Some people are going to leave, but that’s not the end of your story. That’s the end of their part in your story.
The quest of finding happiness is possibly the only goal shared among all human beings – past, present or future. Who doesn’t want to find happiness in his or her life? It’s a silent goal nonetheless. We don’t mutter much about it and most of the time it lurks in the deep inner workings of our minds. Curious isn’t it?
The odd fact is we spend billions of research dollars & euros into treating mental illnesses with drugs, but not much effort goes into understanding the science of happiness or mental well-being. This fact alone compels me to write about the subject.
The title of this article is in itself revealing – “how to find happiness within yourself” suggests from the outset that you should look for happiness within yourself and that happiness is general to be found within. This is also a very curious thing to me. Why are we always trying to find happiness in all kinds of places but hardly ever attempt to find happiness within?
Harry is 67. He lost his wife to cancer almost three years ago now. He saw his daughter pass through a marriage breakdown and divorce. He hardly gets to see his grandchildren because his daughter moved to another city after her divorce. He misses the fishing trips with his brother Joe who also passed away recently. He is relating less and less to a changing hostile world where he is constantly reminded he is an unwanted burden.
Yet there is one major twist to the story. Harry is happy, radiantly happy. How can this happen? I mean if there are people who have passed through all sorts of heartbreaking episodes and hardships but are happy, what’s their story? Conversely, if there are people (and lots of them) who have acquired all sorts of merit, possessions, and good fortune yet is deeply unhappy, what does this say about finding happiness?
Finding happiness by losing old mental models:
One major flaw in the way we live our lives is that we have learned how to be unhappy rather than how to be happy. We have built certain mental models of our reality and these limit us or lead us astray from finding real happiness. Naturally this leads us to the understanding that finding happiness requires us to unlearn certain things and look for it in different pathways. It requires us to look into flaws in our belief system and change them.
One of these mental models we adopt is the belief that we need to reach a certain goal or outcome to be happy, the so-called ‘if-then model’ (if this happens then I will be happy). For example that we should get a better income, financial freedom, recognition of our work, sexier bodies, satisfying relationships and so on. It’s always something around the corner which needs to happen first before we reach happiness.
I know you have many times got to the realization yourself that it just doesn’t work that way. Once you reach that corner there is always another corner to reach. Happiness is not found in anything outside ourselves. We already have all the material at hand to be happy. It’s a matter of shifting our perspective and beliefs completely.
Some mental models to take note of and debunk:
• Happiness is the pleasure: No. Pleasure is instant gratification – physical or mental. Happiness is knowing that you are where you should be or accepting that you are not and doing your best while you’re there.
• Happiness is comfort or security: We live most of our lives in constant security threats – our jobs, our children out at night, our health, etc. The truth is that security or lack of it is based on perception. Happiness is living well in a very unstable world.
• I don’t deserve happiness: Yeah, says who? Another human quirk – self-inflicted limitation. Happiness is for everyone, wherever you come from, whatever you did and no matter what’s your idea. Happiness is open-source.
• It’s impossible to find happiness in this world: Another example of self-limiting beliefs. Wrong. Happiness is as possible to find as unhappiness.
• People who reached their goals are invariably happy: Again, says who? People who reached their goals are not happy because they reached their goals. On the contrary, some are eternally dissatisfied and keep on seeking, other goals in life – a real source of unhappiness. But yes some people found happiness while reaching those goals since they were living their true purpose and enjoying every moment of it. Their eyes were on the doing and not on the reaching.
Finding Inner Happiness Through Finding Inner Peace
So many stories around us, like that of Harry, seem to point at the overlooked obvious – that you will only find happiness within yourself. Well, that’s very good news since you don’t need to look far away to find happiness – like for example running after expensive, energy-consuming and ultimately unsatisfying goals. It’s there right within you. As scientist Zen Buddhist Jon Kabat-Zinn perfectly immortalized in one of his book titles: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
When life rocks your boat to the point of wrecking it or when the proverbial crap hits the ceiling fan you will reach a y-point which will either make you or break you. So many people like Harry managed to find happiness & inner peace through the most turbulent and upsetting moments of their lives by making use of their internal resources, by finding happiness within rather than in external points of reference.
The key to happiness, or, in other words, that of finding true inner happiness, is by finding your inner peace – that center of calm inner knowing which is the real source of your being rather than those mental projections or models imposed by your social background.
There are many pathways to find your inner peace but before I start sounding too metaphysical I’d reckon that the greatest and shortest path is that of acceptance. Let go of your expectations, inner struggle, and frustrations when things don’t turn out exactly, the way you want them. Acceptance is an extremely powerful tool to finding inner happiness. It shouldn’t be confused with resignation or passiveness.
