Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons. Whether it is the mild weather, the fact that fall fashion really works for me, or that it is the season in which I was born, I just feel good in the Fall. It always feels like a fresh start to me, a second ‘New Years’ of sorts. I find that I start hibernating a little more, getting more contemplative, and setting goals for myself.
This year’s contemplations and goals are focused much more around my mental health and outlook than they have been in the past. Perhaps this is a normal part of maturing, or maybe it is a result of the current events we have been facing, but I find that I am much more focused on my ‘happiness’ now than I have been in previous years.
Of course, happiness has always been on my radar. Everyone wants to be ‘happy’. All you see on social media is people #livingtheirbestlife. But my focus lately has been finding and creating happiness in my life NOW, rather than promising myself I will be content when …
- I finally get in shape
- I start making more money
- My book is complete
- I get into my dream house
- etc., etc., etc.
Now there is nothing wrong with having goals. In fact, they are crucial. The problem is that so many of us rate our satisfaction in life with how close we are to reaching our goals.
I think we all ‘know’ that happiness isn’t something that you can buy but we still seem to get trapped in that loop that says ‘As soon as I get/have/accomplish …., then I will be happy.”. In the meantime, we shuffle along, feeling ‘semi-content’ with our lives but with our sights laser-focused on an end goal (the house, the partner, the body, the promotion). An end goal that never really seems to come, because if/when we achieve it, it isn’t enough. There is always another goalpost.
We view happiness as a destination, one which we will arrive at when we have achieved enough, accumulated enough. And while accomplishments and milestones do bring a wave of happiness, they tend to be short lived, with genuine happiness being found in the connection and the small moments of day-to-day life.
Now, I do believe that money and the feeling of mastery (feeling as though we are good at or doing well at something) can contribute to mental wellbeing. Afterall, if our basic needs aren’t met, it becomes a lot more difficult to pursue or perceive happiness in our lives. As per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see below), food and shelter trump everything. But I do think that beyond that, it is relative.
I think we can all think of someone who seemingly ‘has it all’ yet is as crusty as they come – always griping about what they lack or striving for the next best thing. Similarly, I think we can all think of someone who may not have a lot, yet seems to relish in the small moments of life.
The bottom line is, we create our own happiness. Nothing outside of ourselves, good or bad, has the ability to have a long term effect on our happiness, unless we let it.
“Happiness is an inside job.” – William Arthur Ward
So, what gives? How do we balance having goals and striving towards them while not letting them dictate how satisfied we are day-to-day? How do we find the ever-elusive happiness that we seek?
Well, I am no happiness expert. In fact, I’m not sure I am an anything expert. But this is something that I have been working on, on and off, for years now and I do have a few tricks that I find really helpful when it comes to finding happiness. ***Hint: You don’t find it. You create it your damn self.***
Here goes …
#1 – Stop numbing everything. I know, I know, I am about to get super lame here and tell you to lay off the ol’ wobbly pops. Trust me, no one was more resistant to this idea then me. J’adore le vin! Buuuut, one cannot guzzle copious amounts of a depressant every Friday night and then wonder why they aren’t feeling 100% in the mental health department, you know? Although touted as a tonne of fun and the answer to all things, alcohol is not good for us mentally or physically and giving myself a little break from it has been a game changer in terms of my outlook and general happiness. I am not saying we should never indulge in a drink with friends, but I am saying that we should be aware of how often we do it, and why. When I really examined when and why I was drinking, I found that the answers were ‘anytime’ and ‘for any reason’. I was using alcohol to cope, grieve, celebrate, soothe, entertain, excite … let’s be honest, I used it for anything. Taking a step back from booze has allowed me to actually feel and process my feelings. My mind is more clear, I have more energy, and my mood and sleep are better. I am not numbing anymore. Am I still going to enjoy drinks with friends? Of course! But I am going to be more mindful about it. Besides, no one looks back on their fabulous life and says, “You know, my only regret is that I didn’t drink more.“
#2 – Get Connected. For real. And not electronically. Connection is one of the most important factors when it comes to happiness. So much so that it ranks pretty highly on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Feeling supported, desired, loved, and cared for literally has the ability to support not only our mental health, but our physical health too. I’m not talking about being around a lot of people, or even conversing with them. A person can be in a room full of people and still be the loneliest person in the world. Connection is about vulnerability. It is about sharing all the little bits of yourself, even the shadowy parts, and feeling that someone still has your back. It is having someone to cry with or phone at 4am. Social media and electronics have been both a blessing and a curse in this department as they have made it easier to interact with people … but that doesn’t necessarily equal connection. Your funny meme or cute selfie might get a lot of ‘likes’ and make you feel good but it tends to be short lived and doesn’t fill your happiness cup in any sustainable way. So put down the phone and spend time with people who love you. Share the embarrassing childhood story. Talk about your worries and your fears. Laugh. It will light you up in a way that lasts way longer than how many followers you have on Insta. Promise.
#3 – Practice Gratitude. I remember when I was around 6 or 7 years old, I went through a stage where, every day, I would choose one thing that I was excited about. Every morning, I would sit my tiny butt down and consider what my ‘one thing’ would be for that day. I clearly remember looking down at my hand and seeing one of those chintzy little rings that you get from the dentist for being good and deciding that that was going to be my ‘one thing to be excited about’. Some days it was getting to go to a restaurant with my mom or staying up past my bedtime, and other days it was getting to have a playdate with a friend. It was always simple (after all, I was only 7), and it always made me feel good. At the time, I had no idea that I was actually practicing gratitude. I would reflect on my day and consciously focus on what I liked or what went well. I was, without knowing it, training my brain to seek out the positive and appreciate the little things.
Gratitude is still something I practice every day and in my opinion, one of the keys to creating happiness in our lives.
My advice – do it every night before bed and get specific. It becomes easy to rattle off “I am grateful for my house, food, air .…” and although it is important to be grateful for those things, the real magic is in the details. Take a few moments and really reflect upon your day. What happened that you are grateful for? Did someone let you into traffic? Did your co-worker buy you a coffee? Did your partner do the dishes? It doesn’t have to be grand. And I promise you that when you start listing things, more and more things will start popping to mind. I also do this whenever I am in a bad mood. I instantly start mentally creating a gratitude list and while it may start out feeling difficult, once I get going, it just flows. And my mood instantly lifts.
Also, pay attention to your perspective. Here is the deal, what comes out of our mouths can be an excellent indicator as to what is going on in our heads. If you find yourself bitching and complaining a lot, chances are your mind is not a very happy place. The good news is, you can change it. Just like gratitude, we can literally ‘practice’ looking at things through a positive lens, and eventually it will become a habit. We can train our brains for positivity. That is not to say we need to be ‘Positive Pollyanna’ all the time, it is okay to get ticked off from time to time. But if you notice that you are feeling ticked off more often than not, chances are the world isn’t crapping on you and … you are the problem. Whenever I notice myself bitching and complaining non-stop, I try to slow things down, give myself a breather, and consciously focus on changing my outlook.
The bottom line is, happiness is really quite simple and much more often than we realize, it is a choice. It isn’t a result of getting more money or finally getting the big promotion. It doesn’t come ‘when the kids get past this stage’ and it is not found at the bottom of a bottle. It is in the little moments that we often overlook. It is connection, appreciation, and sometimes, even chintzy little rings from the dentist.