives you yet another hand-knitted sweater in some itchy yarn to go with the collection of sweaters she’s given you over the years. What do you do? Cringe, think evil thoughts about getting get another awful sweater, and plot how to dispose of it ASAP? Or do you smile, make yourself think of the time and effort she put into making that hideous sweater, and go over your wardrobe to see what you might be able to pair it up with or other things you could do with a nice, hand-made sweater? The first one makes you unhappy and disappointed (why couldn’t Aunt Martha just give me (FITB)?); the second one, you pretend to be happy until you are happy about receiving the sweater (the sweater may still be hideous and still may itch, but now you’re thinking of how much Aunt Martha loves you and what use you could put the sweater to). Now, you’re happy – or at least happier than if you let feelings of resentment build up.
You really don’t have to vent every little annoyance. Sometimes, venting allows the annoyance to swell from an insignificant shrug-off event to an injury of Olympic proportions. Venting among friends can heterodyne and build the grievance far out of proportion. There are certainly times when venting is good for the soul, but when you dwell on and vent for Every. Little. Thing, your life becomes one long, agonizing pain. If it’s minor, let it be fleeting. “Yeah, that made me mad, but it’s over, done and hey, what’s next?” Before you know it, the anger has dissipated, the annoyance isn’t, and you’re off doing things that make you happy. You’re not stewing, you’re doing.
Do something different or new. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to mess up the first time or ten. Very few people do things perfectly the very first time. Let yourself make mistakes as you learn and reward yourself when you get it right by immediately doing it right again. Little kids who joyfully squeal "do it again!" have it right. Repeat the good things. If you do it wrong,work harder to do it right so you get the satisfying pay-off and you can do it over for the sheer joy of it. We learn faster when we do things right so we need lots of repeatable opportunities. That means lots of opportunities to do things wrong as well. Anticipation and doing new or challenging things right makes us feel happy. So break out of your routine and do something a little different – learn a new game to play, explore a new park, take a class.
Revel a bit in your blues. Don’t try to make yourself feel happy right away with some “pick-me-up” treat or other. That pint of chocolate decadence may make you feel good right then,but the unhappiness of the indulgence will last much longer than the fleeting joy. Instead, explore your blue spell. Instead, tap into your feelings and try to express them – draw, cook, paint, sculpt, write, stitch a doll, or engage in some other artistic endeavor that explores, expresses, or captures your feelings. Some of the world’s greatest literature and art came from people who were feeling blue or depressed. Maybe you could be the next Edgar Allen Poe. Let your blue feelings have validation and direction. You’ll be happier when the blues lift. Embrace the blues for the long-lasting soul searching depths that come from such intense introspection. (Clinical depression is another matter,I'm just talking about the normalups and downs of life.)
In spite of commercials and ads, good enough really is good enough. You don’t have to have the absolute best things at the best prices. A reliable car that gets you from point A to point B efficiently and as trouble-free as possible is good enough, you don’t need for it to be the newest, shiniest, best car available on the entire market. If you are constantly looking for the best, you’ll never be happy with your selection because something that seems better will always come along. You’ll always be needing to trade up, trade out, or replace what you already have because what’s perfectly good and works well and suits your needs isn’t “the best”. Don't let your only criteria be "the best". Select some solid criteria that will suit your needs and the purpose of the item. If the item then fits all your criteria, why, it’s just what you need and you can let yourself be happy with it. You aren’t “settling”, you’re “meeting your criteria” – and what could be happier-making than getting what you selected for?
Money can buy happiness – if you spend it wisely. When my daughter went on vacation, I splurged and bought a digital camera for her to take with her to photo-document her trip. Later, I used it to photograph food and puppies and things that make me smile. It’s not a top-of-the-line camera with a confusing number of bells and whistles, but it does what I want it to do and does it well; that camera makes me happy. Look at what makes you happy, and if spending money will make it happen,then find a way to spend thatmoney – better ways to stay in touch with family and friends might mean a better cell phone – or a Skype account and an internet connection. Keeping track of your books could mean buying a lifetime Library Thing membership. Maybe a bicycle will make you happy because you get cheap transportation and pleasant exercise, and the cheap one just isn’t comfortable. Splurge and get the one that fits you best. Maybe there’s a bill that hovers over your head and creates arguments between you and your spouse or a friend – spend money to make it go away. Or maybe mowing the lawn stresses you out – hire someone to do it for you. You may need to readjust your budget, but I bet there are lots of things you’re spending your money on that don’t make you happy or improve you life or make you feel loved, secure, or in control of your life. Find a way to get rid of those money drains and spend your money on better things (or save it- saving can make you surprisingly happy).
Stop nagging. Nagging makes you feel angry and unhappy. It makes you mad at others because you’ve placed control of your happiness in their hands and they don’t know it. Using naggy language makes you unhappy and it makes everyone around you unhappy and unwilling to do anything about whatever caused you to nag. You’ll be much happier if you just do it yourself or let it go. I’ve always lived by the “whoever it bothers is the one who fixes it” so if you’re bothered by the burnt out light bulb, replace it yourself – you’ll get the satisfaction of doing something successfully and of having a working light. If your spouse is unhappy about the cleanliness of hte kitchen floor, your spouse gets to sweep/mop/polish the floor to their satisfaction. If it bothers you, you do it, if it bothers them, they do it. Simple – and happy-making.
Don’t try to radically change your life. Do small things leading up to it instead. Instead of promising yourself to start doing daily meditations or to workout for 2 hours everyday to make yourself happy, try getting better and perhaps longer sleep instead. We cut short our sleep time and we often sleep on surfaces that don’t let us relax. Spend the money for the right bed for you and get enough sleep. Eat small regular healthy meals so you never get really hungry. If you’re sleeping enough and eating well, you have a much higher chance of being happy than all the exercise and meditation will ever make you. Once you do this, you’ll be ready to tackle profound life questions, undergo meaningful meditations, and get into more radical lifestyle changes.
As zoethe reminded me:give yourself permission to be happy. Without that internal permission, even faking it until you feel it won't make for lasting happiness.
So, count your blessings, say nice things, smile, and act happy, and soon you will feel happy.