Recently I told my boyfriend and family that I feel very happy. Most days I find myself extremely content with how things are going (even if they’re going awry) and I feel satisfied in the evening, knowing I had a pleasant day. I have also realized that in the last year my panic attacks have all but disappeared, I have stronger faith, I don’t get headaches or breakouts, I stopped having problems with clogged lymph nodes, my stress-nausea is gone, I can finally concentrate and study for hours at a time, I read for pleasure again, and I really do end each day feeling satisfied. I think my answer to the question, “What would you do if you had one day left to live?” would be “I’d live exactly like I live every day. #carpediem”
Then while I was smiling away and toiling over my school work, guilt set in. A voice in the back of my mind surfaced and pointed out the glaringly obvious. How can I say that I’m happy? I am unemployed, broke, my GPA took a small hit last semester, I gained weight, I spend all my waking time studying, I have a back problem at age 22, the list just goes on and on. How can I allow myself to be happy with so many things wrong? I should keep my head down and keep pushing until things are better, THEN I will be allowed to feel happy. Right…?
How trapped am I in this cycle of suffering that I can’t just be? I seriously feel guilty? I realized that I have tons of reasons to be happy, I’ve just been conditioned to not feel them. Or I for some reason think they’re less important than the things going wrong in my life. Whether this comes from advertising, media, or other people, it’s not right to feel guilty for feeling something as positive as happiness. I wanted to share some ways you can let yourself be happy, right now.
Allow yourself to feel happiness when it comes.
Happiness is something that seems ever elusive yet is our primary goal as humans. It’s kept philosophers and dreamers alike busy for thousands of years trying to define what it is, how to obtain it, and how to keep it. But happiness is literally defined as “a feeling of being happy.” That’s it. That open-ended definition allows us to feel and create happiness in ways that suit our individuality. There is nothing external that is guaranteed to make you happy in the long term. You already have within you everything you need to experience happiness. The hard part is digging through all that unhappiness to see the gold underneath. Your life doesn’t need to be any kind of way for you to be happy. Let go of the weird guilt that sometimes comes with it. You are entitled to happiness, just as much as anyone else.
Realize that a lot of society profits from your unhappiness.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize we are bombarded on all sides by advertisements selling products that promise happiness. And I’m sure no one is totally immune to their effects. Companies have teams of psychologists working on their advertisements so they can hook your attention and convince you that only their product will fix whatever it is inside of you that makes you so unhappy.
Consumption is a paradox. The more we consume, the more inadequate we feel, so we consume something else to feel better and the cycle repeats. Businesses have nothing to gain from you being happy. The unhappier you are, the more of their stuff you can buy! Imagine if one day everyone decided they loved their bodies, the diet industry would collapse. Makeup, skincare, hair care, nail salons, diet products, body shaping products, body waxing, weight loss gimmicks, fashion trends, fancy food, alcohol, spas, vacations, nightclubs; they all promise to improve our lives but rarely do. And these all require constant consumption to keep up with changing trends. These things are all fun, but fun is not long lasting happiness.
In our societies, we have no choice but to consume. But what if we thought deeper about why we buy things? Do we actually like it? Or do we want to be like whoever is selling it? If the answer is the former, go for it.
Happiness is not defined by how your life appears from the outside.
We often understand that happiness is the perfect work/school/finance/social life balance and we can’t be happy until we “have it all,” even though most of us don’t have it all. To cope with the areas we “lack,” we often create to-do lists for our life that look something like this: degree ✔️, husband ✔️, fancy car ✔️, travel Europe ✔️, house ✔️.
People feel sorry for me (or use me to feel better about their own situation) because I am 22 and barely getting started in college. From the outside, I am a failure. I should have graduated university by now. I should be entering the professional world, getting engaged and starting to think about having a family before I turn the dreaded 3-0 when I will become old and suddenly irrelevant.
However, life is long and there is enough time to create the life you want to live. Although a degree, a loving partner, children, or a vacation can be important steps in your life that bring deep happiness, just checking them off because they’re something you feel you ought to do won’t make you happy. You’ll accomplish a goal and immediately move onto the next, continually chasing the “ideal life” and never being satisfied with the life you have. All the things you want in life are coming to you, they just require time. In the mean time, work hard at your daily goals and enjoy the trip. You might realize that the destination of happiness is where you are right now.
Practice gratitude throughout the day.
We are often blocked from seeing the wonderful things in our life because we are only focused on the problems. And it makes sense, right? If I can identify a problem then I can fix it and then I will be happy. Of course there are always problems that need solving, but we don’t pay enough attention to the things that are already going well. Or maybe we are appreciative of things, but never acknowledge them properly. Studies have found that practicing gratitude daily can relieve symptoms of depression (link) because it causes your brain to release oxytocin, seratonin, and dopamine. Make it a point to actually write down or verbalize the things you’re grateful for. Keep a running list in your phone as they pop into your head. The more you pay attention to gratitude, the more things you will find that you are grateful for. It’s a fantastic way to practice mindfulness as you pay attention to your day.
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. It makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow …”
– Melody Beattie
Play an active role in creating your reality.
Know that you co-create your reality. Those of you who practice the Law of Attraction or study psychology know that our reality is profoundly impacted by our perceptions. We can never be in total control of the external world but we are in complete control of our reactions and our expectations. If you believe you will have a great day, you most likely will. You probably know from experience that expecting things to go badly almost always seems to guarantees that they do. Changing your life usually starts with changing your mind. Visualization is a powerful tool that helps us achieve goals. Integrate visualization into your daily routine and you will probably be surprised at how that positive outlook can change your day.
Know that conditions will never be perfect.
Sometimes we make the mistake of viewing happiness as the absence of bad things in our lives. The bad news is that there will always be bad things in your life. Things will always break down, relationships will come and go, expensive emergencies will arise, and there will always be traffic. Once you learn how to adapt to these negative changes, you can continue basking in your happiness. The Bhagavad Gita says the ego drifts about, running to the pleasant and away from the unpleasant, while the true Self experiences both without judgment. The Self realizes that both are important parts of our lives.
Your best is good enough.
Around the internet there are all sorts of “tough love” inspiration accounts (usually associated with fitness pages) that suggest that you’re never doing enough. According to them, if you were doing enough, you’d have everything you want. I feel this is a very discouraging and backwards way of viewing our efforts. It’s essentially saying that anything less than perfection cannot be good enough. And none of us are perfect. Ask yourself if you’re giving 100%. If you’re not, you can make changes. If you are, good for you! Keep doing what you’re doing because your best really is good enough. You are a complete person and you already have all the tools inside of you to be happy.
I’d love to hear from you! What are some things you’re grateful for right now? How do you feel happiness in the present? What’s stopping you from feeling that happiness?