Experts who teach seminars and shrinks who provide therapy, self-help gurus who preach the benefits of meditation or medication – there’s no shortage of people willing to provide outside help (usually, for a fee) to those in search of happiness. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to reach that elusive goal, no matter how much “expert” help you receive until you deal with a more fundamental issue: how to find happiness within yourself.
In today’s society, we’ve become conditioned to look for quick fixes and instant gratification. Why make coffee when you can grab one at Starbucks? Why go out to a theater when you can have movies delivered to your tablet? Why exercise and go on a diet when you can have liposuction or a gastric bypass?
Many peoples’ never-ending search for someone – anyone! – with a road map showing the shortcut to happiness is just another example of our recent craving for instant gratification. The problem, of course, is that happiness is subjective; no “expert” has a one-size-fits-all prescription that lets you avoid the hard work of introspection and self-discovery.
The process can be painful at first because it requires you to be completely honest with yourself. Just the basic idea of honesty can reveal truths you’d rather not confront. But it gets easier as you go along – and wouldn’t you be willing to endure some initial psychic pain to wind up much happier with your life? Here are some ways you can start, but be warned: most involve taking an honest personal inventory.
Learn how to find happiness within yourself
Many people ask the question “how to find happiness within yourself?” To answer that question you need to look deep down into yourself to discover if you’re optimistic or pessimistic. Many studies, including an important one conducted by two Kentucky psychological scientists in 2010, have shown a positive correlation between optimism and happiness. Turning that internal frown upside down, at least some of the time can be a big step toward overall happiness.
Many who are pessimistic by nature (experts call that dispositional pessimism) have deep feelings of helplessness. If you believe that you’re incapable of changing important negative aspects of your life, it’s only natural that pessimism will become deeply ingrained in your overall mental outlook. It may be discouraging to realize that you’ve become internally conditioned to expect the worst. But once you understand what’s going on inside, you can work to change it.
The best way to modify a pessimistic outlook on life is to start with the small stuff. Pick out one or two minor negative issues which you utterly accept because you feel helpless to alter them. Then figure out a few steps you can take to change them. Maybe it’s a frosty relationship with a close co-worker which seems to be irreparable or an aggravating daily commute to work. Taking initial steps to begin rapprochement with your co-worker or finding a faster, alternate way to get to work will not only alleviate two frustrations in your life but will give you the positive reinforcement you need to continue changing your life for the better. Over time, your natural pessimism will become optimism – and you’ll realize that you’re the one with the ultimate control over your happiness.
Self-confidence is contagious
Minimizing your natural pessimism will give you more confidence in your ability to solve problems. It will positively affect your approach to life and will make you feel happier in general. And there’s an additional way to speed up this process. While taking the personal inventory we’ve discussed, make a list of your skills and the things you do well, paying particular attention to problems you’ve successfully solved or meaningful goals you’ve achieved in the past.
Now, spend some time focusing on those skills and achievements. Let yourself feel proud of them. The more confident you feel about your talents and the positive effect you’ve had on the lives of others, the happier you’ll feel. And the more motivated you’ll be to use those skills again and again. In this way, you’ll reinforce your inner happiness each time you accomplish something new or important.
Grudges don’t hurt the other person – only you
Do you hold grudges? The long-time Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Robert Muller, has said “To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will return untold peace and happiness.” And scientific studies have borne that out, finding that developing the capacity to forgive is a major step toward being happy.
It’s certainly not easy to forgive, and quite honestly, you may be holding some legitimate grudges which are impossible to forget. Consider this, however: the object of a grudge probably doesn’t even think about the original issue that caused it anymore; you’re likely the only one who still remembers it. The continued rumination on past slights only increases current stress and keeps you so busy looking backward that you’re prevented from looking forward. Allowing yourself to give up long-time grudges will let you focus on the happiness in your future, and not past slights which are no longer important.
Forgive yourself, too
While exploring your inner feelings, you’ll undoubtedly come across some regrets and guilt. It’s crucial that you resolve those negative feelings. If you let them continue to percolate under the surface, they’ll pop up whenever you face a similar circumstance, creating new doubts and obscuring your path to happiness.
We all make mistakes and decisions we wish we could take back. Resolve them or carry out the appropriate apologies if you still can; otherwise, realize that you did the best you could with the information you had to work with and that you’ve learned from the mistakes. Forgive yourself. What happened in the past is just that – in the past. What’s important now is the inner happiness that’s ahead of you.
Accentuate the positive
Learning how to find happiness within yourself can be tough. Even people like Donald Trump must have negative feelings every once in a while. You don’t have to overcome yours with bluster and braggadocio as he does. You can take a few tips from his approach to life by focusing on the positive things you’ve done.
Compile a personal list of your strengths, and more importantly, your past successes. Whenever a negative thought or expectation enters your consciousness, put it aside for a moment. Mentally run through your list of accomplishments to see if you’ve successfully dealt with a similar issue in the past. If so, focus on the fact that you’ve handled the problem before and can do so again. If not, find the appropriate personal strength on your list (for example, intelligence or resiliency) to apply to the situation. It will let you push through the negativity you feel and find the happiness waiting on the other side.
It’s natural to think about the things you don’t have, but wish you did. Many people, however, obsess over it. If that impulse rears its head, it can obscure the day-to-day happiness you receive from what you do have. You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to consider the many blessings in your life and the many ways they make you happy. Being able to do that whenever necessary is an important internal survival skill. If you find yourself unable to avoid feelings of jealousy or resentment because of what you don’t have, picture a worst-case scenario in which you don’t have your home, your family, your job or your friends. You’ll quickly find yourself thankful for what you’ve got.
The relationship between thankfulness and happiness isn’t just internal. A noted researcher on happiness, Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that the mere act of expressing gratitude increased test subjects’ happiness more than anything else he could measure. When his subjects wrote a thank-you note to someone in their past who they’d never properly thanked, their happiness increased dramatically for the next month.
Research has shown that achieving true happiness depends on internal factors; it’s not something “experts” can teach you. Understanding how to find happiness within yourself requires time and effort. Also a willingness to confront the deep personal feelings which prevent you from being happy. It’s worth it.