Equipped With Happiness


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Be Happier By Putting Bad Stuff In Its Place

bad mood cartoonIn a certain light, even the smallest objects can cast giant, menacing shadows. The same is true of negative events in our lives. If we view them in the wrong light, they can create a shadow that covers a much larger area than is warranted by their actual magnitude. This dark shadow can block the glow of happiness that shines from other parts of our lives.

Fortunately, by changing the light in which we view these negative events, it is relatively easy to prevent this shadow from forming. We simply need to focus on a few reminders that help keep our problems in perspective.

Reminder #1: Most bad stuff isn’t permanent.

When something goes wrong, or we find ourselves in a less-than-ideal situation, it is easy to get so caught up in the frustration of the moment that we forget our discomfort will not last forever. Often, negative circumstances are only temporary. For instance, we only need to tolerate an unpleasant job until we are able to find a better one (or until we can retire).  But even if the circumstances are permanent, usually our extreme aversion to them is not. As we get some distance from a bad break up, for example, we are able to adjust to the situation and feel less miserable.

It is important to remind ourselves that no matter how bad something seems, it’s only “for now.” It is easier to cope with unhappiness when we remember that eventually we will find some relief. Just think of how much easier the knowledge that Friday exists makes it to survive the workweek!

Reminder #2: Bad stuff has a tendency to create more bad stuff.

If a day starts with an alarm clock that doesn’t go off, followed by a flat tire, it is tempting to label the entire day as a “bad day.” But the second we decide we are having a bad day we severely decrease the chances that things will turn around. Once a day has been identified as “bad,” we’re more likely to interpret everything that happens in that context. A burnt dinner becomes yet another failure, when it could just as easily have been a good excuse to eat out.

Not only that, wallowing in a bad mood makes us unpleasant to be around, and may drive away people who could have made us feel better. When we bump into an attractive stranger, who might have offered us a flirtatious remark if we were smiling, they might respond to our obvious bad mood with a sharp, “Watch where you’re going,” instead. Of course, we will then take their rudeness as further evidence of our bad day. It’s up to us to avoid letting the bad things multiply.

Reminder #3: Taking time to appreciate the good helps keep the bad from taking over.

Knowing that it isn’t productive to let a bad mood influence everything else is one thing, but actually stopping that from happening is a whole different animal. It can be helpful to try to counter bad moods by actively reminding ourselves of the things we have to be happy about. These don’t even need to be big things; simply thinking about the taste of warm apple pie, or the feeling of sliding into a refreshing swimming pool on a hot day, can be enough to brighten our moods. The more time we spend thinking about the good parts of life, the less space there will be in our minds to fixate on bad stuff.

Life may not always be perfect, but, if we commit to reducing the shadow cast by less-than-ideal circumstances, these imperfections do not have to ruin our happiness.

 

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Be Happier By Finding Outlets For Bad Moods

breaking plates cartoonBad moods happen sometimes. Maybe we’re down because we had a conflict with a loved one, got sick, made a mistake, had to face disappointment, etc. Or maybe we just had a day full of little, less-than-ideal moments. When these moods happen, it is important to process them (see Be Happier By Accepting Sadness), but it is also important to figure out ways to pick ourselves up and feel happy again. One way to do this is to find an effective outlet that allows us to release the bad feelings and welcome in good ones.

Everyone is different, so the best outlets may vary from person to person. The trick is figuring out exactly what will be most effective for us as individuals. It is also useful to find more than one method that works, so we have an arsenal of happy-making activities. This may require a bit of trial-and-error, but considering some basic qualities of good outlets is a place to start.

Good outlets tend to be related to things we already like.

Some people love exercise, some love art, some love cooking, some love video games, and the list goes on. Engaging in an enjoyable activity can help remind us of the parts of life we enjoy, and the good feelings we get from having fun may be able to crowd out some of the bad ones. If we can identify some things that consistently put a smile on our face, we can turn to them when times get tough.

Good outlets allow us to release the bad stuff.

This could mean pounding on a punching bag, venting to a friend, writing a poem, or drawing pictures of our problems and setting them on fire. Sometimes finding a way to symbolically let go of negative experiences and feelings can help us feel better. And if that alone doesn’t cure the bad mood, it still makes us more prepared to feel happy when we engage in other fun activities.

Good outlets do not damage us.

Frustration, anger, and sadness can sometimes lead us to destructive behaviors masked as outlets. For example, we may turn to working out (not inherently a bad outlet), but push ourselves way too hard. Or we may find comfort in food (also not inherently a bad outlet), but overindulge to the point that we damage our health.

In order to determine whether we are partaking in an effective outlet or damaging ourselves, we need to consider our motivations and the results of our behavior. If we realize that we are motivated by a desire to punish ourselves or by an urge to give up (e.g. overeating because we have decided to give up on weight loss goals), it is likely that our actions will cause us harm. But even if we are motivated by a genuine desire to improve our mood, we should still monitor the effects of our actions to ensure we aren’t carrying a previously healthy outlet too far.

Good outlets do not damage others.

It really might improve our mood to chop off our little sister’s ponytail or knock all of someone else’s belongings off their shelves. But, ultimately these kinds of outlets are unethical and lead to greater sadness in the long term. Taking our bad moods out on other people can create a chain of bad moods if they start feeling unhappy, too. Not only that, it can damage relationships that might otherwise be a source of joy.

Identifying ways to improve a bad mood allows us to take our happiness into our own hands. While we will always have to face unhappiness from time to time, it is helpful to have some options for lessening our sadness and moving forward with life.