Much is written about happiness. Books. Articles. Songs. Videos. Happiness seems to be a universal pursuit and one that has existed through ages; indeed, it was a frequent topic among philosophers from the ancient worlds of West and East and has been pursued without pause since then. No one has yet to discover a single answer to how to find happiness. Russ Harris, a important leader in acceptance and commitment therapy, wrote a book entitled The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. Is happiness attainable, or is it a trap, a sham?
Sometimes Happiness Does Feel Like a Sham
Happiness can seem like a hollow, meaningless word. Worse, it can feel mocking, taunting people that they lack what others naturally have. This can sting, especially when someone is living with depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses or mental health struggles that aren’t quite diagnosable.
It’s difficult to feel happy when life is a struggle. Anxiety, depression, and so much more can:
- cause crushing fatigue
- zap motivation
- create difficulties with concentration and focus
- generate feelings of sadness
- create thoughts peppered with worry, negativity, and even self-loathing
- instill hopelessness
In the face of these thoughts and feelings, happiness does seem elusive and very much like a farce. Exactly how can we experience happiness when these mental health struggles dominate our lives? It’s a legitimate question and one that makes sense. However, there is a bigger question about experiencing happiness: How can we not?
Two truths about mental health struggles: They aren’t who you are, and they’re not the only things racing around inside your head.
Because you aren’t one with your struggles, you have the freedom to create happiness, contentment, and joy every single day. To do this, think of happiness as a tool, not as the end goal. You already are full of contentment even if you don’t feel it yet. You don’t need to feel it to use it. Some ways to use this tool to break out of your cage and embrace your blissfulness:
- Separate yourself from you’re struggles by creating bits of time in your day to reflect on who you are. What are your unique character strengths? What are your passions (or what were they before your struggles settled in)?
- Similarly, explore what is the most important to you. What do you value that would need to be a part of your quality life, a life worth living? Building up what we value typically brings a sense of inner peace and contentment.
- Choose happiness. Few people intentionally choose not to be happy; however, a great many don’t actively choose happiness, either. Often, it’s because many, many people don’t realize that happiness is a choice. It’s a decision we must make every single day. Often, we have to regroup and choose it again throughout a given day.
Choosing Happiness – A Few Tips
Choosing happiness begins the moment we wake up in the morning. Turn away from struggles and place your attention on your real self and all of the strengths, passions, and values you’re exploring. What is one thing you want to do today?
Deciding to do something you enjoy and scheduling time (and even setting a reminder alarm) is helpful. (En-JOY, after all, is an action verb.) Pick one thing, and do it. Read. Color. Build part of a model. Go for a walk. Blow bubbles (it encourages deep breathing, which is good for your brain). Embroider dish towels (a double bonus — enjoy doing it, and enjoy using something pleasing when you have to do dishes). What ever fits you and your interests will create happiness and moments of contentment.
Exploring who you are, what happiness means to you, and the gradual steps you’ll take when you get there is a process that can be done in any way that suits you. Many people find journaling to be helpful because it helps them pull thoughts out of their head and onto paper where they can see them. I wrote The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety to help people reduce anxiety and other struggles and create and embrace their quality lives. It’s full of gentle prompts, reflections, and space for writing. Learn more here.
Happiness doesn’t always come easily, but when you actively use it as a tool to reduce your struggles rather than thinking of it as an end result, something that just happens when your struggles are somehow gone, you’ll cultivate contentment and reduce problems in the process.
Happiness is a choice and a decision, a quality you really do have within you and an action you have the power to take.
This excerpt from my latest novel, Behind Silent Smiles, illustrates how a maltreated little girl decides to be happy and joyful in a moment.