I am not a believer in false positivity, and let’s face it, most of us find it easier to be cheerful when things are going well.
But it is when life is tough that we need to be able to call upon our happiness skills the most……and if you feel you need to develop and improve those skills, you’ve come to the right place!
Let me take you back in time. It was the day before Christmas eve, and my family were facing eviction from our rented home within the following four weeks. We had nowhere to go, and no money, and there were a number of other issues tangled up within the whole sticky mess. My friend, who I always considered to be ‘posh’, had just given us her old sofa……her version of old, I might add, not mine….and it took pride of place in our upstairs living room.
The rest of the family were downstairs, and I clearly remember sitting on the long, dark blue sofa, looking at the lights on the Christmas tree, gazing into the flames of the coal fire……and feeling a surge of pleasure and happiness flow through me. You’d think I didn’t have a care in the world! The experience interested me……I knew I was facing some pretty dark days ahead, but somehow I felt…….happy. It didn’t last of course, but still, I wondered how it was possible to feel so at one with life when in the midst of chaos.
To fully appreciate what I am saying, you need to know that I have put myself through all kinds of crap throughout my life, and consequently have faced many, many hanging – off – the – cliff – and – just – about – to – go – over – the – edge kind of moments……..but somehow I always managed to hang on! Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t breezed through everything with a sublime smile (good friends will definitely testify to that!). I have, metaphorically speaking, sweat blood and tears on a million occasions. But yet I have had many experiences that are akin to the sun suddenly breaking through the darkest rainclouds, uplifting my spirit and causing me to sigh with pleasure. And they led me to conclude that it IS possible to still be happy when the world is falling down around our ears (whether it is of our own doing or not). Of course, there are absolutely extreme circumstances in which it would be impossible to experience anything other than despair……but even then, it is amazing how often people find the strength to move beyond the horror, enough to be able to continue living and functioning. Here, I am talking about everyday, ‘normal’ life stuff.
I began to realise just how important happiness is. Most of my clients tell me that they ‘just want to be happy’. Billions of pounds are being spent on researching happiness. Apparently we are unhappier than past generations, and those who lived through the great wars were happier than we are today. But whenever a person tells me she just wants to be happy, I ask exactly WHAT she means by happy…..what is her personal interpretation of happiness….and the response is usually one of surprise…..followed by a furrowed brow…..followed by a shrug of the shoulders…..followed by “Well, you know…….happy. Erm…..content. Secure……I don’t really know”. So you see, we all want happiness, but many of us just cannot define or explain it! Generally speaking, happiness is an unexplored idea, whilst unhappiness is something we can usually describe without any trouble at all! Interesting, isn’t it?
I believe I know how everyone can be happier, not just when things are great, but when they are tough, too. At least, I know what works for me, and I have seen it work for clients too. The answer lies within the nature of our own thoughts…..and YES, and I know we’ve all heard that a million times. But do we really, truly understand and appreciate WHY it is a fact, and why and how it works?
Fact 1: What we think, consistently and regularly, creates our beliefs.
Fact 2: What we believe creates our emotional responses.
Fact 3: Emotional responses create feelings.
Fact 4: Feelings always lead us into some form of action (or non – action, which is still an action!).
Fact 5: Our actions always lead to an outcome or result.
Fact 6: The results we experience lead us to form an opinion, meaning we think something……which feeds a particular belief, which creates an emotion, which causes us to feel, which leads us to act (or react)…..which leads us to an outcome.
And round we go again. If the results we are consistently getting are healthy and productive, great. If not, we need to recognise and break the cycle…..again and again until we have developed a new, more rewarding pattern that becomes the ‘norm’ for us. And if we genuinely commit to this process, we WILL see definite improvement, and we will feel more able to control and direct our own thoughts, and be less at the mercy of our emotions. It’s a tried and tested fact, not an opinion!
Is it simple? Yes. Is it easy? Hell no. But what IS easier……repeating the same old patterns and getting the same old results, waiting and hoping that he/she will change, or the world will change, or that fate will suddenly sort it all out for us…….OR taking conscious control of our own thoughts, as often as we need to, until we learn to respond in a considered way, rather than reacting? The darker our current circumstances, the more this is important. It will enable us to get out of the fog of emotional turmoil and drama, to see what makes sense and what doesn’t, and to find solutions, rather than being crushed by problems. And more importantly, it gives us dominion over our own inner world…….we become less vulnerable to other people’s unacceptable behaviour, whilst we figure out what we are going to do. Sometimes we can change things overnight…..sometimes we have a bit of a journey ahead of us. But whichever it is, knowing for sure that WE choose how and what we think, not other people, regardless of their behaviour, will empower us and lead to healing.
And this is how I myself approach it. I consciously watch over my inner dialogue, and I look out for signs of unreasonable thinking. Yesterday, a young lady was unnecessarily brusque with me, rude even……but I reminded myself of all the times I have been rude to others, and that as she has a number of young children, she was probably feeling worn out. The old me would have either argued with her, and/or brooded over it. I was a little hurt, but my reasoning allowed me to let it go. Whenever we find ourselves reacting about someone or something, it is helpful to ask: “When did I do that myself, or at least something similar?” You know, I can generally come up with a number of examples, which tends to shut me up! This will apply to personal relationships as well as general everyday life.
