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HAPPINESS

6 Principles for a Happier Life

7 July 2020

Author:  Kristina Olsevska

Sadly, I do not possess magical powers to stop all the world’s ills. Nor do I have all the answers on how to become blissful. I myself sometimes struggle with anxiety, uncertainty, and overwhelming emotions. There are days when I question my capabilities and the meaning I attach to everything I seek to accomplish, succumbing to thoughts like: “Am I doing this right? What if I am not good enough?” These are thoughts and emotions common to everyone regardless of their skin color, level of wealth, or social standing…at the very core of our existence we all want the same – to be seen, to be loved and to matter.

All too often, we seek to generate our happiness from others. That is the very misstep that leads us to an unhealthy and emotionally unstable state of mind…and life. Happiness should always first come from within. I learned this the hard way, but I am grateful to be able to share these 6 principles I find bulletproof.

1. Preperation

Trust your preparation. If you have worked your butt off on something, then trust in the process! If everything comes to naught, at least you will be aware that you gave it your all. Confidence comes from competence. Without preparation there will not be progression. And without progression – there will not be contentment. 

Imagine two actors going on a stage. One crammed his lines only the night before while the other spent months memorizing dialogues and immersing himself in the role. Who will be less anxious about his performance? Whose acting will be more enjoyable, and who will be invited to audition for another play? While there, of course, may be exceptions, it is more likely that the better prepared you are, the more confident you will feel and the better you will perform. 

The bottom line – preparation helps to foster a sense of being in control.  A sense of control, in turn, leads to a more harmonious state of mind. A harmonious mind further guides you to more contentment. It even goes back to our ancestors. A sense of control meant comfort and certainty, which, consequently, meant survival. Subconsciously every animal, including us, feels at peace when it feels in control. Sure, not everything can be controlled, but it is a story for another article. Control what you can with proper preparation.

 

2. Nature of thoughts

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand that the thoughts you feed into your mind determine e v e r y t h i n g. Your actions unconsciously gravitate towards what your mind thinks of most of the time…and then it snowballs. If you regularly focus on what is wrong, your own reality goes around to the things you do not have, and leave you empty, broken, and perpetually disappointed.

Everyone carries some sort of baggage within – whether it is something as small as memories of a teacher humiliating you in front of the whole class for wearing socks in different shades of red (true story, by the way) or as heavy as losing a loved one to cancer. The degree of this hurtful experience is often irrelevant. What matters is the meaning we attach to that experience. 

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?”

The student replied, “It is.”

The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?”

The student replied again, “It is.”

The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.” 

I am not saying life is easy nor that you should try to blunt all your “second arrows”, but we must understand that we control how we react to all obstacles, tragedies, and adversities that life throws at us. If your pain right now is too heavy to bear, first of all, seek professional help! You are not in this alone. Second, it may sound absurd, but start recognizing and be proud of the little things in life. As simple as: “Today, I got out of bed even though I didn’t want to” or “Today, I was there in time for a meeting.”

There is this Oprah quote I keep coming back to: “Of this I know for sure, that when we don’t pay attention to the chatter in our head, we will be happy.” So, paying attention to the negative self-talk is one of the reasons why we have such a hard time being alone, being afraid of pursuing our dreams, and becoming the best version of ourselves. Learning how to closely pay attention to our inner voice and shift out of it by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, is among the ways you can learn to be alone, stimulate courage, and be happy with it.

3. Gratitude

“What if the only things you had in your life tomorrow were the things you express gratitude for today?”

In my previous post “How not to go bananas during Covid-19” I touched upon the subject of gratitude and how it is important to look for the good in times of great adversity. Today, I decided to highlight it once again. 

The word “gratitude” originates from the Latin word “gratus”, which means “thankful, pleasing.” Therefore, in its most simple and plain form, to be grateful is to have appreciation and to express thankfulness. 

However, there is more to gratitude than perhaps first meets the eye. What is clear, however, is that ‘counting your blessings’ has a multitude of positive effects, including promoting loving feelings and happiness. It might sound silly, but you cannot be grateful and angry or sad at the same time.

Research shows that gratitude will make you not only happier, but also healthier. It can make you appreciate the small things that life has to offer. Listening to the stories of those you help makes you put your life into perspective, and suddenly your major problems do not seem so bad. It can always be worse. It truly is how Ryan Tedder (from OneRepublic) sings in “Lose Somebody”: “I guess you don’t know what you got, until it’s gone”. Be thankful for what you have, it can all be gone in a split second. Count your blessings, mi amigo/a.

