Most people feel happy only when their material desires are satisfied. I have found, though, that happiness is a sensation that has little to do with external forces, such as what we possess and what we earn.
Instead, it is an emotional state that we can turn on and off at will. By embracing the talents and opportunities we're given instead of clinging to the pain we've suffered in the past, we can create internal joy at any time.
Steps to take that will help you feel true happiness:
Take responsibility for your mistakes. We fear others will dislike us when we make mistakes, so we torture ourselves by trying to hide or deny them. In fact, what people dislike are the excuses and the blame used to cover up mistakes. Owning up to your mistakes shows you care and helps bring resolution and healing.
Forgive yourself first, which is perhaps the biggest hurdle. Mistakes are tough on self-esteem if you aim to be perfect. However, no one gets through life without making a few.
Apologize and rectify the error. Others will welcome your help, and you'll feel happier with yourself for taking constructive action.
Think of the most recent mistake you've made. If you haven't made amends, it's probably not too late to say, "I'm sorry."
Stay in charge of your thoughts and feelings. Although you can't control events, you can manage your reactions to them. Only you can decide whether to choose harmony or turmoil.
Example: After some treasured family heirlooms were stolen from me several years ago, I realized that my anger had taken over my thoughts. Only by vividly picturing the thief using the robbery money to buy presents for his children was I able to reclaim my thoughts. Unrealistic? Probably, but instead of obsessing about the injustice, I was able to get beyond my resentment.
Use mental imagery. Holding a positive image in your mind crowds out negativity, and positive thoughts have been shown to create happier feelings.
Exaggerate your troubles, stretching complaints to such hilarious limits that you end up laughing.
Take a time-out. Go for a nature walk. The outdoors is a natural tonic. Or meditate, listen to music or give yourself a pep talk.
Have faith that you can overcome obstacles. Why give up in despair when nature constantly gives us the hopeful message that we can always find a way?
Example: Jogging on a recently repaved road, I noticed one area of the new asphalt changing over a period of weeks. It first rose up several inches, then cracked, then opened like a volcano. What emerged was foliage.
Trapped under the pavement, a skunk cabbage seed had grown into a plant so hardy it broke right through to the light and air.
Everyone faces walls and barriers. The unhappy choice is to let them stop you. Believing you can find an opening to grow and blossom is the joyous, life-affirming option.
Be open to redirection. When things don't go as you have planned, stop and think where this different path might be leading you. Events that at first seem to be unfortunate or undesirable may actually provide surprising advantages.
Judge each problem as an opportunity to grow. Many patients I've treated and counseled over the years have said their illnesses taught them to value their lives and implement wonderful changes.
You don't have to "break through the pavement" in a single day. Take troubles one step at a time. Celebrate each sign of progress before taking the next step.
Deal constructively with criticism. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, "Criticism polishes my mirror."
Regarding criticism as a threat, an insult or proof that you're worthless won't make you happy. Instead, it is better to take a more optimistic view and see criticism as a learning tool to help you improve.
I've been fortunate to have many critics among my patients. When people give you criticism, it means they feel you are willing to listen and change.
Evaluate the source of the criticism. Those who love finding fault with everyone will only scratch your mirror, not polish it.
When criticized by people you trust, think of yourself as an athlete getting direction and support from a coach who wants to see you perform better.
Don't let criticism shake your confidence. Use appraisals as a way to help you reach a higher level of performance.