“What am I doing wrong?”
It’s my little habit. I’ll drag myself to bed after falling asleep in front of the TV, hopeful that it’ll be one those rare nights where I’ll actually sleep through without waking up. But there I was, wide awake, staring at the ceiling, my cat a furry bump under the covers next to me. And if she’s asleep, it usually means that it’s really, really late. I just can’t shut my brain off at night. My mind likes to meander through the Hoia Baciu forest that is my thoughts, with one nightmarish scenario after the other. So I lay there, asking myself the same questions I always do: What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I accomplish what I want in my life? I always feel like I am on the brink of something, that I’m within reach of achieving my desires, but it always seems to stay just out of my reach. Like running down the corridor and only catching the tail-end of the person you are chasing as they round the corner.
I want to be one of those people who has an epiphany, or who meets a mentor that changes their life forever. I want to hear some magical words of wisdom that turn a switch on in my brain and all of a sudden, I’ll be enlightened.
So what am I doing wrong? Why are some people so ridiculously, annoyingly happy, like that woman at the hairdresser last week, all sweet and bubbly and giggly, who loves everything about herself and her life as she eats another doughnut. I’m never sure how to interact with people like that. It’s like a rare bird incessantly chirping outside my window: Cute, sweet, and slowly but surely wearing on my nerves. I don’t want to make them unhappy. I just want them to stop waving their happiness around in my face – or tell my how they got to be so damn content.
Well, according to stats from our Life Satisfaction Test, here’s what they’re doing:
- 57% joined a club, team, or community group. This has allowed them to develop a bond with others, a strong sense of belonging, and a greater understanding of humanity.
- 58% exercise regularly, or otherwise live a healthy lifestyle. Essentially, taking care of their physical health has contributed to their emotional and psychological health. And, of course, the endorphins likely help too.
- 65% make it a point to tantalize their senses – eating new and delicious foods, strolling through a museum, listening to the crickets chirp at night, sitting out watching the starts, etc. So if you need an excuse to get a massage or have a spa day, there it is. It really is for your own good.
- 69% have a hobby that they engage in on a regular basis.
- 70% make it a point to set aside some time each week to just have fun. Remember all those adults and who would tell you to stop playing and watching cartoons because “you’re not a kid anymore”? Well, they were all wrong. This weekend, make a promise to yourself to make a big bowl of your favorite cereal, stay in your pajamas, and watch cartoons all day.
- A whopping 99% have objectives and aspirations that they will still want to accomplish. That means contentment doesn’t necessarily come once you’ve gotten that promotion, relationship, or Jaguar. It means keeping busy and continuously working towards something great that makes people happy. Sound strange? Think about this: Why do so many recently retired people get restless after a while? Or why is an unproductive rut so demoralizing? Idleness is fun for a little while, but we will always end up bored and crave something new.
- Not surprisingly, 96% take pleasure in life’s small joys, like watching the sun rise/set, petting a furry friend, reading, listening to the sound of the rain hitting the window, and literally stopping to smell roses.
“I have lived with several Zen masters – all of them cats.”
A lot of the stuff mentioned above can be pretty easy to implement in your life. For example, you can set a goal for yourself tomorrow, and it need not be complicated (e.g. climb Mount Everest vs. Finally cleaning out the garage). These next few, however, require a little more effort and dedication. Here’s what else the happy people in our sample do:
- They refuse to dwell on disappointments and failures. They Learn what they can from their mistakes and then try again.
- They try to find something positive in difficult situations. Even if they are forced to deal with something that they will have to cope with for the rest of their life (e.g. illness, loss of a loved one), they still see it as an opportunity to grow and learn.
- They let go of emotional baggage and the things from their past that they can’t change. Not surprisingly, 77% of the people in our study who are not happy said that they feel weighed down by guilt or regret. Guilt and regret, as my wise friend put it, “are a waste of energy.” This isn’t to say that you should completely ignore the fact that you have wronged someone. However, that remorse you feel is a sign; you recognize that what you did was wrong and don’t want to repeat it. Ask for forgiveness, and whether you get it or not, strive to forgive yourself and do better in the future.
Here are a few other tips:
- Let it all out. A study on life satisfaction and negative life events revealed that people who wrote out what was bothering them or who talked things out with someone showed an improvement in mental health and life satisfaction. So when something is bothering you, don’t keep it locked up inside. A problem can often seem less intense when we can share that burden, so to speak. Try releasing all your negative feelings and thoughts in a journal. Talk to a trusted friend, a spiritual leader, a therapist, or join an online community that focuses on helping others get through personal and emotional difficulties. There is always help out there.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude. It seems to be human nature to focus on the negative – just turn on the TV to the latest news reports. Rather than focusing on all that is going wrong in your life, however, why not focus on what’s going right? On the one hand, you may not have a great deal of money in your bank account or your ideal partner or body. So what do you have? Two eyes to read this. A heart that beats. Friends. A car. A home. Really dig deep and find all the things that you have to be appreciative of, no matter how minor they may seem.
- Read inspirational books. There’s nothing more inspiring than reading about people who went through the same hardships you did and still managed to come out on top. It gives you hope and a reason to keep trying. Check out these books: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Barbara Delinksky’s Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors, and Nelson Mandela’s Long walk to Freedom, to name just a few.