Hello all! I received an overwhelming response to “My Happiness Journey”. So many people sent comments and messages to me with questions! I appreciate the feedback you’ve given me, and want you to know, I hear you!
Creating and maintaining happiness and joy in your life isn’t easy. I know that life is challenging and there are many obstacles. But life isn’t meant to be endured. It’s meant to be lived and enjoyed. So, allow me to answer some of the most common questions I was asked and give you some tactical advice.
Question 1: Happiness for Others
To summarize: Several of my readers told me that they work VERY hard at creating happiness for others and keeping them happy. However, they still feel empty and those in their lives don’t appreciate their hard work or reciprocate. Worse yet, no matter what they do it never seems to be enough!
You can’t control or create happiness for others. Stop trying!
So… You’re burning the candle at both ends, no wonder why you’re not happy! You’re overwhelmed and so busy taking care of everyone else that there’s no room for YOU or YOUR NEEDS in your own life! I know it sounds easier said than done but seriously… stop.
Here’s the truth… no one can make another person feel a certain way. You can’t make other’s happy and they can’t make you happy. We can’t control each other’s thoughts or feelings, we can only control our own.
I know what it is to work to take care of others and make their lives easier but that won’t make either of you happy. And to be honest, it could have catastrophic results. Growth and resilience come in times of struggle. So, let those around you work their own stuff out so they can develop the tools to create a better life. In the meantime, you work on you! Once you’ve found happiness and satisfaction in your own life you can set the example for those around you! There is no greater gift you can give to someone else than inspiration!
It sounds like it’s high time that you set some boundaries in your relationships. Start pulling back on how much you do for others. Think about whether you’re doing it out of obligation or because you actually want to. Clearly there are some things we are obligated to do, for example, feed your toddler. Then there are others we just do, washing the teenager’s clothes (they can do that themselves… and it’s good for them). Plus, there’s all of the emotional stuff we tend to carry for our loved ones. Worry for their future, running interference to make things easier for them, trying to anticipate their needs and meeting them. Yeah… most of that is just wasted time and energy.
You can’t know what’s in their head or heart and you aren’t responsible for that. From now on, before you jump into rescuer mode take a moment to think about yourself. Is this good for you? What are you hoping to get out of it? Just so we’re clear, hanging your happiness on being appreciated by someone else isn’t a good strategy. So, if the answer isn’t this would make me happy or feel accomplished, even if no one even noticed I’d still feel good about it, rethink your action. Consider spending that time and energy on things that actually will make you feel good instead! It’s ok for your loved ones to be expected to ask for what they need and it’s ok to say “no”!
If your relationships seem to be very one sided and your loved ones take a lot more than they give on a consistent basis it might be time to move on. We all go through times when we need a little more. No relationship is 50 / 50. There is never an equal amount being contributed by both people. That’s ok, but it should go back and forth. Maybe today your husband had a stressful day and is more distant or needy… man, that could even go on for a few months. But ask yourself this, when you’re having a hard time is he there for you to lean on? And of course, I mean if you allow it. If you actually go to him. If you haven’t… well, try it sometime and see what happens. There should be give and take. Now that doesn’t mean you start tracking this for that. It just means that in general you feel that you get what you give. If not… give less. If you need more ask for it. It neither of those is working consider moving on. It is possible that you aren’t in a relationship that can be salvaged.
Question 2: Life SUCKS
To summarize: Some of my readers are feeling overwhelmed with the nonstop crap cards they’ve been dealt! Just when things start to look up something else comes along that drags them back down. It just feels like they’re always struggling and never able to get ahead.
Yes, yes, it does! There will always be struggles, that’s just how it goes.
I could say all the cliché things here about how we grow through struggle and need to learn to dance in the rain… yada, yada, yada. The truth is that for some of us the struggles are huge and painful, and the blows just keep on coming! It seems like every time you start to get your head above water something else drags you down. I get it! Believe me I do!
From what I know everyone feels this way and I do mean EVERYONE! Discovering this kind of shocked me. There are people I know who feel this way despite living what I perceive as a charmed life. You know, the one I always imagine as ideal! I used to think, man, if I had that life I would be so happy! It’s so easy for them! And, let me tell you, this isn’t because I don’t know what’s happening in their lives… that whole you don’t know someone else’s struggles thing. It’s because when they talk about their HUGE insurmountable challenges and struggles, they’re the things I dream of being my worst problems!
