When I first connected to this question it was like something cracked open inside of me to let the light in. I was sitting in my psychologist’s office listing off all the things I needed to fix about myself. She looked at me, bemused. When I stopped talking, she stared me right in the eye and asked:
What if there is no problem?
The world stopped. Everything since that moment has changed for the better.
The transformation in me came from a simple realization--I am not a problem.
I had been thinking of myself negatively for as long as I could remember. Want the recipe for permanent unhappiness? I had it. I fixated on the belief that, when I sorted out the problem that was me, everything would make sense. I kept myself miserable and suffering for a long time.
I was pretty adept at using personal development as a weapon of self-destruction. I could identify all my personal failings and the back story to them with ease. But it brought me no peace. I was always at odds with myself.
In that moment of cracking open what was concealed for so long became clear. The perfect version of me didn’t exist. The need for it kept me from my own happiness. And the problems of my life, well, were they?
No matter how grievous or painful or humiliating or shameful or despairing or enraging my experiences were, they were just life. It was my story about them that made them good or bad. And when I saw it in that way, I was free to live my life. I was no longer defeated by it.
But this is not the end of the story. As I went deeper into my own self-acceptance, something remarkable happened in my relationship with the world. What if all the problems are not a problem?
I noticed as observed from this perspective that we are attuned to look at the events of the world as a problem. We are trained to create a problem of life. We are taught to measure our reality by what we do not yet have or that which we have lost.
We are not trained to accept that this is just life happening. And good or bad, this too, shall pass. When we switch the filter from “problem” to “acceptance” the fear begins to dissipate.
I am not suggesting for one minute that the problems stop. The problems don’t stop. In fact, the more self-aware we become, the more aware we are that the problems of the world are endless. But our worry doesn’t transform the situation we are experiencing or seeing. It only adds to it.
What if I stop seeing problems at all? What if all that is needed is the shift in perspective? Reducing the world to its problems doesn’t let us embrace reality as a continuum of experience. It is life happening. This shift set me free to act.
I moved from overwhelm to empowerment, emboldened by my acceptance of what is. In accepting what is, I could take action to make necessary change.
Acceptance of myself was the gateway to my personal peace. Shifting my perspective was as simple as changing my focus. Surrendering judgement is a radical act. But it is possible. I began by letting go of the addiction to judging myself. Next up, I stop judging the world. And perhaps, the peace I found in me can be found out there too.
"Happiness is ___________."
People finish this sentence in countless different ways.
For some people, happiness is having financial security, freedom from debt and poverty, and the ability to provide for their family.
For others, it's having great relationships with amazing people, or the ability to travel, play sports, be healthy, find spiritual peace, gain insight into the meaning of life… and so on.
Most people will agree that happiness looks different to different people. Our priorities and perspectives are not the same, so it's natural that the things we want most in life are different as well.
Most people will also agree that happiness has to do with getting what we truly want. Beyond all the superficial, day-to-day desires for things like food, shelter, and entertainment, we want the story of our lives to mean something.
Dale Carnegie once famously said:
"It isn't what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about."
Our thoughts have an immense impact on the way we perceive the world. What we think about most tends to influence the majority of our perceptions in life.
Think about the jobs you have had for an extended period of time. Have they changed the way you look at your surrounding environment? Did you start seeing more things that were relevant to that job, no matter where you went?
Let me give you an example…
If you've worked as an interior decorator, you'll most likely notice more than the average person does about the decorations and arrangements of every house you walk into; whereas if you've spent time working as an architect, you'll notice more about the structural details of those houses, without even consciously meaning to.
These repeated thoughts and perceptions start to become unconscious processes in your mind after a while, which makes them extremely important in your journey to finding happiness.
Here are 4 ways that you can use this principle to your advantage:
1. Train your mind to notice what makes you happy – Pretend this is your full-time job. Your duty is to find the things that fulfill you and your sense of purpose. Think about them consciously and remember what it is in each situation that makes you happy.
