The pursuit of happiness seems to be the overriding objective in much of what we do. Our goal of happiness might be driven by our desire to secure our dream job, climb the career ladder, or seek recognition and financial reward from our employer. It might be gained by the excitement and anticipation of planning a big one-off event like a dream holiday, buying a home, or getting married. It might seem achievable through anticipated future weight loss, pursuing adrenaline-fuelled activities in our spare time, or showering ourselves with ‘well-deserved treats’ like alcohol, chocolate, or takeaways after a hectic week. It might even be sought out by less conventional means such as illegal highs, extra-relational affairs, or other unnecessary high-thrill risk-taking strategies.
It’s tempting to assume that any desired external stimuli can bring about a permanent state of happiness and, to an extent, striving for or achieving a goal in itself may be worthwhile. However, sometimes the positive impact is remarkably short-lived and the happiness created dissipates relatively quickly. If we look to external sources for sustainable, long-term happiness, we are in effect applying an ever increasing expectation on the activity, person, or event to deliver the happiness or ‘buzz’ that we crave. We raise the bar higher and higher until the effort and pressure required to achieve the same level of happiness seems insurmountable and we are left with an inevitable feeling of increasing disappointment, inadequacy, and inner emptiness.
Until very recently, I continually struggled to find sustainable happiness in my life. It was a constant pursuit. Something to achieve once I had ticked off this or that, earned X salary, emulated such and such, etc. I chased recognition, success, status, knowledge, money, qualifications, and accepted societal labels to define myself by. The more I pursued these external accolades, the less satisfied I felt inside. This nurtured my inner critic and I became increasingly tough on myself when I inevitably failed to live up to my own unachievable expectations of how to attain long-term happiness. Then, after decades, when I finally realised that pursing external or material things might not be working, I thought that I could ‘think’ my way to happiness (or rather think my way out of unhappiness, anxiety, depression, bad luck, difficult situations, perceived poor decisions, and my ‘woe is me’ attitude).
But the more I thought, the more unhappy I became. In my futile pursuit of the ‘Holy Grail of happiness’, I paralysed myself by constantly over-thinking and over-analysing… “But if I just think some more I can reach a solution, THE solution…” I would then understand the secret to being happy, achieve nirvana… permanently! I was getting more and more dissatisfied with life and in effect stopped making decisions and stopped taking action. In essence, I was stuck in fight or flight mode not knowing which way to turn, trying to find the perfect solution but never making any choice for fear of failure. Severely regretting my past. Chronically worrying about my future. Destroying any chance of happiness in the here and now.
Then came 2016. A striking year marked by three shocking, unnecessary, and unexpected deaths of loved ones, including the far too early passing of my 29-year-old sister-in-law; plus an unexpected redundancy, then eight months of unemployment and subsequent money worries, followed by a perceived catastrophic loss of status and identity. The succession of life changing circumstances that year jolted me to such an extent that I realised, notwithstanding external uncontrollable events, I was the creator of my own unhappiness. This revelation was akin to a computer reboot. My reset button had been pressed and I inevitably began to see that I had the opportunity to switch things around. That if my thoughts were responsible for creating my unhappy state of mind then I could damn well take steps to reverse the trend and create a more positive state of mind and state of being. Maybe I had finally found the key to my own happiness after all!
That’s not to say that the path I now find myself on is an easy one – no-one’s path of self-discovery and self-improvement is and there are many twists and turns, ups and down along the way. I often find myself revisiting old patterns of thinking but fortunately they don’t stick around for very long these days. By adopting simple techniques and habits that help to increase self-awareness and develop self-enlightenment, I am doing my best to make positive steps towards a more consistent state of happiness and, importantly, living in the here and now.
It is our birth right to be happy and the secret to long-lasting happiness is more often than not discovered by taking responsibility to look within. Ultimately, we owe it to ourselves to at least try.
At Dynamic Wellbeing, we often hear from people who feel unable to make positive changes in their life; they may believe deep and sustainable happiness is unobtainable or can’t possibly be within their grasp.
Here are our top tips for creating positive change and long-lasting happiness:
1. Always think kindly about ourselves
We are our own worst critic – in fact, it is common that no-one will ever speak to us so harshly and derisively as we speak to ourselves. Our thoughts can impact what we manifest in our lives. Work to quieten the mind by recognising when we are thinking negatively. Try to habitually reframe a negative thought to create a more positive mind-set.
2. Be mindful of the language that we use
Our words are a manifestation of our innermost thoughts and have power when we use them to communicate with others. Choose our words wisely, speak kindly to others, and don’t get embroiled in gossip or tittle tattle. If we speak negatively we tend to project our negative energy towards others. Doing this consistently reinforces negative beliefs about ourselves and others, so it becomes truth not only in our own minds but also in the minds of everyone we speak to.
3. Find joy in the small things in life
Become more mindful and connected to our internal and external worlds. Take time each day to tap into our senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Engage with our environment through experiential learning and observation to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for the little things that surround us; those things that we habitually take for granted.
4. Stop wasting energy on things we cannot change
Recognise that all we have is today. Stay in the moment. Be present and focus on the here and now. Remember to breathe! Become engrossed in what we are doing at any particular moment in time. This takes our focus away from past regrets, future worries, and the things we cannot change and teaches us to recognise, acknowledge, and let go.
5. Acknowledge our progress
We all have off days. We can even have periods where off days turn into off weeks or even off months and might develop into more serious episodes of anxiety or depression. Don’t suffer alone. Reach out and seek help. Know that we are doing our best. Life is a series of decisions. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but don’t use it as a stick to beat ourselves with. Acknowledge that at any particular time in our lives we did the best that we could with the information we had to hand at that time. Of course, as life moves on, we naturally view the past in a different light and if a similar situation comes up again we might act very differently. But it is futile to keep playing the scenario over and over again in our heads expecting to be able to alter the outcome when the time has now passed.
6. Create self-care rituals to nourish and support our efforts
Why not replace alcoholic or edible ‘treats’ with regular, more nourishing self-care rewards such as a walk in nature; a holistic massage; a warming Epsom salts bath; a gentle yoga practice; or a calming meditation with candles, incense, or crystals. The benefits are longer lasting and help to create and maintain a profound sense of wellbeing.
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