Oh, the elusive concept of happiness - such a subjective concept. Everyone’s experience of this emotion is individualized, and has its foundations in perspective. The quote “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way” (-Thich Nhac Hanh) encapsulates this idea. That is to say, it is not so much a destination, but a way of life. The 5 recommendations below reflect a way of being happy, regardless of your circumstances; truly exemplifying the way to feel “happy.”
1. Take Responsibility for your Circumstances
“Circumstances do not make a man; they reveal him” - James Allen
This quote encompasses what taking responsibility for your circumstances mean. In our culture, we have a tendency to blame events or people outside ourselves for the way we feel and what we do. For instance, we say things such as “you made me upset”, “I’m so depressed because we lost the house”, “I can’t help but to be devastated, my boyfriend left me” or “I will never lose weight.” From these statements we are inferring the outside world is what causes us to feel a certain way and leads to where we are in life (our circumstances).
In truth, there are several things in the world we cannot control. However, there is one aspect we will always have control over, and that is our own feelings and attitudes. In Viktor Frankl’s book Man Search for Meaning, he has everything stripped from him, to include his name, clothes, and even his family. Despite these dehumanizing events, he held on to the one thing that could not be taken away from him - his own mind and attitude toward the situation (“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Viktor Frankl). This will forever be the one thing of which we ALWAYS have some control over.
The reason circumstances do not make you who you are is because only someone who has accepted current circumstances is subject to their control. If you do not accept your circumstances, you have the power to make a change. You can change your outer circumstances, and in the case where this is not controllable for you (such as in Dr. Frankl’s case), you can shift your inner circumstances.
Our attitude and thoughts are what determine our feelings. That is, the way in which we view situations, events, and people controls our feelings. Over time, these views become thinking patterns which eventually become habits. We CAN change habits, albeit not easily. It takes practice, dedication, and determination. Just as you would not expect to significantly increase muscle mass after one trip to the gym, you cannot change thinking habits just by trying for one day.
2. Stop Blaming Others for Your Unhappiness
The second step to happiness is similar to the first one, both have the underlying message that you create your OWN happiness.
Consider this quote by Osho “Nobody in the world can insult me, because it is in my hands: If I accept the insult, it is okay; if I don’t accept it, you have to carry it to your home. Nobody can humiliate me. Humiliation needs my acceptance.” That is to say, if you do not accept what another says to you or about it, then it does not affect you, and instead remains with the person who said it to you. You have a CHOICE as to how what others say to you affects you.
Similar to the first point, this may be simple to understand but it becomes much more difficult in application. This is mostly due to our cultural beliefs (the way we speak and common clichés suggest our external world controls our internal world) AND habits developed. Shifting this habit of thinking is difficult, but not impossible. Like most goals that take hard work and dedication, the payoff is immense and life altering.
3. Learn to Live in the Moment
We spend so much of our lives focused on what we need to do tomorrow, what happened today, and where we were 5 days ago. We are, effectively, walking around blinded by our thoughts. You see this in other people often (if you are paying attention): the blank stare into the distance, robotic movements, nervous twitches. We see almost the exact opposite in young children, who are constantly interacting with their environment, in awe of the beauty and novelty around them.
The goal is not to spend every second of every day in the present moment; the goal is to increase our ability to refocus on the present and increase the amount of time we spend here. Living fully in the moment helps to increase balance and reduce stress hormones, improving quality of life and happiness.
4. Put More Energy into What You Think of Yourself Rather than What Others Think of You
Similar to the first 3 on the list, this makes sense in a logical manner. Actually doing this is rather difficult; again strengthened by our culture and schemas developed throughout our lives (the filters we see the world through). Any change starts with awareness of a problem. This is why the first step in many programs treating alcoholism require the individual to admit they have a problem. Once this awareness is built, change can follow.
Most of the time, the feelings come before we are aware that we have concerned ourselves with the opinions of others, due to habit. The way to shift this is to first become aware of when the perceptions of others is affecting you. Second is to start to change what you are telling yourself.
Who you are is, quite literally, who you decide to be. When you form your identity based upon your beliefs of who you want to be and what you want to stand for rather than on the basis of the opinions of others, you become the person you dream yourself to be.
5. Care for Your Body
Although this one is last, it is certainly far from least important. How you care for your body will determine how efficiently your mind and body function. Your body is literally comprised of the food and liquid you consume. Feeding your body wholesome foods and giving your body adequate exercise and rest will improve not only your health, but your mood as well.
There is a growing body of research focusing on nutritional neuroscience. Specifically, this refers to how your diet affects your brain. Fundamentally, certain foods affect your mental health, the most notorious offenders include sugar and caffeine. Eating for health includes limiting these foods and eating for your own body type.
Often times the purpose of therapy is focused on helping you to achieve some variations of the 5 ways to happiness listed above. Therapy helps you to get on the right track through giving you tips and tools along the way to make these changes last. The integrated aspect, and importance of whole body health, is the primary focus of our clinic. To sum it up: caring for yourself, taking responsibility for your life, and becoming who you are in your dreams will create happiness for your journey. It's a matter of taking action to change!
- Dr. Ali Iverson