2. Meditate – Go over these ideas in your head again and again while you meditate, until it becomes second nature for you to notice them in everything you do.
3. Become actively aware of social influences – Many people will try to sell you on one idea or another about what happiness means. This will often happen in very subtle ways and it can prevent you from finding it for yourself.
Be aware of this as you interact with people and stay focused on finding the things that make YOU happy. Remember, this is your job now!
4. Rid yourself of anxiety – It's virtually impossible to keep an open mind and build the right kind of habits when you're constantly worrying about the future or what could go wrong.
And although anxiety and stress are normal feelings that we all experience, worrying excessively can seriously impact our physical health, emotional wellbeing and overall happiness.
One very effective technique that I’ve found to help me release anxiety about the future is to identify in advance what situations or roadblocks are coming my way, so I can be prepared to not only tackle them, but maybe even take advantage of them to work in my favor.
For example, sometimes I like knowing about my upcoming career projects so I can decide which one will bring me better or more opportunities, and then focus on those first.
Or, sometimes I think about the kind of relationships in my life that I need to either nurture or possibly avoid, in order to create happiness in my life.
I often also reflect on the state of my body, to see if there are any minor health problems I need to address before they become a real problem.
When I have a clearer perspective of what’s ahead, I feel more confident about my decisions, and more peaceful, which makes it easier to reach my goals.
As someone who has dealt with Major Depressive Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned how much your outlook on life informs your experience. There are many people in this world who are able to see the glass as half full, while others have a hard time seeing the bright side of life. If you are in the latter group, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to help change your perspective on life. Here are a few things I have implemented into my life and you might try them to see if it helps you have a more positive attitude.
1) Set goals
You may be feeling down in the dumps because you feel stuck. You might have things you want to accomplish, but you are unsure of how to get there. It may seem impossible to achieve what you want to. In order to combat this feeling, try setting some goals. Set your ultimate goal, but then find steps along the way. Having bite-sized goals can help you see the progress, which will encourage you to keep going. Consider rewarding yourself when you meet each goal. You may find that you are able to achieve your ultimate goal faster than you realize.
2) Work on your thought process
Not only can negative thoughts be draining mentally, they can have an impact on your physical health. People who are pessimistic tend to get sick more, and it can even lead to things like a heart attack or stroke. Of course, people tend to feel more down in the dumps when they are sick, so it can turn into a vicious cycle. When you find yourself having a negative thought, see if you can turn it into a positive one. In a bad situation, see if you can find a bright side. It will take some time and training, but this can help you rewire your brain to help you to have a more positive outlook.
3) Manage your anxiety
Stress and anxiety can be crippling. While it’s normal to have some stress in life, if it is controlling your life, then it’s time to take some steps to try to overcome it. Some therapy may be beneficial for you. Consider online therapy if the thought of going to an office intimidates you. There are deep breathing exercises, as well as things like meditation that can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure and can help you calm down.. Some people find that CBD oil can help them feel more relaxed.
4) Stay active
Exercise is important for you physically, but it can be good for your mind as well. Exercise can help reduce depression and negative thoughts by releasing endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that can help you feel happier. The fresh air can also be a good way to stimulate a good mood. Consider taking a stroll during your lunch break or early in the morning to help reset your mind and get a refreshing outlook.
5) Have a community
People who are in isolation are much more likely to feel depressed. If you don’t have many people in your life, see if you can make that change. If you aren’t close with your family, look for community events in your area that may help you meet new people. Consider introducing yourself to your neighbors to see if you can make a connection there. You may find that there is someone living close to you who you have a lot in common with. It can be helpful to discuss issues in life with other people, and it can help improve your outlook on life. Not only that, but they may be able to offer you input that you wouldn’t have thought of, which can be helpful.
Having a negative outlook on the world can lead to mental issues such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical problems. If you choose to implement these steps, they can help you start to think more positively about life, which will likely improve your health mentally, physically, and emotionally. It may take some time, but you may be surprised at how much it can help you.