The reflexive answer, simply put, is that life gets in the way. Illness, loss, family, jobs, stress, hormones -get in the way. But that’s not the real reason I don’t feel and think this way all the time. Sure, the aforementioned can muddy the waters of true, deep happiness – but more often than not it isn’t life that gets in the way, it’s me.
Bottom line: I could feel and think this way more often if I could just learn to leave myself alone. Instead, within a month of settling into a positive, healthy state of mind, my tireless need for self-improvement usually sneaks up on me and reminds me not to rest on my laurels. An enticing career or personal challenge proves a little too attractive and in the blink of an eye, the perfectionist in me is empowered by success or fueled by the threat of failure. “Just be” is replaced with “just do” and potentially unhealthy expectations. Before I know it, I’m pushing myself harder than I should without conscious awareness. The kicker? I inevitably start to do the same to those around me.
I watch many of the women I know do a regrettably effective job of encumbering clarity and content with similar cyclical behavior all the time. Think about it. You know how good you feel when you take care of yourself; break free from habits that weigh your physical and mental health down. Yet you might meditate every day for 3 weeks before you’re back to reading your email with one sleepy eye as soon as the alarm goes off. Maybe you made it 2 months in a wellness routine full of weekly workouts and healthy home cooked meals before you went back to takeout 3 times a week and frequenting your favorite restaurants in lieu of the gym. It’s beyond discouraging to feel doomed to repeat your mistakes at the expense of your own happiness.
So what to do? How do you stop getting in the way of your own happiness? If I knew the end-all be-all answer, I would be meditating on a beach somewhere naked instead of writing this, but I can tell you a few things that have helped me tremendously over the past few years.
- Remind yourself that you deserve to be happy. Every day. A sense of self-worth is a HUGE brick in the foundation of happiness. It doesn’t matter if you have to put it on a post-it note on the fridge or tattoo it on the back of your hand – just find a way to reinforce that you deserve to be happy as often as possible.
- Take a few minutes each day to think through things that you're thankful for. Consider keeping a little gratitude journal and jot down just 1 or 2 things each day that make you smile. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way when life gets overwhelming - no matter how bad things get, there's always something to be happy about.
- Identify at least one activity - that is yours and yours alone - that makes you feel peaceful and content. Find time to do it once a week.
- If you’ve identified things that stand in the way of feeling positive about your life, share them with someone. Sometimes saying something aloud is enough to loosen its grip on you. Example: “When I’m at home all day with the kids by myself, I feel really lonely and sometimes sad.” (Stay away from the blame game; try to objectively identify things that encumber your life experience without pointing fingers.)
- If you want to take things a step further, engage someone you trust in helping you be accountable for working against yourself. Maybe even ask your partner to help identify proactive measures. Example: I told B that I know I take healthy eating to extremes sometimes and stress myself out about avoiding allergens 100% of the time. I asked him to help me create awareness around that tendency and to keep an eye out for obsessive behavior. I don’t always want to hear it when he catches me stressing and voices concern, but there’s nothing more effective than seeing yourself through a loved one’s eyes.
- Practice self compassion. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall off track. Punishing yourself for lack of discipline, focus or awareness is a terrible waste of time that will only perpetuate unhealthy cycles. Instead take the time to think through why you got black out drunk when you only meant to have one cocktail. Challenge yourself to learn from your moments of weakness.
- Ask yourself as often as you can, if what you’re doing makes you happy. Life is too short to waste time with things that lack short or long term gratification. Of course it’s unrealistic to assume that every moment of ever day will be spent frolicking through meadows and playing with puppies. But it is certainly ok to demand some form of fulfillment, joy or satisfaction from our jobs, relationships, personal time and every moment in between. You do deserve to be happy after all.