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 Finding Your Self-Discipline Sweet Spot

self discipline cartoonSelf discipline is a tricky ingredient to work with. It is often difficult to determine exactly how much of it we need and the best ways to mix that amount into the rest of our lives. But when we are able to use it effectively, self-discipline can help us find tremendous satisfaction. If we want to optimize our self-discipline, there are some common mistakes we need to avoid.

1. Having too much or too little self-discipline.

It is undeniable that all of us need a basic amount of self-discipline in order to avoid getting fired from our jobs, letting down those who depend on us, or permanently fusing to our couches from lack of movement. But beyond that basic level, we actually have a fair amount of choice about how disciplined we are. That’s why it is important to recognize the signs that we need to adjust our level of self-discipline.

You might need more self-discipline if: You are constantly frustrated by how little progress you are making toward your goals, you know what steps you could take to make more progress, and the reason you aren’t taking those steps can really only be described as “laziness.”  

You might need less self-discipline if: You are constantly working toward achieving your goals, no amount of accomplishment ever feels like enough, and you are starting to feel burnt out and exhausted.

2. Using self-discipline in all the wrong places.

Unfortunately, life often gives us responsibilities we would rather not have, and handling those responsibilities requires self-discipline. When we give those things our best effort, we often find ourselves with no energy left to be self-disciplined about anything else.

In order to ensure that we have enough self-discipline to go around, we have to budget it carefully. We need to determine where in our lives we can afford to make some self-discipline cuts, and where we might benefit from some extra self-discipline. This means evaluating which areas are most important to us, and focusing our resources on those areas.

Sometimes this gets confusing, because there are certain things we would rather not put effort into that are actually very important to us. For instance, we might dislike going to work, but having a source of income is important to us. So we have to use up some of our self-discipline on work. However, if we don’t care about being promoted, we may be able to put in slightly less effort, giving us more self-discipline to use on something else.

3. Basing our own self-discipline needs on the opinions of others.

It is important to realize that there is no universally accepted ideal for self-discipline. Some people are happiest with more self-discipline, and others are happiest with less. Neither way is right or wrong, so we just need to figure out which type of person we are and embrace it. Most of us fall somewhere between the following categories.

 A) People who benefit from high self-discipline. These people are happiest when they are actively engaged in a challenge. The feeling of satisfaction they get from putting in a full day of work is worth any stress they encounter in the process. They are easily bored with downtime, and spending a while relaxing makes them feel lethargic, rather than recharged. People like this might be able to maximize their happiness by pushing themselves as hard as they can.

B) People who benefit from low self-discipline. These people are happiest when they are able to put their feet up.  A full day of hard work is likely to leave them feeling frustrated and exhausted.  They don’t mind taking a longer time to accomplish a goal, if doing so prevents stress. For them, downtime is rewarding and enjoyable. People like this might be able to maximize their happiness by not pushing themselves all the way to their limits.

Once we finally master the use of self-discipline, we can create our own perfect recipe for happiness. Then, all that’s left is smiling and enjoying the delicious rewards of our labor.


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.