The thing is, they have no idea… this is the worst thing they’ve ever faced! So, hang on… that means someone out there probably wishes that my worst nightmare ordeal was their worst thing?!?! That’s right! Someone longs for the problems you have. Someone out there would trade their situation for yours in a heartbeat! Does that mean you have no right to be upset, hurt, angry, etc… NO! What it does mean is that perspective is everything. Having perspective can help you to control what you can, your own thoughts, feelings and actions.
Control What You Can
There are only 3 things in life that you can control… your own thoughts, feelings and actions. You can’t control other people’s behavior or opinions or the circumstances that come your way in life any more than you can control the weather. And we all know how to accept and cope with unexpected weather, we make the best of it. That’s basically what you have to do with the nasty bits life throws your way too!
So, when something tough is going on in your life try this…
- Write down the facts and only the facts. This doesn’t include your interpretation or fears about what might come.
- Re-read what you’ve written. Is there anything about the situation that you can address by changing your thoughts, feelings or actions?
- If so, make the adjustment.
- If not, take a moment to consider what you think about this situation and whether that’s accurate.
- Now, challenge any overwhelmingly negative thoughts. No, it won’t always be this way. No, it’s not the end of the world.
- Remind yourself that you’ve been through difficult things in the past and come to the other side and you will again.
- Figure out how you can make this work for you. Could you learn something? Could you grow? Think about challenging situations in the past that have turned out to be for the best.
- Focus on getting something good out of this situation and remind yourself that it’s temporary.
Your feelings come from your thoughts so addressing the way you think about a situation can change the way you feel too. Understanding that nothing is permanent can keep you from despair and suffering. Sorrow, anger, guilt and other perceived negative emotions have a place in our lives. It’s safe and ok to experience them. That doesn’t mean you have to live there.
When times turn, enjoy the peace, joy, and happiness while they last! Know that these aren’t permanent either, but the hope of their return will carry you through many difficulties.
Don’t Fear Happiness
I see this happen all the time. It was a running theme in my childhood. Often people are afraid of happiness because they worry when the other shoe will drop. Remember you’ve been through difficult things before and you’ll get through them again if and when they come. Don’t spend your peaceful happy times worrying about what might come. You can only do the best you can with what you know. You can’t predict the future or change it. Abstaining from happiness won’t prevent difficulty from coming your way and it won’t make it easier to deal with. It’ll sap you of your energy and make your life feel empty. So, enjoy it while you have it!
Question 3: I’m just unhappy
To summarize: A few of your wrote in to tell me that you’re just unhappy no matter what and you don’t know why.
If you have a lingering feeling of unhappiness regardless of what’s going on in your life there are 3 probable reasons why. You feel like a victim. You have unprocessed emotional stuff. Or there may be a chemical imbalance at play.
You feel like a victim
This tends to happen when the circumstances of life have just continued to build up and you no longer see a way out. Here’s the truth (and you probably won’t like it). You are in charge of feeling like a victim. It’s easy to get stuck in the woe is me loop. This is especially true if you fear happiness or have been dealt a series of difficulties (particularly since childhood).
Feeling like a victim is so insidious because it gets in the way of you taking charge and improving your situation. It implies a level of helplessness. Unfortunately, since no one else can create happiness or meaning in your life if you continue to dwell in victimhood, you’ll never have it.
Start small and take charge of something little in your life. Consider taking on a personal challenge. Accomplishing something… anything will bolster your confidence and make it easier to take on the real life struggles you’ve been facing.
Unprocessed emotional stuff
Are you an emotional hoarder? If you’ve been ignoring your feelings or trying to avoid conflict and you feel like there’s a buildup of toxic negative emotion or you feel apathetic and checked out, you might be an emotional hoarder. Hello friend! I’ve been there! Emotional hoarding is especially common for people who grew up in dysfunctional families and weren’t allowed to express their feelings. This prevents you from creating a healthy emotional vocabulary. It makes you afraid of your feelings. As if they are monsters who will swallow you whole if you acknowledge them.
Unfortunately, feelings you ignore don’t just go away on their own. They build up, begin to rot and become toxic! They start to poison your thoughts, current feelings and actions. Before you know it, you’re in a permanent funk!
Creating and maintaining happiness isn’t about denying uncomfortable feelings. It’s completely reliant upon observing and experiencing the feelings we have and then coming through to happiness. So, if you don’t want your challenging feelings overpowering your joy, you’ll need to deal with them!
