3 Habits You Must Give Up If You Want Sustained Happiness
You, my friend, were born with a birthright.
You were born with the birthright to be happy every single day.
Everything you need to be happy is given to you from the moment you make your first cry. And you still have those things to this very day.
- You have your primary needs met — food, shelter, clothing.
- You have intelligence that allows you to work, create, observe, feel, and experience.
- You have relationships with people who care for you, who engage with you, and who afford human connection.
- You live on a beautiful, amazing planet free for you to explore and enjoy.
- You have easy access to information, ideas, books, entertainment, music, art, and many other things to heighten the senses and stimulate the mind.
In other words, you truly have everything you need right now to be happy.
Yes, we all have had difficulties, childhood issues, health problems, relationship upheavals, and unexpected tragedies that undermine our feelings of happiness. Many of these things are simply out of our control. And sometimes they create emotional and psychological problems that separate us from happiness for long periods.
Fortunately, most of us have the ability to heal from these unexpected life problems, to learn from them, and to move forward with happy lives. And yet the feeling of sustained happiness, that mixture of underlying contentment and joy, seems to elude most people.
Do you feel sustained happiness yourself?
Do you see it in the people around you?
When you observe someone who lives from that state of happiness, rather than constantly striving for happiness, you recognize that this person has a gift of some kind, a special knowledge or personality trait that lights them up from the inside out.
There are people born with “happier” personalities. But personality alone does not constitute sustained happiness. Achieving that sense of inner contentment and joy is more a matter of releasing things that have a part of your daily list of habits. These habits separate us from the happiness that is immediately accessible to us every day. And they will continue to do so until we recognize them in ourselves and do the work to let them go.
What are these life habits you must give up? I've outlined 3 major culprits below and what you can do to change them.
1. Listening to negative self-talk
If you pay attention, you'll notice you have a running dialogue in your brain. And quite often that dialogue is negative. You have self-talk that is self-defeating. You think negatively about your appearance, your worthiness, your intelligence, your abilities, your value, and any number of concerns that you've trained yourself to believe. And you believe because you listen.
Perhaps at one point in your life, something happened to make these thoughts appear. But whether there is a little truth or no truth at all in these thoughts, thinking about them and listening to your thoughts only further entrenches you in negativity and separates you from happiness. Your thoughts are far out-of-proportion to the reality.
So what can you do?
The first thing you can do is start paying attention. Put a post-in note on your computer or write a word on the back of your hand to remind you to observe your thoughts. Notice how often negative self-talk is passing through your brain, and notice what you are saying about and to yourself.
When you catch yourself in the negative thoughts, first just say the word “STOP” — either out loud if you are alone (the spoken word has power) or to yourself if you aren't. Then take action. If the negative self-talk is something you can and/or should do something about, then do it. For example, if you are thinking, “I'm so fat,” and you really need to lose a few, then run up and down the stairs a few times or prepare something healthy to eat. Positive action makes you feel better.
Even if your thoughts have no basis in reality, take some positive, forward moving, or enjoyable action anyway. This will both distract you from the negative thoughts and build your self-esteem.
So in general, get out of your head and do something! Eventually you will break the habit of negative self-talk as you continue to replace it with positive action. You might create a list of positive actions you can take to have handy when you catch yourself in negative thinking.
2. Worrying what other people think
So much of our angst and unhappiness in life comes from worrying what other people will think.
- We hold ourselves back.
- We say yes when we mean no and no when we mean yes.
- We give up on dreams or chase the wrong ones.
All because we worry about the judgments and opinions of others. We worry about hurting their feelings or letting them down, while abusing our own feelings and letting ourselves down.
Once you are able to disengage from concern about what others think, it will be the greatest liberation of your life. When you give up on trying to make others happy or trying to prevent them from thinking poorly of you, then you are free to be yourself completely and unreservedly.
That's not to say you can't make conscious choices about how you wish to accommodate or show respect and kindness to others. You can do that within the framework of putting your own needs and desires first most of the time.
The people you want in your life are those who love and respect you for who you are and how you choose to live — not those who reject or diminish you because you make certain choices in life.
Most of the time, when we stop worrying about what others think and start living life on our own terms, we actually become more attractive people. Yes, you may lose a few people in your life as a result, but are these really people you want in your life anyway?
So what can you do?
If you have been one who constantly worries about what others might think, it will take a bit of time to retrain yourself and release this bad habit. Start by defining what YOU really want from life, who you really want to be. Write down all of the things you are afraid to do or be because you worry about what others might think.
Then write down the list of people who might be offended by your choices or actions.
- How many of these people do you really value?
- Of the people you value, do you really believe they will reject you because of your choices?
- How could you communicate your desires to them in a kind and loving way?
If you are worried about the general masses of people (ie: neighbors, Facebook friends, casual acquaintances) and what they might think or say — let that go. Simply stop caring. You will never please all people all the time. There should be just a handful of people in your life whose good opinion matters to you enough to consider their feelings or thoughts before you act.
In general, practice making choices in spite of your concern about what others might think. The more you practice, the more you realize that you won't die, people who love you won't reject you, and they might actually like the “real you” even better.
3. Longing for more
If you are really honest with yourself, you must admit that you have everything you need in life and much of what you want. And between the demands of work and life responsibilities, how much time do you have to really enjoy more than what you have right now?
There is a difference between wanting to improve your quality of life and longing for more. When you long for more, your happiness hinges on achieving or attaining the thing you long for. So you postpone happiness until you get the thing you want. But sometimes you don't get the thing you long for. And sometimes you get it, but the happiness it brings is fleeting. So you long for something else.
So life becomes a cycle of long periods of longing followed by brief encounters with happiness.
But it is possible to work to improve your quality of life and remain happy in the present moment. You improve your quality of life through . . .
- improved relationships
- passionate and fulfilling work
- positive and fun experiences (ie: travel, adventure, culture, etc.)
- financial stability
- good health
These are things you should continue to improve throughout your life, but they don't require you to postpone happiness until you do. You can continue to be happy with the life you have right now while you find new ways to improve these “happiness fostering” circumstances.
So what can you do?
Begin by focusing with gratitude on what you have right now that is rewarding, fulfilling, and that brings you joy. Write a list of these things and keep it handy where you can read it every day. Sometimes we forget how much we have when we get caught up in longing for more.
When you catch yourself longing, feeling anxious or frustrated that you don't have what you think you want or need, refer to this list as a reminder of all of your blessings. Remember that material things rarely bring sustained happiness. We can get momentary pleasure from new clothes, a fancy car, or a big screen TV, but those things don't provide sustained happiness.
If you want to quickly move past the feelings of longing, there are three things you can do immediately to help:
- find someone to serve
- finding something to create
- do something to improve yourself or to further your quality of life goals
Sustained happiness isn't really so hard to achieve. Once you release listening to negative self-talk, worrying what others think, and longing for more, you will see that happiness is sitting on your doorstep, just waiting for you to come home.
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What has been your experience with these negative habits? How have they interfered with your happiness and what have you done about it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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