We often fail to understand the power of acceptance because it comes from the heart, not the mind. Its power, in fact, comes from transcending the resistance and inner currents of the restless mind which are often the source of our anxieties, stress, and inner conflict.
Acceptance is when we drop all, our mental models (like the if-then model), often in a moment of clarity or awareness where we become conscious that there is another life outside this madness, outside this huffing and puffing trying to acquire one goal after the other in the wrong belief that there is an ultimate goal post called happiness somewhere on the finishing line.
Ask yourself – how much of what’s going on in your life do you accept? Are you constantly feeling you should be at some other point in your life? Or do you somehow feel at peace with all aspects of your life and make use of them with all their limitations?
Other pathways to inner peace:
• Compassion: Some people admirably manage to find the time and energy to help other even when they are facing rough seas themselves. Even though this comes out from an act of compassion and selflessness, it is also a doorway to their own inner peace. In fact although it seems quite hard to do in moments when we are down and out, giving attention to others’ needs is a way of getting ‘out of your head’ which, ironic as it sounds, is a fast remedy to unhappiness.
• Seek the support of others: Well, it works both ways too. Helping others is a way to shift your center of attention away from your ailments. However seeking any form of support from others is a way of finding reinforcement and encouragement and is highly recommendable.
• Be grateful to everything around you: Because we so often forget of the little miracles happening around us on a daily basis. We only think about what’s missing instead of counting our blessings. Being thankful to life is not some wishy-washy magical spell that washes away all your troubles. Rather it is an exercise in which you become aware of the positive and meaningful things happening in your life, a real booster.
• Do men and women react differently after trauma? Yes.
• Does it mean one suffers more than the other? No.
• Do the differences confuse and often create tension for couples? Too often.
What we find across cultures is that in the face of traumatic loss, women need to speak about what has happened and men need to do something about what has happened. In one scene from the devastation of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2005, the women gathered, crying for their lost children while the men rebuilt the homes.
In their 2006 review of 25 years of research on sex differences in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in the Psychological Bulletin, David Tolin, and Edna Foa reported that although men have a higher risk for traumatic events, women suffer from higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. In their analysis, they suggest that the different rates of PTSD may actually be a function of the fact that men and women manifest their emotional pain in different ways.
In the aftermath of a traumatic event, women are more likely to have feelings of anxiety and depression, while men are more likely to express distress and depression in terms of irritability, anger and increased alcohol consumption.
Caught in the physical and emotional pain from a traumatic loss or event, couples often have very little patience for differences. It is hard for them to believe that their partner could feel different. It is even more difficult to believe that their partner could feel the same and react so differently.
When she suffered a miscarriage in the beginning of her fifth month, Claire was devastated. Then in her late 30’s, she was worried that this might have been her only chance to have a child. Even when she regained her strength, she was often unable to concentrate or sleep. She would ruminate and blame herself for waiting until her career was set before starting a family.
Claire was further upset by her husband John’s reaction. He was upset by the loss, but he seemed confident that there would be other chances. Claire wondered why he wasn’t blaming himself for their decision to wait to have kids. When she questioned him about this, he felt judged and blamed her for making it worse. They would end up fighting.
According to Dr. John Gray of Mars and Venus Starting Over, in the aftermath of the loss, both men and women need time to grieve. As such, it is often more common for women to blame themselves and for men to blame others.
Differences Don’t Equate to Lack of Love
If you find yourself struggling with your partner in the aftermath of a traumatic event, it does not mean that you don’t have a good relationship, or that you were never truly in love.
• Traumatic events are beyond what we ever expect. No one is prepared to respond.
• Differences in response don’t mean that as a couple you won’t cope or can’t heal.
If you take your time and give yourself and your partner a chance to grieve, cope and regulate stress in your own way and different ways, you will be able to use your relationship as an asset for coping.
• She joins a bereavement group at the church.
• He increases his workout schedule.
• She doesn’t want to socialize on the weekends, but he needs to get out—they settle on a movie date together.
Couple Considerations for Coping
• Everyone deals with trauma in their own way and in their own time – there is no right way.
• When in doubt don’t assume the worst about your partner – assume you don’t know.
• Interest and acceptance of your partner’s reactions invite sharing and empathy, which enhance healing.
• Being physically next to someone you love is a natural buffer for stress and emotional pain.
• Talking about the pain at times for her, valuing the shared silence for him—reflects the resilience of connection.
Sometimes the best-traveling companion in life is someone who sees and reacts to things in a way you would never have considered.
Don’t chase people. Work hard and be yourself. Under these two principles, the right people will find their way into your life.