Mental illness is real! If you’re struggling to find happiness, joy or peace in your life. If you feel dread, sorrow or apathy. You may be struggling with a chemical imbalance. Don’t ignore it and hope it will go away! Seek professional help! And, by professional help I mean a doctor and therapist! You won’t have the same long-term benefits from medication alone and you likely need meds to engage in therapy in a productive way.
Going on medication is scary for a lot of people. Some feel like it’s a cop out and others fear they will be med dependent for their entire lives. Neither is true. My therapist gave me this analogy so I’m passing it along to you in hopes that it’ll help you come to terms with meds.
Imagine that you’re in a large body of water and you need to get to shore. The waves are tossing you too and from and you can barely even keep your head above water. Wouldn’t a life jacket or at least a pool noodle be helpful? Then you could successfully keep your head above water and swim to shore. Now imagine that meds are that pool noodle. They will help you keep your head above water so you can swim. Keep in mind that you still need to kick those feet, or you won’t get anywhere. That’s what therapy is for.
Question 4: How do you do it?
The overall question I received the most was about how in the world I have overcome so much and created happiness in my own life and what do I do to maintain it.
Here is a tactical list of things I do and have done to create and maintain happiness (in no particular order)…
Getting professional help can be very beneficial in cleaning out emotional baggage and reframing your perspective regarding current challenges. Just having someone you can share your feelings and experiences with without fear of repercussions can be incredibly beneficial!
Keeping a journal where I can vent my feelings when I’m struggling is very helpful. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not filled with sorrow and negativity. I use it for writing the circumstances I’m facing, documenting my victories and happiness and tracking personal challenges.
Writing 5 things I’m grateful for everyday has brought awareness to the many blessings in my life. Even when I’m struggling or going through something really difficult, I look for things to be grateful for. It helps me keep perspective and remain hopeful.
Joy Jar / List:
I like to keep track of things that bring me joy or make me feel good. So, when I come across something, I write it down. You can put it on a slip of paper and toss it in a jar or keep a running list. When I’m in a funk or going through a particularly tough time it can help to pull a slip from the jar or do something on the list.
Find a hobby or 2 that you enjoy and that makes you feel accomplished. I play golf and crochet and I also love to read. Sometimes when I’m going through a challenging situation that I can’t do anything about I find that my mind starts spinning. Having an activity to put my energy into really helps.
Additional Relief Activities:
So… maybe not something you’d consider a hobby but activities that might give you a release. I find that it’s best if these activities involve movement. I like to clean or get in a good workout. Running is a great way to clear the mind too.
Fill yourself up with positivity and build your self-esteem. This very simple activity will make you more resilient and help you create and maintain happiness. If might feel silly at first but stick with it! Validating and encouraging yourself daily will improve so many areas of your life it’s almost unbelievable!
Volunteer & Ask for Help:
Helping other’s whose challenges are greater than your own can also help you maintain perspective. This will help you build confidence and self-esteem. Likewise allowing other’s to help you through a difficult time is a gift to both of you. So, ask for help and receive it graciously. It’s ok even if you don’t know what you need to reach out for support.
Write a Love Letter to Yourself:
Take the time to write a love letter (or several to yourself). Remind yourself of how strong you are, how far you’ve come and of your overall amazingness. Keep your letters somewhere safe and re-read them when you’re going through a tough time!
I mean, practice self-care like it’s your JOB! It’s easier to check in with yourself, take care of yourself, get through the tough stuff and create and maintain happiness if you’re practicing self-care! Make self-care part of your everyday life! For my self-care I exercise at least 30 minutes a day, play a game with my hubby at least once a week, and give myself a mani-pedi or take a bath once a week among other things!
Happiness is Attainable
There aren’t enough words to express my deep gratitude to all of you for your kind words, encouragement and questions. When I’m going through a particularly difficult period in my life, I try to imagine what good can come of it. Inspiring others with my story is always at the top of my list. And when I feel like I’m lost I remember that if I can find my way through, I can guide others as well. This has kept me moving forward more times than I can tell you.
You may not have a blog or a big audience to set an example for, but you have your family, your friends and your community. While you can’t make them happy you can be an example to them. You can shine a light of hope into their hearts and minds. And I hope you will!
This is a “those who care, share” post! Please share this with your community and help them find some practical tips to create and maintain happiness in their lives!