This post is about ways to improve your attitude and be happy. It is not meant to suggest that people who are clinically depressed can overcome their depression simply by changing their thoughts. Depression is a serious illness and if you are clinically depressed, please seek help.
When I was younger, I was terribly unhappy. There were times when I might actually have been considered mildly depressed, but back in the 60’s and 70’s, a depressed child was told to just get over it. For a very long time, I was not happy with my life, my looks, my family, my job, or really any aspect of my life. Everyone else seemed to have it better than me and it didn’t seem fair that I was singled out for a life of misery. There were periods when I was happy but they were not enduring.
Everyone wants to be happy. That lightness in our step, the increased energy. The belief that we can accomplish anything Happy people are less quick to find fault with others and more quick to forgive. Good vibes from happiness can be passed on to others, as long as they are open to being happy. It’s a Win-Win for everyone involved.
Like love, however, we tend to look for happiness in all the wrong places.
In his book, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama explains that most people, at least in Western cultures, associate being happy with things outside themselves, such as wealth, relationships, power, and possessions. But that type of happiness is uncontrollable and should not be relied on as the true source of our happiness. The economy plummets and we lose a job. Our husband or wife tires of us and we get a divorce. Our pets die. Possessions can be stolen or destroyed. When our happiness depends on something outside of ourself, we set ourself up for a bumpy ride.
When I was young, my lack of happiness had everything to do with how I perceived my life compared to others. I dwelled on my problems and kept the wounds open and hurting. Now I find that my problems don’t bother me as much if I don’t dwell on them. It doesn’t mean I am happy-go-lucky all the time, or that I live in obliviousness. I’ve learned to recognize unhappy situations in life as temporary. Good times and bad times ebb and flow, like ocean waves hitting the shore and then receding. Where once I felt that whatever made me unhappy was likely to last forever, I no longer see life as a series of worst-case scenarios. I have been there and I don’t like it.
True happiness is a state of mind. It is not contingent on what is going on around us. But to get past that I-am-unhappy-because-my-job-sucks attitude we have to prepare our minds for a state of happiness. We can do that by eliminating negative thoughts, like anger, jealousy, hatred and replace them with positive thoughts, like love, compassion, forgiveness. This does not happen overnight. It takes constant practice and awareness of how you feel. There are certain practices anyone can do that will help maintain that sense of contentment with life that is called happiness, even when disaster strikes.:
Stop comparing yourself with other people who have it better than you do. There is always someone smarter, wealthier, better looking, more popular or has a better job than you do. Envying what others have is a main source of unhappiness. If you find yourself unhappy because of what other people have, remember that down inside, they may not be happy at all. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.
On the other hand, compare yourself to those less fortunate. If you really want to appreciate your life, compare yourself to someone who is jobless, homeless, dying, friendless, Count your blessings and be grateful for what you do have.
Practice Compassion. One of the biggest sources of unhappiness is bad relationships. Stephen Covey said “Seek first to Understand”. First and foremost, remember everyone wants to be happy. We are all alike in that respect. Sometimes that is enough to help us see people through different eyes.
Understand that everyone suffers; it’s not personal. When I was young, I honestly thought all my suffering was personal and I could not understand “why me”. But as I grew older, and wiser, I realized that bad things happen to everyone and everyone suffers to some extent. But like being unhappy, the level of our suffering depends on our mental state. Feeling like you are the only one in the world who has something bad happen makes the pain much worse. But when we realize that there are people like us who are going through the same type of suffering, it somehow makes it a little more bearable.
Developing a positive attitude, and ultimately happiness, is formed through habits. Some recommended ways for developing a happy attitude are:
Keep a journal or write about what is going on in life. Studies have shown that people who write are generally happier than those who don’t. When things are written down, they become real, and they can be dealt with.
Take time for yourself. The biggest part of our day is spent doing something for other people. Our jobs, families, children, charitable work is all admirable, but we need some time to take care of ourselves and do the things that we enjoy. Give yourself a little time each week and you may find your mental attitude improving
Quiet your environment. Remember the Grinch Who Stole Christmas? One of the things that made him unhappy was “all the noise, noise, noise”. Granted the Grinch’s misery was much more deeply rooted, but there is something about quiet that tends to force us to deal with the things in life that make us unhappy. If we can learn to quiet our thoughts, our attitude becomes calmer. But first you have to deal with the thoughts (which takes us back to journaling or writing)
The time to develop a good attitude is not when you are at life’s low point, although many people do have to hit bottom before they can start the climb back up. An easier solution is to practice a positive attitude daily while things are good. Attitude is a habit. People with bad attitudes were not born that way. They simply let the bad things in life consume them until they are unhappy all the time. With practice, however, the black cloud may get just a little whiter.