A common cause of relapse in schizophrenia is “difficulty managing high levels of stress,” according to Susan Gingerich, MSW, a psychotherapist who works with individuals with schizophrenia and their families.
Learning to manage stress isn’t just important for preventing relapse; it’s also important because stress is an inevitable part of facing new challenges and working to accomplish personal goals — “what recovery is all about,” write Gingerich and clinical psychologist Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D, in their book The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia.
Learning to navigate stress healthfully is key for family and friends, too. Having a loved one with schizophrenia can be stressful. Taking care of yourself enhances your well-being and daily functioning. And it means you’re in a better, healthier place to help your loved one.
In their comprehensive book, Mueser and Gingerich share excellent tips for helping your loved one and yourself cope with stress (along with valuable information on schizophrenia and how you can support your loved one).
Here are those suggestions and insights on managing and alleviating stress.
Recognizing Stress Signs
What one person finds enjoyable, another can find stressful. In the same way, how people respond to stress will differ. For instance, one person might exhibit changes in mood, such as becoming depressed and anxious, while another person will show physical signs, such as experiencing headaches and a heightened heart rate.
So it’s important to talk to your loved about their individual signs of stress. Talk about your personal signs, as well. Create separate lists for each of your reactions to stress.
It’s also helpful to support your loved one in creating a stimulating environment with reasonable expectations. For instance, rather than attend a day program three times a week, one man preferred volunteering twice a week delivering meals to housebound seniors.
Plus, it’s important that you take care of yourself. Eat nutrient-rich foods, get enough sleep, participate in physical activities and engage in fun hobbies. Help your loved one identify what kinds of activities they’d like to do, too.
As the authors point out, because of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, individuals can have a hard time thinking of enjoyable activities. Talk with them about the activities they’ve enjoyed in the past.
Be sure to give yourself and your loved one credit. (Being self-critical just spikes your stress.)
Mueser and Gingerich note how one father acknowledges the positive things that happen on a daily basis: “I’m proud of how persistent my daughter has been in pursuing her art career in spite of the many difficulties she’s encountered. We both have a lot to learn about coping with this illness, but we’ve also come a long way.”
Learning to Cope with Stress
Emphasize the importance of your loved one communicating with others when they’re feeling stressed, since “these feelings can be an early warning sign of relapse,” according to the authors. Make sure you, too, are able to turn to individuals who understand your situation.
Have family meetings to talk openly about the stressor and brainstorm potential solutions. Learn to use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization (such as imagining a serene beach scene).
Self-defeating thoughts only bolster stress for both of you. Try to practice positive self-talk and teach your loved one to do the same.
Mueser and Gingerich share the example of a father helping his daughter reframe her hospitalization, which made her feel like a failure: “I’m sorry you had to go through that, but I’m proud of you for getting help when you needed it and for being so strong in dealing with this illness. You’re a survivor.”
Don’t underestimate the power of humor. Try to find the lighter side of a stressful situation, according to the authors. It’s not always – or usually – easy, but it helps with stress. Plus, you and your loved one can enjoy a funny film or sitcom to lessen stress.
For some people, religious services and prayer can be very helpful. For others being in nature may feel like a spiritual experience and shrink stress.
Again, regular exercise — around three times a week — that you enjoy is important for both of you. Journaling can provide a great source of stress relief. “Many people with schizophrenia say that writing down what they experience, think, and feel is an important outlet.”
See if your loved one is interested in listening to music or making music themselves, such as singing or taking lessons; visiting art exhibits or creating their own art; playing games with family and friends, and pursuing other hobbies.
As the authors emphasize, people with schizophrenia are “more sensitive to the effects of stress because it can trigger symptom relapses and rehospitalizations.” Helping your loved one deal with stress in a healthy way helps them pursue their personal goals and improves their life.
Plus, working together to develop healthy coping strategies can strengthen your relationship and gives you plenty of opportunities for savoring quality time.
Stress is inevitable. It walks in and out of our lives on a regular basis. And it can easily walk all over us unless we take action. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize and cope with stress. Here are 10 ideas for handling stress without causing more strain and hassle.
1. Figure out where the stress is coming from.
Oftentimes, when we’re stressed, it seems like a big mess with stressors appearing from every angle. We start to feel like we’re playing a game of dodgeball, ducking and darting so we don’t get smacked by a barrage of balls. We take a defensive position, and not a good one at that.
Instead of feeling like you’re flailing day to day, identify what you’re actually stressed about. Is it a specific project at work, an upcoming exam, a dispute with your boss, a heap of laundry, a fight with your family?
By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organized and taking action.
