Equipped With Happiness


Be Happier By Celebrating Small Victories

victorycartoonThere is no denying that accomplishing a major long-term goal feels fantastic. But, unless you’re superhuman, that kind of thing doesn’t usually happen on a daily basis. What happens more frequently are small successes which, if we stop to acknowledge them, can actually be great sources of happiness.

However, sometimes recognizing little, daily victories can be harder than it seems. In some cases, this is because we’re simply not in the habit of noticing them.  Other times, it’s because we deliberately downplay them, which happens for a couple of reasons:

1.  Having a big goal, such as getting a promotion or losing a significant amount of weight, can lead to a fear of getting excited too soon, and being let down later. We think that if we allow ourselves to do a little victory dance when our boss gives us a compliment or the number on the scale goes down, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We worry that the compliment was only a one-time thing, and remind ourselves that our weight loss could easily plateau the next day.

The best thing to say to these concerns is, “So what?!” If our success doesn’t last, we will still be disappointed, whether or not we let ourselves be happy about it first. So we might as well get some joy in the meantime. A more effective safeguard against disappointment might be to just make sure we don’t kid ourselves ( i.e., “The boss complimented me … I bet I will be vice president of this company by lunch!”). Not only that, it is always possible our success will continue and we actually won’t be disappointed. So, why not get even more mileage out of a big achievement by celebrating along the way?

2. Another thing that can stand in the way of enjoying small victories is the feeling that we aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough if we celebrate anything short of complete success.  Those little milestones might seem so far below our ultimate goal that we think we don’t deserve congratulations. We also might fear losing motivation by building a small accomplishment up too much (e.g., “Hmm, I guess 5 pounds is a lot of weight. Now I can EAT ALL THE COOKIES!!!!”).

Those kinds of thoughts are actually fairly unproductive. Even if an accomplishment is way smaller than whatever we ultimately plan to achieve, giving ourselves an internal high-five can be the encouragement we need to keep working hard. If we never stop to admire our progress, it’s much easier to burn out. Building up an accomplishment is good for our confidence, and it is in our power to prevent any potentially negative effects (e.g., “Five pounds is a lot of weight, good job self! I guess turning down those cookies is worth it!”).

Once we commit to letting ourselves enjoy small victories, we just have to figure out where to find them. A lot of the time, these victories do come in the form of progress toward a long-term goal. They might also come from achieving small goals, like finishing up some repairs around the house or making a successful attempt at a new recipe. Small victories can even come from unexpected successes that aren’t related to any predetermined goal. Maybe you managed to bring all the groceries inside in one trip, or maybe you caught a dish that fell off the table before it hit the ground.

Whatever form they take, little victories happen all the time. Go ahead and cheer for yourself the next time you climb a flight of stairs without keeling over. No accomplishment is too small to smile about!

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Be Happier By Keeping In Touch With The Past

dear past cartoonEveryone has heard the conventional wisdom that cautions against “living in the past,” and stresses the importance of making the most of present moments. But sometimes, the key to being happy now can be found by looking back.

Of course, there is a big difference between “looking back” and “running back at full speed, sitting down, and stubbornly refusing to ever move forward again.” Thinking about the past is dangerous in that second scenario because it is likely to lead to one, or both, of the following problems:

1. Fixation on regrets. It is easy to destroy the opportunity for present happiness by replaying the disappointments of the past over and over in our minds. Obsessing over things we wish had gone differently tends to result in even more regrets as our obsession causes us to continually miss chances to build a better life.

2. Mourning the way things used to be. When the present is less than ideal, it is tempting to wallow in sadness because we miss the happy moments of the past. But this comparison between “then” and “now” can trap us into believing that nothing could ever measure up to the good old days and cause us to overlook new joys.

However, by taking the healthier approach of merely glancing backwards, we can actually use the past to help maximize present opportunities for happiness. This way, the two problems above can be reframed as more productive courses of action:

1. Learning from mistakesIt is useful to remember things that have previously caused unhappiness, so we can make a note of what to do differently in the future. Memories of past conflicts, poor decisions, and moments of grief can serve as incentive to try new approaches that might lead to better results. Looking back gives us the opportunity to evaluate potential flaws in our current approach to life, and to correct those flaws before they are added to our lists of past mistakes.

2. Finding sources of positivity. Sometimes the present seems to come up a bit short on reasons to be happy.  Past joys can provide reassurance that the world isn’t all bad, and the warm fuzzy feelings inspired by fond memories can give us strength to face the tough stuff. Not only that, awareness of things that  made us happy before can guide us in the right direction as we consider what might make us happiest now.

Keeping in touch with the past allows us to preserve the best parts of our life and avoid recreating the worst parts. We just have to be careful not to let a casual, “keeping in touch,” relationship with the past escalate into an overly clingy relationship filled with resentment or unhealthy dependency. 


Be Happier By Accepting Sadness

sadness cartoonOne of the biggest mistakes people make in the quest for optimism is confusing actually being happy with refusing to be sad. In reality, there is a huge difference between the two. Real happiness comes from accepting sadness, not pretending it doesn’t exist.

As children learn early on, covering up a mess doesn’t make it go away. You might be able to fool your mom into thinking you cleaned your room by shoving everything under the bed for a while, but when she finally discovers those stale Cheetos and dirty socks hiding down there, it isn’t a pretty sight. The same is true for sadness.

For a while, we are able to ignore sadness. We can put on a brave face and hope that if we manage to convince everyone else we’re fine, we’ll eventually believe it ourselves. But, in the end, the bad feelings always creep out from under the bed. Sometimes, like those forgotten pizza crusts, they even re-emerge uglier than when we first hid them away.

Sadness itself isn’t the enemy. In fact, we wouldn’t feel happiness as strongly without it.

The important thing is learning to handle sadness productively. This involves a few steps:

  1. Feel the sadness. Allowing yourself to be unhappy for a while, and accepting that it’s okay to feel that way, makes it easier to truly let go of the negative feelings later on.
  2. Understand the sadness. Sort out the root causes of your feelings, being as honest with yourself as possible. Figuring out exactly why you’re unhappy will enable you to figure out the most practical approach to feeling better.
  3. Move forward from the sadness. Sometimes this is as simple as eliminating the source of your unhappiness. This might mean abruptly ending something negative, such as a bad relationship or an unpleasant job. It could also mean starting a lengthier process, like a diet. Other times, the source of unhappiness can’t be eliminated. In those cases, moving forward might require finding happiness in other places, and allowing newfound happiness to eventually overpower the sadness.

Difficult as dealing with sadness can be, it’s a mess worth cleaning up properly. After the hard work of accepting and processing sadness is over, we are free to enjoy real happiness that isn’t tainted by the stench of bad feelings lurking just out of sight.