I have learned to take responsibility for my own choices and actions (and dear God, has it taken persistance!). If I am in a lousy situation, be it relationship, work or career wise, I look for my own contribution. I am not talking about self criticism or loathing…….I am talking about self – honesty. If I can be strong enough to be honest with myself, even when it hurts like hell, I stand a much greater chance of sorting my problems out and improving my circumstances. I may be largely responsible, or hardly responsible at all, but it is a completely necessary part of the process. If I believe myself to be a victim, I have no power whatsoever.
I do my best to recognise and avoid bitterness.Bitterness is the worst emotion (the second worst being guilt), and if allowed to flourish, it poisons and destroys our spirit, our looks, and our health. Not one ounce of good can ever come out of it. And the bigger the reason to feel bitter, the more we need to conquer it. It serves no healthy purpose, and is even more powerful when we hide it, and pretend we have ‘dealt with THAT’…..when we clearly haven’t. We can heal it by becoming aware of the thoughts that bring the bitterness rushing to the surface, and refusing to think them…..changing those thoughts for different ones everytime they push into our mind. And also by reasoning things out. So, maybe one or both of our parents abandoned us or has never really been there for us. We can remind ourselves that just because two people have sex and conceive a child it doesn’t mean they have an inner ability or desire to parent and nurture. And also that the perfect parent – child relationship doesn’t exist…and that we have made it this far in life, and we have plenty of good people who love us, so, hey, it hasn’t turned out exactly as we’d have hoped, but it is what lies ahead of us NOW that counts. Ongoing bitterness is going to steal away our potential happiness and well – being……..and what purpose would that serve?
I take my mind away from the same – old same – old as often as possible. I can have a bunch of problems but still be able to feel awe and wonder at a million different things. I like that about myself…..there has been much I have had to work on, and yes, things I have definitely regretted……but I am beginning to appreciate my ‘good’ points too. I want to feel proud of myself, NOT for surviving against the odds and inspite of other people’s failings (that’s a defensive attitude!), but because I am doing my best to consciously develop and grow in a positive, productive way.
I have goals and aims to aspire to. I want to feel inspired by my own life, and to expand my mental horizons as far as they will go!
I involve myself in creative pursuits….even if I have to arrange my day accordingly. The human spirit needs creativity and fun…….it isn’t a luxury……it is food for the soul! We can all find SOME time throughout a week to write, or paint, or dance or bake cakes or read an inspirational book, or to indulge in a hobby. We don’t have to be great at it……but we can get better!
I NEVER say “I take each day as it comes”, or “I just want security”, or “I have to live in the real world”, or “When is my life going to get better?”. I just don’t. I have to believe that I have within me the capacity to heal my own mind, to learn through experience and self honesty, and to always feel hopeful…..to believe that the life I am painting in my mind will take shape and form in this physical world…….and that requires magic, not logic!
I go back to the drawing board as often as I need to. The moment I become aware that my mind is heading off towards the dark, dark woods, I pull it back. The moment I become aware that my own mindset, my own attitude, my own actions are not in line with who and what I say I am becoming, I have to take responsibility and alter them.
I am not falsely positive, I do speak up, I do my best to avoid passive – aggressive behaviour, and I am not suggesting that anyone should ‘pretend’ to be feeling anything they aren’t. But if we are feeling stressed, stretched, anxious and controlled by life, our own engine room has to be the first port of call……tidy that up, and everything else becomes that much easier to deal with.
I talk to God…..every single day, several times a day. I am not talking about religion, or about a man who sits on a cloud with a clipboard, deciding who gets what and who doesn’t. I am talking about being a part of a creative life force, and I honestly feel that it wants the best for me. It wants me to be and have what I want to be and have….and it is up to me to decide what that looks and feels like. This is a dimension of free will…….we get to choose how we experience it, regardless of circumstance. God doesn’t do it all for us…..but it assists our own efforts. And if we say we want to be happy in love, whilst choosing an incompatible partner and situation, God will throw a clanger in the works. Not to hurt us, but to help us change pathway towards our own stated intention. If the person we are hankering after is never going to fulfill our wish/need for a healthy, mutually supportive relationship, God, who has an arial view of our life, is going to put up a road block on our behalf. We then get to understand and accept the action, or we kick against it, screaming in indignation and resentment….and feeling ‘let down’.
I repeat selected affirmations regularly, making sure I put real emotional energy behind them, whilst doing my my best to avoid following them up with negative reinforcement……which is very easy to do, I am afraid!
I still slip up….I am definitely not perfect. I am still striving……but the striving makes me feel alive and always hopeful……..I am really looking forward to all the stuff I am yet to learn, and to become. And yes, I know there will be times when sadness comes to call…..but that is all the more reason to build up my happiness quota right now, and whenever it is ripe for the picking!