How I Got Happy – Ten Steps That May Work For You
The first was Matthieu Richard’s book Happiness. Richard was a student of cellular genetics, a brilliant guy who had had the perfect childhood of education and privilege with exposure to the highest level of sophistication and intellectual stimulation. Even though he had it all, he left Paris thirty-five years ago to study Buddhism in the Himalayas. His book was full of inspirational ideas and concepts, but I felt he was a little harsh on depressed people. If you have never been unhappy then how can you teach happiness?
Still, I was sure that Buddhist psychology held the key to happiness and I wanted to learn how to mediate. At that point I had been meditating for a year, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I just sat there and tried to keep my mind from going insane while I breathed. I read Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunarantna a Sri Lankan who was ordained as a monk at age twelve and teaches mindful meditation in very simple language. He writes the way Americans think. “There are times when you don’t feel like meditating. The very idea seems obnoxious. Missing a single practice session hardly seems important, but it very easily becomes a habit. It is wiser to push on through resistance.”
Ah ha! Resistance! I then read Stephen Pressfield’s provocative book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, which is all about doing battle with resistance. Isn’t achieving your highest level of creativity the essence of happiness?
Feeling somewhat pessimistic about my creative endeavors, I read Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, who is the “father” of the positive psychology movement. Last by not least I struggled through part of the irritating The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and the even more annoying Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn’t resonate with the story of a perfectly healthy young woman almost half my age with no serious life problems who dumps her husband and gets a six-figure advance from a major publisher to travel the world.
These are just a sampling of the books I read looking for happiness. All the books required doing, being, making it happen. Was persistent accomplishment and productivity really the key to happiness? Didn’t all the doing reinforce the fact that I felt that I was missing out, had missed out, might miss out in the future? What about just being happy with myself? That really seemed impossible.
I sought out a Buddhist teacher, Chris Germer. I actually came to my first session with Chris brandishing the stack of books I’d read on happiness, Buddhism, and meditation and went through my complaints about every single book. Then I filled him in on my life to date. During my fifth session I said, “I’m going to stop talking now. I just wanted you to have an understanding of who I am so that you could tell me how Buddhism and meditation can help emotional healing.”
Chris led me in my first metta practice. When I opened my eyes thirty minutes later, it was as if I had crossed over through a thin, thin veil of understanding. I experienced Samadhi, a state of crystal clear awareness and bliss. It wasn’t that I had spent forty-nine days under a tree fasting and meditating. It simply came over me as a gift. I remained in a waning state of Samadhi for an entire week. When I saw Chris again, he informed me that what I experienced was “beginner’s mind,” and not to expect it to happen again any time soon.
Of course it didn’t last and I experienced unhappiness again. But my gift of Samadhi allows me access to the happiness that lies just beyond the thin, thin veil. I can plug into it, however fleetingly, by concentrating on that first experience.
Since that time I have thought a lot about happiness and unhappiness, because I believe that the journey through unhappiness to happiness is different for everyone. It’s also not reasonable to assume that everyone can be happy. There are some people living in such abjectly miserable circumstances that to toss vanilla suggestions such as “be positive” is tantamount to lobbing live hand grenades at them. I wish everyone could be happy. But sometimes you just have to reside in hell for a while. My suggestions for happiness are just what worked for me in my circumstances. Others may have different circumstances. Just like I thought that Matthieu Richard was out of his league discussing depression, I’m out of my league discussing the emotional repercussions of the death of a child, terminal illness, being disabled in a car accident or war, bankruptcy, losing life possessions in a fire or other disaster, or other major life altering circumstances. My purpose here is to discuss how I got happy, and if some of it works for you, beautiful. If your circumstances are so dire that happiness is outside of your reach right now, that’s okay too. Relax and give yourself self-compassion. No one is judging you here.
What I Learned About Finding Happiness
- If you’re going through hell, cut yourself some slack
- Admit why you’re unhappy and list options to make changes
- Happiness is a decision
- ccept yourself and other things in your life that you can’t change
- Roll with set backs
- Love yourself all the time, not just when you “do good”
- Lose anyone negative in your life
- Venture out of your comfort zone
- Have fun
- Smile and laugh more
If You’re Going Through Hell, Cut Yourself Some Slack
Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep optimal health program.
If you are in hell right now, chances are there are many silver linings to your experience. Focus on what is happening that is furthering your life—even if you can’t fully appreciate what they are right now, just acknowledge them. And keep going.
Admit Why You’re Unhappy and List Options To Make Changes
If you’re unhappy, one of the fundamental actions towards happiness is to not only admit why you’re unhappy but openly admit why you are unhappy and even more painful, what you have to do to change it. Let me give you some hypothetical examples.
- You agreed to have a parent or child move back home and now you realize it’s a mistake
- You are in an unhappy marriage
- You hate your career
- You are unhappy living where you live and want to move
- You’re deeply in dept and can’t stop spending
- You’re an addict
Go into the bathroom right now and say out loud to yourself in the mirror, “I don’t want Mom living with us anymore.” Okay, now you said it. The earth didn’t open up and swallow you. What steps can you take to change the situation? Funny how these things seem to work out for everyone in the long run. Maybe Mom would be much happier in a board-and-care with people her age who like to play cards and talk about soaps? Just a thought!