2. Consider what you can control—and work on that.
While you can’t control what your boss does, what your in-laws say or the sour state of the economy, you can control how you react, how you accomplish work, how you spend your time and what you spend your money on.
The worst thing for stress is trying to take control over uncontrollable things. Because when you inevitably fail — since it’s beyond your control — you only get more stressed out and feel helpless. So after you’ve thought through what’s stressing you out, identify the stressors that you can control, and determine the best ways to take action.
Take the example of a work project. If the scope is stressing you out, talk it over with your supervisor or break the project down into step-wise tasks and deadlines.
Stress can be paralyzing. Doing what’s within your power moves you forward and is empowering and invigorating.
3. Do what you love.
It’s so much easier to manage pockets of stress when the rest of your life is filled with activities you love. Even if your job is stress central, you can find one hobby or two that enrich your world. What are you passionate about? If you’re not sure, experiment with a variety of activities to find something that’s especially meaningful and fulfilling.
4. Manage your time well.
One of the biggest stressors for many people is the lack of time. Their to-do list expands while time flies. How often have you wished for more hours in the day or heard others lament their lack of time? But you’ve got more time than you think, as Laura Vanderkam writes in her aptly titled book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
We all have the same 168 hours, and yet there are plenty of people who are dedicated parents and full-time employees and who get at least seven hours of sleep a night and lead fulfilling lives.
5. Create a toolbox of techniques.
One stress-shrinking strategy won’t work for all your problems. For instance, while deep breathing is helpful when you’re stuck in traffic or hanging at home, it might not rescue you during a business meeting.
Because stress is complex, “What we need is a toolbox that’s full of techniques that we can fit and choose for the stressor in the present moment,” said Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.
6. Pick off the negotiable tasks from your plate.
Review your daily and weekly activities to see what you can pick off your plate. As Vanderkam asks in her book: “Do your kids really love their extracurricular activities or are they doing them to please you? Are you volunteering for too many causes and so stealing time from the ones where you could make the most impact? Does your whole department really need to meet once per week or have that daily conference call?”
Blonna suggested asking these questions: “Do [my activities] mesh with my goals and values? Am I doing things that give my life meaning? Am I doing the right amount of things?”
Reducing your stack of negotiable tasks can greatly reduce your stress.
7. Are you leaving yourself extra vulnerable to stress?
Whether you perceive something as a stressor depends in part on your current state of mind and body. That is, as Blonna said, “Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit.”
So if you’re not getting sufficient sleep or physical activity during the week, you may be leaving yourself extra susceptible to stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, sedentary and filled to the brim with coffee, even the smallest stressors can have a huge impact.
8. Preserve good boundaries.
If you’re a people-pleaser, saying no feels like you’re abandoning someone, have become a terrible person or are throwing all civility out the window. But of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, those few seconds of discomfort are well worth avoiding the stress of taking on an extra activity or doing something that doesn’t contribute value to your life.
One thing I’ve noticed about productive, happy people is that they’re very protective of their time and having their boundaries crossed. But not to worry: Building boundaries is a skill you can learn.
9. Realize there’s a difference between worrying and caring.
Sometimes, our mindset can boost stress, so a small issue mushroom into a pile of problems. We continue worrying, somehow thinking that this is a productive — or at least inevitable — response to stress. But we mistake worry for action.
Clinical psychologist Chad LeJeune, Ph.D., talks about the idea of worrying versus caring in his book, The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Worrying is an attempt to exert control over the future by thinking about it, whereas caring is taking action. When we are caring for someone or something, we do the things that support or advance the best interests of the person or thing that we care about.
LeJeune uses the simple example of houseplants. He writes: “If you are away from home for a week, you can worry about your houseplants every single day and still return home to find them brown and wilted. Worrying is not watering.”
Similarly, fretting about your finances does nothing but get you worked up (and likely prevent you from taking action). Caring about your finances, however, means creating a budget, paying bills on time, using coupons and reducing how often you dine out.
Just this small shift in mindset from worrying to caring can help you adjust your reaction to stress. To see this distinction between worrying and caring, try this activity where you can list responses for each one. For example:
Worrying about your health involves…
Caring about your health involves…
Worrying about your career involves…
Caring about your career involves…
10. Embrace mistakes—or at least don’t drown in perfectionism.
Another mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Trying to be mistake-free and essentially spending your days walking on eggshells is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! And as we all know but tend to forget: Perfectionism is impossible and not human, anyway.
As the researcher, Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth and it’s not self-improvement.”
Nothing good can come from perfectionism. Brown writes: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis [‘all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect’].”
Plus, mistake-mistaking can lead to growth. To overcome perfectionism, Brown suggests becoming more compassionate toward yourself. I couldn’t agree more.