 

4. Being of Service

Being of service to others in whatever way fits your lifestyle may bring loads of benefits. Sometimes service does not require anything from you. It is literally the absence of doing. It can be about showing up, being present, listening, and supporting. Most importantly it is, from your health perspective, as important to you as to those you may serve. Contribution beyond yourself keeps your life in check. It helps you lay a solid foundation upon which to build your future successes.

Moreover, studies have shown that giving back increases self-esteem and we all know how self-esteem affects your wellbeing and sense of happiness. Knowing that you are doing your part in helping others makes you feel good about yourself, and that is something no one can take away from you. It not only increases self-esteem, but it also allows you to become more aware of the world around you. 

Knowing that you are part of the reason why someone else’s life is just a little bit better creates a sense of accomplishment. Doing something for the greater good and setting an example for those who look up to you can help you feel fulfilled.

The reward center of the brain has a chemical reaction very similar to the reaction that is associated with the experience of happiness: oxytocin diminishes stress and dopamine, along with endorphins, creates a natural “helper’s high”. This feeling can actually become addictive, as your body can start to crave that rewarding feeling. So being part of an organization that helps others can make you feel happier and – who knows? You may get hooked and continue a life of altruism.

 

5. Boundaries.

Personal boundaries are vital for us to thrive and be in healthy relationships both with ourselves and with others. Problems do not just occur in intimate relationships, but in business, family, and friendships. Almost all misunderstandings and confusion in our relationships stem from boundaries being crossed.

It is one thing creating these boundaries. A completely different thing is communicating them clearly and from heart.  Do not hesitate to tell what you truly anticipate, but keep your mind open to what others might expect from you in return. Boundaries are not a one-way street. Having clear boundaries allows you to convey your desires and needs succinctly without fear of repercussions or judgment. 

We need to make sure the people in our lives are aware of our boundaries and that we express ourselves the moment they are crossed. Setting clear personal boundaries is key to ensuring that relationships remain mutually respectful, supportive, and caring. In a nutshell, boundaries are a measure of self-esteem: they set limits for acceptable behavior for those around you. 

Chris Lee, an American Motivational Trainer, has noted: “There’s nothing worse than settling into a life you don’t want to live.” Boundaries allow you to break free from this kind of undesirable life.

 

6. “I love you, but I love me more.”

Yup. I would never think I will quote Samantha from “The Sex and the City”, but – hell yeah – she is absolutely right with this one. Remember – love yourself first! Why? To quote someone with a smidge more authority (namely Wayne Dyer, an American self-help book author and a motivational speaker): “If you do not love yourself, nobody will. Not only that, you will not be good at loving anyone else. Loving starts with the self.”

If you want to become truly successful and sincerely happy, you need to work on loving yourself unconditionally and unapologetically. We all are humans. Humans make mistakes, have flaws, bad hair-days, and softness around the edges, but with the genuine dedication, passion and sincere curiosity toward our growth, we can achieve anything we want and anything we are physically and emotionally capable of.

If you feel unworthy, unloved, or sad – be of service and contribute to others! It will give you at least slight reassurance that you matter. No doubt, working in the soup kitchen will not make you Mother Theresa overnight, but the knowledge that you, with your own two hands, can help someone not go hungry, can boost your happiness level. Do not just take my word for it. It is a fact grounded in research. Helping others not only boosts your happiness, but also increases your sense of self-worth. It does not mean you need to give your lest penny to charity, but even doing a bit will go a long way. 

If you feel stupid – recall each time you sucked at something; something that now feels so effortless and easy-peasy. Take everything into retrospect and remember that it takes repetition and a great deal of time and effort to master something. Imagine if a toddler would give up after a couple of failed attempts to walk. You were a toddler once. Now you run. 

If you feel deeply depressed – go see a doctor! Surface-level depression is a physical condition caused by a chemical disbalance in our brains. However, experts are yet to prove that these imbalances are the initial cause of these conditions. Other factors that contribute to mental health conditions include: genetics, family history, life experiences (such as a history of physical, psychological, or emotional abuse), history of alcohol or illicit drug use, (over)consumption of certain medications, psychosocial factors, such as external circumstances that lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. If you feel physically unwell – meditation, SPA procedures or loads of ice cream will not help you to ease the pain. You need to see a specialist.

 

To sum up the very essence of this article, I want to leave you with this quote: “Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” Steve Maraboli wrote this in his bestseller “Life, the Truth, and Being Free”. I could not agree more. If you feel unhappy with your current circumstances, do what can be done to change it and share your goodness with others. The World needs to see you shine!

 

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