Whatever your reason for being unhappy, it’s up to you to figure out ways to change those circumstances. For me, the most important factor was that I live life on my terms. I had to make drastic changes to live my life on my terms. When I made those changes, I began to feel happy.
Happiness is a Decision
When I started coming out of my cave right around the Samadhi time, I realized that happiness was a decision. Like I said, for most of us (unless your life is utterly out of your control), happiness lies just beyond a thin veil and you can cross over. It’s so easy to fall into complaining, whining, be unsatisfied (especially with yourself). But you can do a lot with your mind. Your mind does not have a social security number, pin, or mother’s maiden name that allows others to access it, it is all yours. What happens inside your mind is your decision. You can whine, bitch, and moan, or you can be grateful, rejoice and accept.
Accept Yourself and Other Things in Your Life That You Can’t Change
There are many unchangeable factors in life. Change what you can. Accept what is not changeable. Everyone has things in their lives that can cause anxiety and unhappiness. I’m sixty years old. How do you think that makes me feel? But I know that there’s nothing I can do to stop the passage of time. So I’m going to do everything I can to accept and make the best of my life at this age and as the years go by.
Roll With Set-Backs
I recently injured my shoulder. This is a big deal to me because I had bilateral rotator cuff surgeries two years ago and it’s taken me all this time to get my yoga practice back. Yoga is a huge part of my life and my main form of exercise. In the past, this injury would have launched me into a funk. But I decided, given the many reasons I have to be thrilled with my life, that I wouldn’t let this small setback dampen my happiness.
It’s not always going to be bliss. When you have a lonely or dejected day, the best course of action is to understand that it’s temporary. I just bought a bike so I’m planning on riding more until my shoulder heals. There are always things you can do to compensate for whatever is lacking in your life.
Love Yourself All The Time, Not Just When You “Do Good”
We all know the Bible admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself,” but are you really loving yourself and treating yourself kindly? Most people beat themselves up constantly. Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to run a marathon to validate your worth. Everyone has times where they are either financially strapped, or can’t work out, sick, or rundown. Life doesn’t have to be a full on head rush rush rush all the time. Stop beating yourself up and be grateful. Write down few things that you’re grateful for everyday. This exercise has actually been shown to be effective against depression.
The other way to love yourself is through metta lovingkindness meditation, which actually changes your brain, making happiness more accessible. youof anger, tension, uptightness, anxiety, self-hating, and suffering so that you can experience love, peace, and happiness in a natural flow from your calmed down mind.
My life has taken off since I started metta meditation. The reason my life is so altered is because my brain is different now. I feel it in my emotions (much more controlled and even), my reactions (I don’t knee-jerk react, and I don’t make a catastrophe out of every little thing), and in my happiness level (I feel good the majority of the time). Most important my level of compassion and understanding of others has gone way up. I teach meditation in my book Healthy, Sexy, Happy.
Lose Anyone Negative In Your Life
Last summer I posted “Dreams Do Come True If You Make them,” http://www.alwaysnewyou.com/nancy-deville/dreams-do-come-true.html, in which I talked about surrounding yourself with believers. In short, if people around you don’t believe in you, weed them out of your life. In Healthy, Sexy, Happy, I talk about toxic people, “Like chemical toxins, people toxins can get under your skin and smolder. You can suffer the same adverse health effects from toxic relationships including chronic fatigue, insomnia, and many other ailments. Toxic people aren’t just those who are negative, angry, or difficult, but they can be cunningly manipulative, playing mind games and head-trips on you that cause your insides to turn and your emotions to seesaw. Because toxic people may not show that poisonous side to anyone but you they can cause an extra internal battle of the continual “Is it me?” Toxic people can be complaining, blaming, emotional garbage dumpers, word vomiters, life-force suckers, narcissists, teasers, humiliaters, minimizers, trivilizers (of your problems), gossipers, or any other type of user, abuser, or loser. As much as we want to love everyone and respect everyone, love and respect are due ourselves first. If associating with someone makes you feel toxic, you don’t need validation, you just need to cut off the relationship nicely and move on.”
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
I wanted to be single for a very long time. But everyone told me that it was an ugly place out there for a sixty-year old woman. It was really difficult for me to actually cross the line to being single. Nine months into being single, I’m having more fun and experiencing more joy than ever in my life. How did it happen? I ventured out of my comfort zone. Taking daredevil/stupid risks isn’t advisable. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to making changes that might not feel that comfortable at the time. These types of risks almost always pay off.
We don’t spend enough time focused on happiness. We spend more time focused on paying bills then we do on being happy. I have a big hole in the ceiling over my bed from a leak I had last winter. The hole that was cut to air out the sodden wood beams is now covered with tin foil held in place with strips of electrician’s tape. Some day I may get around to having it repaired. But right now I want to spend the time and money that it would take on other pursuits–fun things that will make me happy. If the world ended tomorrow I would rather be out riding the bike that I just bought with money I could have used to fix that hole. But riding my bike makes me happy.
Smile and Laugh More
I have never smiled and laughed more in my life than I do now. I’m smiling and laughing all the time. I’m happy. One reason I’m happy is because I smile and laugh. People fall in love with those who smile. It can actually change your mood. Smiling and laughing also produce happy brain chemicals. There is no downside to smiling. Smiling more completely changes your life. Try it for one day and you’ll see what I mean.
Peace, Fun, Love.
Your girlfriend in health,