Why are you happy all the time? I get that question a lot. “You’re always smiling,” people tell me. Well, one silly reason is my mouth naturally curves to a smile, causing me to have resting dumb grin face. While this is often a nice quirk to have in social settings, it does give me quite the challenge of trying to look firm in a disagreement or sympathetic in heavy moments. Never will I forget a girl pouring out her story of her terminally ill grandfather only to abruptly snap, “Why are you smiling?” #Awkward
I’ve learned to be mindful of my default smile as well as developing my true smile. The reality is, I’m not happy all the time. But, I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and I thought I’d share how I got here.
You may not want to hear this, but one of the biggest factors in finding your happiness is time. You can shorten the amount of time by cutting out unhealthy things from your life that you’ve allowed in, but other things are out of your control. There will be times when, to no fault of your own, your life gets shaken. When all you want is for your involuntary hardship to be over, you have to accept the wait. But, as you’re exposed to pain again and again, realize you’re surviving it. Something in you is making you capable of continuing to go on. Discover what that is, and devote your energy to deriving more strength from it. Oftentimes it’s the things you’re thankful for: your faith, your family, your health, and your accomplishments that keep you pressing on.
However, before you can count your blessings, you have to count your grievances. (I know. Not normal advice, right?) Acknowledge the things you don’t like in your life. Have a huge pity party that things aren’t fair. Seriously, it’s okay to let it out in full-on toddler meltdown fashion. Then, pull yourself together and set some goals. Empower yourself with timelines and aspirations. This won’t spontaneously fix everything, but it will give you hope. It will give you a reference of better things to come that you can hold onto during your next cry fest. Keep a journal to vent things out and compliment your awesomeness for continuing to trudge forward. You may not be where you want to be, but you’re not where you were before. Experience the moments with the things you’re thankful for to the fullest capacity you’re capable of. Be actively engaged in investing in those things even if you don’t feel like you have a lot to offer. It could be as simple as helping out a coworker with a task, serving for a few hours at a church outreach, working out for a half hour or calling a relative that lives far away.
Another factor in finding happiness is interpreting bad moments as lessons to learn from instead of failures. Tough life experiences are not pass/fail. Don’t polarize your evaluation of how you handled something. You can’t completely fail at something just as much as you can’t completely succeed at it. You could always have done better, but you could always have done worse too. When you sit around judging yourself for all the ways you could’ve handled something differently, change your verbiage from “This is why I bombed,” to “This is what I learned.” You may have to force yourself to switch to positive thinking multiple times as you process what happened, so make sure to have a solid friend or your trusty journal to keep you in check. Obviously you don’t want to feel that way again, so what can you do about it? How can you prevent it from happening again? What was it about that situation that made you feel so miserable? Who is someone that could teach you more about what to do in those situations?
A third thing I’ve found in finding happiness is working hard. When you feel down, you slow down. But when you speed up, your mood goes up. Yes, you don’t want to work yourself sick, but you do need to keep up a heathy pace that challenges you. Now, when you’re burnt out, the last thing you want to do is work hard. So, cut out the things that you don’t have to be involved in, and focus on a few things to work hard at. Whether you’re a student, a stay-at-home parent, employed, job searching or retired, you have something to offer to the place and people around you. What’s something you’re capable of doing if you really tried? What if you did things just one level better than you did before? When you have dignity in your work, you have dignity in yourself. You can give yourself value when you do valuable things.
The fourth thing I learned was letting people in again and again. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people aren’t perfect. They will let you down. But, they can lift you up too. Sometimes you have to go to the night out with friends even when you’ve had a long day, spend money you don’t want to spend, smile and nod when you’re distracted by other things and try to say a few words that apply to the conversation even though you wish the discussion would end. Do it. Sometimes you have to let your guard down and say the words you’ve been holding back, let someone new see your frustration, listen to unhelpful advice, and hug someone even when you’re not a hugger. Do it.
People want to live life with you, but they want to live all aspects with you. You have to laugh together, cry together, overcome together and grow together. You can’t let them only see your smile or only see your tears. For a meaningful relationship, they need the whole package and you are the whole package. Let them see you and make yourself see them. Don’t let their flaws blind you from a meaningful relationship even though you’re fragile when it comes to relationships. No one is exactly like you, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t relate to you. Don’t be so sensitive that they aren’t your clone. As you learn more about each other, your relationship will get better with time.
And finally, the fifth thing I’ve learned is that there is no life timeline with checkmarks that you have to abide by to live a full life. Forget needing to be married in your twenties to your high school heart making $50,000/year with your 2.5 kids spaced exactly two years apart. I know you know not to compare your life to the lives others, but seriously, please try to stop. You’ll only pity your own misfortune or delight in the misfortune of others. Neither of those are healthy. Your only driving force of comparison for change should be the you that you could be. Who’s a realistic future you that you could be? Who’s the future you that you’re worried you can only hope to become? Whether you envision a future you that’s wildly intimidating or sobering in its long-been possibility, go for it. No matter how far you progress, recognize and celebrate your progression along the way.
In short, hang in there. Happiness awaits you! Don’t be so hard on yourself, but don’t sell yourself short either. Let people join you on your journey and don’t get caught up in timelines and social norms. It make take some time, but you’re going to make it. 🙂