How to be Happy
When you are asked, “What do you want most in life?”, most of us will say “I just want to be happy.”
Well, how do you make that happen?
First, be thankful
But how is that possible if you are unhappy about things or have little to be thankful for? How can you be thankful when you’re behind and going down or going nowhere? What if you’ve just been slammed by some bad news or hardship, or you’re just tired and burned out from a lack of progress and satisfaction?
I know that when your life is less than you’ve wanted or you have suffered some kind of hardship or loss, it’s discouraging and can be depressing.
Life can be hard. No argument there. I’m suggesting a way to navigate it to find some satisfaction every day and end up encouraged and satisfied everyday, no matter what. It’s a way of thinking about your conditions that produces the way you feel, happy or sad, not the conditions themselves.
No matter what conditions, you can find something to be thankful for. Even people in the middle of wars can find something to be thankful for, something better than the way it could be if things were worse. When you stop and think and appreciate what blessings you have, no matter how small, you feel better, happier than when you focus on the negatives.
If you have something to eat tonight, be thankful for it. Not everyone does. If you have a warm dry place to sleep tonight, be thankful. Not everyone does. Make a list of all the blessings you have that are not available to everyone in the world. Be thankful for those blessings. You’ll feel better, happier than when you complained.
I’m not saying you should just accept the way things are, and quit complaining. Certainly, we need to accept the reality of the way things are. But we don’t need to stop there.
If you’d like things to be better, identify what could be better. Identify what can be changed. With things that are beyond your control, like the weather, or a permanent physical condition, identify what could be changed to make things better, like living where the weather is more to your liking, or finding a way to compensate for the deficit the condition causes.
Dream up some things that are possible in the real world that would make your life better, and commit them to paper. Make some plans. Make some goals. If they are things that take a long time, like obtaining a professional credential, make it a long-term goal, like five years. If they can be had in a shorter period of time, make it a one-year goal, six-month goal or whatever makes sense. Make a set of lists: Five year, one year, six months, next month and next week.
Take one day at a time
Once you have some plans of what you’d like to be different, live one day at a time. You can only do so much in a 24-hour day. If you get enough sleep, take care of your other needs like nutrition, hygiene and a job, you’ve only got perhaps 5 hours to work on things to improve your life. You can’t live more than one day at a time, so focus on what you can do that day to move in the right direction. Let the next day’s worries wait ’til tomorrow. You’ve already outlined what you’d like in the future so let tomorrow take care of itself. Focus on today.
You might end up with tasks like finding out what credential you’d like to pursue, or finding out how other people deal with the condition you have. Do what’s possible today, and then get a good night’s sleep.
Everyday, be thankful for what you have and take a step toward what you’d like to be different.
Constantly review and revise
Things rarely go exactly as planned. As we learn more, we need to tweak the plans. Most everything takes longer than we thought it would, though some things happen almost immediately once we start towards them. When that happens it’s a shocking surprise that leaves people wondering why it hadn’t happened before. Also, we can change our minds about what we want. So, on a regular basis, we need to revise those plans, change the time frames and even the goals themselves, dropping some that have lost their appeal, and adding new ones we hadn’t thought of before.
Live in the present
While we want to be happy in the future, we don’t want to wait to be happy. We want it today. This is not a prescription for being happy in the future. It’s a prescription for how to feel better now. Today, the future is just something in your imagination while the present is real. Tomorrow may come and it may not. You don’t control that. So, live in the present. If you live well today, according to this prescription, you’ve done as much as humanly possible. Be satisfied with that.
Live in the present. Take satisfaction in every day that you move in the right direction. Every once in a while it will be a day that you get that credential or car, or vacation. Live a day at a time and take satisfaction in that day.
Open yourself to the possibilities
When I said to dream up some things that are possible, often people set limits rather than goals. What’s possible? Well, if others have done it, you know it’s possible. If lots of others have done it, it’s not only possible, but probable, if you study what they did and copy it. Who are those others? Other human beings. We are all the same on the inside, same basic makeup.
If you tell yourself something is not possible, you set yourself up to make sure you don’t get it instead of setting yourself on a mission to make it happen. Don’t hamstring the potential of reality.
And don’t think that when you think up a goal, you are in some contest where you measure yourself to see how much you can achieve. It’s not a contest or a measure of your worth. You’ll see some dreams come true and some not, and you’ll be no worse off by setting your sights on something grand than not setting those sights at all. You’ll find that if you set your sights on some grand goal but haven’t reached it, you’ll pick up other benefits on the path that you would’t have gained if you didn’t start.
Manage your thinking
A good deal of what I’ve been talking about comes from a form of therapy called “Cognitive Behavior Therapy”, or CBT. It’s a very simple idea, based on the observation that the way we feel is created by the way we think. It is not the events in life that create the way we feel, but the way we think about them that creates the way we feel. What we think creates our feeling state.
An example: If we get a flat tire, we may think “Just my rotten luck! Why does everything bad happen to me? What have I done to deserve this?” If you are in the habit of thinking that way, you are in the habit of making yourself feel bad.
On the other hand, you could think, “I am so glad I have a cell phone to arrange help. I am so glad this didn’t blow out at 60 mph and cause an accident”. If you get in the habit of thinking this way, you’ll have thinking habits to make yourself feel good instead of bad.
Guard your mental diet
What we think creates our feelings. What we run through our mind creates the way we feel. What do you run through your mind?
If you are in the habit of consuming an endless diet of news all day, you’re in the habit of consuming a mental diet to make yourself feel down. Most news is bad news because it attracts the most audience and advertising dollars. Be careful with your news habit and limit it to one brief session a day.
If you’re in the habit of arguing and fighting all the time via text messages and social media, you’re in the habit of making yourself feel bad. If your phone constantly alerts to these things, you have an automatic system set up to bum you out every few minutes.
Your brain, like your body, is a processing unit, like a computer. With computers, it’s important to feed it good data. Garbage in, garbage out. It’s similar with your body, food in, energy out, and something else too……..
With your brain, don’t run garbage through it like miserable TV programming, or constant griping and argument from negative family and friends. If you do, instead of producing good feelings, you’ll produce the opposite, crap.
Make use of your power to choose
Fortunately, you have power. You have the power to choose what to think and how to think. No one else has that power in your life. And it is your responsibility, no one else’s, to use that power to choose the thinking that will largely determine the way you feel, happy or sad.
Start with being thankful for the things you can be thankful for, large and small. Then make some plans for what you’d choose that would make your life better. If you live your day like that, you’ll have a method to make the day happier than it would have been otherwise. And all you have that’s real is the present. Make it as happy as you can.
Be well, friend.
William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, the author of “The Anderson Method of Permanent Weight Loss” (paperback and Kindle at Amazon, audiobook at Audible). He was obese until his early thirties when he found the solution. He lost 140 pounds, has kept it off for over 35 years, and has taught thousands to successfully manage their weight.