I realized in Part 1 of Set Your Happiness Baseline I described how important it is to do this, but I did not give any suggestions or insights into HOW to do this. So here is Part 2, which delves into this topic a bit more helpfully, hopefully.
If knowing that your true happiness lies within yourself, and not depending on outside influences, then how do we quiet those voices, either real or imagined, that impede our happiness process? Moreover, how do we stop the onset of those influences before they even begin? Here are some suggestions:
This is an obvious one: Stop checking your social media so much. Multiple studies have shown that the more they check their posts the more depressed they feel. Why is this? Because social media is inherently designed for you to present aspects of your life for the purpose of other people’s approval. When you don’t get the approval you’re looking for, it can be very upsetting. So if you find yourself posting a lot and then checking in to see how many “likes” or “hearts” or “thumbs up” you’ve received, you may be basing your own happiness on other people too much. I’m all for posting photos and inspiring things, and for people reaching out when they want to connect with others in this way. But I would advise limiting yourself and not depending on social media for acceptance or validation.
Make cultivating joy a practice that you do every day. Some of these can include keeping a gratitude journal or reciting your “Gratefuls” every morning as you walk the dog or wash your face. Actively seek out things that make you happy and carve out the time required to do them. If painting or sculpting fills you up inside then make the time, get a babysitter, take vacation days if you have to, and take classes or make a studio in your home to make sure that you do the things that keep those reservoirs of happiness filled up inside of you. Ask yourself what truly brings you joy and take the steps to do them. If being outside in the fresh air helps you to leave your troubles behind then make sure to get outside in some capacity as often as you can, and while you’re there, look around and bask in the beauty of your surroundings. If you love to garden, plan out your beds, get what you need, and set aside structured time to work in the soil and enjoy communing with nature in this way. The list goes on and on, the point is to recognize and realize what truly brings you happiness and then make the time and effort to do it and go back to it often. (Sounds simple, but it isn’t always easy.)
If something outside of yourself is making you unhappy, then do whatever you can to change the situation. If you are lonely, take the steps necessary to meet people. If you are unfulfilled in your job then actively look for another one. So often people will say, “My job is making me miserable.” I completely understand that, I have been there myself. But no job, or boss, or place of work should have the power to control your base level of happiness. Yes, things get difficult and frustrating at work. But hopefully you will have that baseline of contentment where you can get annoyed about a co-worker or having to work extra hours or things like that, but then you can let them go and they will not affect your core of happiness within yourself.
When you have to, force yourself to smile and laugh. When I went through a very difficult time a few years ago, and I was struggling with the concept of being hopeful, do you know what saved me? Watching episodes of the tv show Impractical Jokers. It made me laugh, every single time, and even just a 22 minute reprieve from my grief and hopelessness was like water to a person dying in a desert. Truly. When we laugh or smile, it sends signals to the brain to produce more happy chemicals, and when that happens, we get happy for real. Our minds and bodies switch into “happy mode,” and that can miraculously help us get out of dark place if and when we need to.
Do affirmations in the mirror. People have made fun of this for years but I think it can be very powerful. The goal of this exercise is to stop worrying so much about what we think other people are thinking. I believe that true happiness can only come when we are 100% ourselves and we live our lives according to what we want and not give any concern to other people’s judgment. I know so many people who want to write books but don’t ever even start putting pen to paper out of fear that it won’t be successful. I know musicians who write their own music but never put it out there for others to hear because they are too worried that other people won’t like it. When you come right down to it though, who cares? Who cares if someone else likes what you produce? Did it make you happy to make it or do it? If the answer is “yes,” then nothing else matters. So if you want to do something, then tell yourself in the mirror that you can do it and that it will be great. If you want to write a book then say to yourself, “You’re an author and your book is going to be great.” Then stop there and move on. Do not wait for the voices in your head to talk you out of it. If you want to make music then say to yourself, “You’re a musician, and the music you create is going to be wonderful.” Then stop and go on with your life, resting in the knowledge that you have the ability to create what you want to create and if it comes from inside you then that’s enough.
Use whatever affirmations work for you. If you want to meet a romantic partner but you don’t feel attractive, tell yourself what you would want a partner to say to you, “You are beautiful, you are worthy of love, you are a wonderful and giving person who deserves happiness every second of every day.” If you want to look for a new job then tell yourself things like, “You are meant to do great things in the world, you are strong and capable and you will find a better place in which you and your talents can truly shine.” With whatever you want to do or whatever positive changes you want to make in your life, YOU be the one telling yourself that you can do it, and this should help you not rely on other people for their (usually unsolicited) advice, comments, or judgments.
Do what you need to do to let go of the past. So often the judgmental voices that we hear in our heads that hold us back from obtaining our true happiness are from long ago. When certain people said things that we’re still holding onto. This can be very difficult to do, but until we silence those voices and replace them with our own it can be impossible to ever even figure out who we are and who we want to be at this stage of our lives. How do we do this? Sometimes when the voices are very deep rooted we have to seek professional help in the form of therapy to unpack them and get rid of them forever. The affirmations can help, since those become our own voices we’re listening to, rather than the old ones.
I have also found that making a conscious and concerted effort to stay in the present can make a big difference when our old issues come up. When we’re feeling badly about ourselves, or buying into the lies that we were told as children, literally stopping what we’re doing (i.e. shopping for clothes, getting dressed in the morning, applying for a new job, exercising at the gym, etc.) and taking a moment to be fully present can be a lifeline in these situations.
How do we do this? When we stop to be present, we consciously feel our feet connected to the ground. We close our eyes and take a deep breath to feel exactly where we are in that moment in space and time. We take another breath and deliberately relax our neck and shoulders as we exhale, again focusing on our feet that are firmly planted on the floor, reminding us that we are strong and powerful and have the ability to move beyond our past and set our own expectations and hopes for ourselves. We unclench our fists and our jaws and remember that simply because we exist on this Earth we are deserving of love and joy and our dreams coming true, regardless of what we might have been taught in years prior. Then when we’re ready, we open our eyes and continue what we were doing, with renewed confidence and strength to face whatever comes our way as we are NOW, not as we were before.
This is heady stuff, I’m aware, but in order to truly be happy inside and have that Independent Baseline of Happiness from which we cannot be swayed, no matter how many negative outside influences try, it takes some work. It takes being conscious of what’s going on with ourselves and making a real effort to change some old habits. Happiness is a choice, and we can choose to do the work necessary to create and keep happiness in ourselves, or we can choose to just keep chugging along mindlessly, letting others determine how we feel on daily basis.
The only opinion that matters is your own. Know that, believe that, and remember that. Always. It’s truly a key to choosing happiness.