Happiness. Ahhh. The elusive pursuit. “I just want to be happy!” say friends, family, and strangers. Magazine headlines, book titles, websites, FB posts, BLOGS (hello!) – all promise happiness. “Do this!” and you will be happy, the lists say. Advertisers suggest that if you use their product, you too will be happy (and beautiful, and successful, and fill-in-the-blank). I have been thinking of what not to do in order to increase the likelihood of feeling happy. The bottom line, regardless of the type of list:
There is only one person in life who can create your happiness: YOU
Here are ideas of happiness “DO NOTs”:
1.DO NOT EXTERNALIZE
By this I mean to look inside of yourself instead of basing your happiness on what you believe other people say will lead to happiness. Looking outside and at the ideas of family, friends, society, how-to lists (like this one!) – or to products – is not likely to lead to sustained joy.
2.DO NOT “SHOULD” WHAT YOU FEEL, REALLY FEEL
This may sound super corny. Corny can still be true. Often we intellectualize, acting in terms of “shoulds”, and we trump what our instincts tell us. Our instincts tend to be accurate guides. Learn to trust your built-in compass. Feel what you feel. Be in it.
3.DO NOT resist darkness
Life contains both dark and light. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you embrace the darkness, you open the door to the light. That sounds like one of those feel- good mantras – and it happens to be true. I know that it is through these dark times that I learn the most. I breathe it all in, and I notice what it is that’s making me feel fear. I try to get curious about my internal reality and stay in the present moment. This is hard to do when I’m feeling down. I want to run away and distract. But when I dive in, I see that the darkness is a virtual reality created by moi. I look at the fear of not having enough, and I see that what I’m afraid of is a thought I choose to entertain.
4.DO NOT say “no” to the now.
The more I try to escape the present moment, the more miserable I am. This continually surprises me. When I stay right here, right now, even the most ordinary tasks become extraordinary. Washing the dishes even feels alive. But if I try to exchange the now for the future, I lose out on a lot of opportunity. Being in the now is simply about noticing what’s here, right now. As I write this, I hear my fingers tapping on the keyboard. I notice the hum of my desktop, and I feel my butt on the chair. And above all, I feel my feelings. I’m feeling a bit anxious as I write this. And that’s okay.
5.DO NOT BE afraid of making mistakes
If I am afraid of making mistakes, I assume that I have something to lose. I also assume that there is a perfect way of doing something. Yet, I do not and cannot know any of this. I don’t know if making a mistake helps me grow. Maybe making a mistake is the necessary path for me. We live in our heads. We manufacture a reality that we believe is real when it’s not.
6.DO NOT aim for perfection
We try to be perfect. We think it’ll bring approval from others. And then that approval will make us feel loved and feel good about ourselves. Yet, the act of trying to be perfect means dismissing ourselves. It means not loving who we are right now.
7.DO NOT chase happiness
I fall into the habit of chasing happiness. But to me, it’s more like I’m avoiding my feelings. I feel bad, so I want to be happy. I create an image of a future where I’m happy, and I long for it. I want it now. I think to myself, “If only I had that, I would be happy.” Yet, that thought keeps me stuck. The wanting happiness snatches me out of the present moment. When I let go of wanting to be somewhere else, I notice what’s right here. Sometimes it isn’t what I want, but even what I think I want is another thought. Each thought that says I need something else is an opportunity for me to stay in the present moment.
8.DO NOT try to control life
I can’t and don’t control life. Neither do you. I control my reactions and actions but not much else. When I try to manipulate life, people, and places, I end up exhausted. It’s not my domain. It’s not up to me to control outcomes. All I can do is follow my heart, my inner compass, and see what happens. I am here to experience both the good and the bad, and everything in between.
9.DO NOT put off your dreams
Dreams are scary. It can take years to muster up the courage to do the things you truly want to do. Dreams begin with one step. Start somewhere. And start before you feel ready.
10.DO NOT try to fix others
Let people travel their own path. We have mistakes we need to make. We have experiences to collect. When we see that life will take care of itself, we have no need to control others. This can been especially hard with loved ones. There is no fixing, because there is no perfection. There is only this moment.
One of the things I learned from being a psychologist is that we tend to take our thoughts too seriously.
We tend to take life too seriously.
Laugh! Lighten up on yourself!
You are worthy.
These ideas are adapted from the work of Henri Junttila