You probably opened this blog for a reason: you are tired of feeling sad, angry, anxious, hurt, hopeless and helpless, and you want to feel happy in your life. You are probably asking yourself “why me?” “why does everyone have it all, but not me?” “why can’t I be happy?” You may feel victimized by questions that don’t seem to have the answers. As a result, you may feel your life is narrowing in around you, you may feel darkness surrounding you, and you may want to just find a way out. Happiness is not something you inherit or just find. Happiness is something that you need to build up. Building happiness is a process that requires time, patience, effort, hope, and commitment. If you fail once in building happiness, don’t give up but rather try it again and again. Remember that life is not easy. There is the good, and there is the bad. Just believe that there are better days ahead of you.
So, what is happiness then? According to this article, research suggests that happiness is related to life satisfaction, appreciation of life, moments of pleasure, and the experience of positive emotions. But, how could we experience these factors to build our happiness? The answer is: what we think (thoughts/cognitions) and what we do (behaviors) influence our feelings.
Now that you have learned that our thoughts and behaviors affect how we feel, lets learn how to make changes in our thoughts and behaviors to build our happiness.
Changes in Cognition:
- Positive affirmations: Positive affirmations encourage us to believe in ourselves. These types of statements empower us and motivates us to self-change. You need to begin your statements with “I” or “I am”. For example, “I can do it”. You could write down a list of positive affirmation statements in your diary, on a piece of paper, or on your smart phone apps. Read or/and repeat them daily to yourself.
- Be aware of your self-defeating thoughts. “If I’m not successful, then I’m a failure”. Stop and challenge them. What are the evidences that support and don’t support your thoughts? Remember thoughts are just ideas, they are not facts or necessary true. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, but they can still affect our mood. These are called automatic thoughts. Remember positive thoughts lead us to feel good and negative thoughts can put us down.
- Be aware of and challenge your perspectives about yourself, people and the world. We all give different meanings to situations and see things from our point of view. Therefore, broaden your perspective and see the bigger picture. Ask yourself: “is there another way of looking at this?”
- Acceptance. Be comfortable with who you are. “it is as it is”. We tend to fight against distressing thoughts and feelings as if our mind is in a war zone. Learn to just notice them and don’t fight the war. Some situations we just cannot change. We can surf the waves rather try to stop them.
- Be appreciative and mindful. Notice what you have rather than what you don’t have. Live in the present rather the past or future.
- Do things for others. This will help you connect with others. Helping and giving to others make us feel valued, appreciated, needed, and happier. We could give our time, attention, and ideas, not necessary money and gifts. You may want to volunteer somewhere.
- Connecting with others. Strong social relationships lead to happier and healthier life, give us meaning, and sense of belonging, improve our self-esteem, and make us feel loved, and valued.
- Do what you enjoy doing. You could engage in exercise if you enjoy it as being active makes us happier and healthier as our body and mind are connected.
- Learn new things or skills. Increase your interest and confidence as this will give you a sense of achievement and success. Find a job, meet new people, try out something new.
- Have goals to look forward to and never stop dreaming and believing in yourself and abilities. Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness. Goals motivate us to move forward in life. Make your goals achievable.
- Find meaning and purpose in your life.
- Find ways to bounce back in difficult time.
Maram Hekhuis, LMSW
Outpatient Therapist at Heart of the City Counseling Center