Equipped With Happiness

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Be Happier By Treating Yourself Lovingly

treatyourselfwithlovecartoonAt some point in their lives, most people have felt mistreated by someone else. But sometimes the greatest cruelty we face actually comes from within ourselves. When this happens, we often aren’t even aware we are treating ourselves poorly.

That’s why we might benefit from living by a new “golden rule”: Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. Before we perform actions or engage in thoughts directed towards ourselves, we should stop and consider whether we would appreciate that same treatment if it came from someone else.

Of course, each of us has unique desires regarding how we would like to be treated, so the way we should act toward ourselves may also differ. But the following guidelines might be a reasonable place to start. After each “don’t” is a happier, alternative “do.”

Don’t criticize yourself too harshly: No matter how much we wish it wasn’t true, we all have less-than-perfect moments.  When we make mistakes, we often fling mental insults at ourselves. Sometimes we are so good at this that we manage to convince ourselves we really are terrible people. But I think most of us would feel abused if another person tore us apart over our failures that way. So, we should be careful to show ourselves compassion, even when we are disappointed by our imperfections.

Do praise yourself: Compliments make us feel good, and we like it when others notice and express positive things about us. We can extend the same courtesy toward ourselves by acknowledging our personal successes and valuing our strengths.

Don’t Make Excuses For Yourself: While it is important to avoid being overly critical, we should not go to the other extreme of allowing ourselves to get away with everything. Almost anything we do wrong can be justified somehow, and it is tempting to accept questionable justifications to avoid the pain of admitting a mistake. The problem is, doing that means being dishonest with ourselves (which is treatment we wouldn’t want from others). It is better to acknowledge our errors, forgive ourselves, and try to do better in the future.

Do Encourage Yourself to Grow: Moments of imperfection can be great opportunities for self-improvement, if we take the time to analyze them and correct whatever went wrong. Rather than feeling bad about mistakes, or pretending they don’t exist, we can take on the challenge of bettering ourselves by not repeating them.

Don’t Punish Yourself:  Sometimes feeling bad about ourselves escalates into a belief that our shortcomings are so severe  we don’t deserve happiness. We end up undermining relationships, missing opportunities, and denying ourselves satisfactions because we feel unworthy of them. But the natural consequences of our mistakes are punishment enough. After all, if we accidentally spilled tomato sauce on a friend’s shirt, we would hope the friend would simply allow us to pay for a new one, rather than seek revenge by attacking our own wardrobe with grape juice.

Do seek enjoyment for yourself: When other people take the time to do nice things for us, it generally makes us happy. So, we should take the time to do nice things for ourselves, too. This could mean indulging in a favorite dessert, taking a day off from work, going for a long run, planning a day with friends, or engaging in any other activity that brings us pleasure.

Frustrating as it is, we can’t always control the injustices inflicted on us by others. But we can avoid mistreating ourselves, and we even have the chance to create some extra happiness in the process.

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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.