When life throws a lot at us, it is hard to recognize our blessings amidst all the problems that we are facing. We may feel overwhelmed by our To Do List, or by a health or relationship issue. At times like that, it is easy to get frustrated and become unhappy.
Moreover, some people simply are prone to unhappiness. I’ve known people who struggled to see the good in their lives, even when their lives were going well. For example, I once had a friend who could not see how blessed he was. He lived in a very nice house. He had a kind wife and a sweet, little boy. He had a good job working with friendly people. He was blessed in all areas of his life.
Nevertheless, in spite of all his blessings, he was unhappy. He complained about his job and criticized his wife. And he convinced himself that his unhappiness was everyone else’s fault.
Significantly, there was absolutely nothing wrong with his life. He had a family and job that most people would dream about. But by convincing himself that his life was bad, he effectively made himself unhappy.
I wish I could say that he was an anomaly, but he isn’t. I know lots of people whose circumstances are just fine, but who nevertheless are unhappy. Their unhappiness is solely a result of how they think. They choose to focus on the tiny imperfections of life and fail to see the abundance all around them.
Admittedly, we all do that, to a certain extent. We tend to focus on the negative. That is because we, as human beings, are problem solvers. As a highly intelligent species, we are always looking to solve the next issue. And while that is a very useful quality, it also makes us prone to focus on the bad and ignore the good.
As a result, since our brains aren’t naturally wired to be happy, we have to train our brains to be happy. Below are some ways to do just that. Follow these approaches and see your happiness increase!
Happy people typically have a gratitude practice. They spend some time each day focusing on the ways that they have been blessed. Many folks do this in a formal manner. They may have a gratitude journal in which they list the things for which they are grateful. Or they may have a meditation practice that focuses on gratitude.
When I get frustrated with life, I try different approaches to increase my gratitude. One way I do this is to try to look at my life through the eyes of someone who doesn’t have many tangible belongings. For instance, this morning, I woke up and immediately began thinking of all the problems that I have to solve today. I felt completely stressed out by all the issues on my plate.
Then I stopped myself. While I was lying in bed, I looked around my bedroom and thought, “How would this room look to someone who lives in a very poor, third world country? How would my bed feel to that person?” Well, my bedroom would look like a palace. And my bed would feel like heaven to that person. Just that change in perspective made me realize that my problems were merely nuisances. I quickly got my mind refocused on my blessings by that simple mental exercise.
Another way effective way to train your brain to be grateful is to express gratitude – out loud. I make it a practice to say “thank you” a lot. We tend to disregard how much other people help us. By getting into the habit of expressing our gratitude to others, we remind ourselves of how blessed we are by the kindness and generosity of other people.
Accept Life’s Imperfections
Life is not perfect. Stuff happens. Your family members and friends aren’t perfect. Nor are you! Nothing about your life is ever going to be perfect.
Unhappy people demand perfection in life. They expect everything and everyone around them to march to the beat of their drum. And if the world doesn’t do things their way, they become depressed.
Life just doesn’t work that way. We don’t always get everything we want. Happy people are good at going with the flow. They are good at being happy amidst life’s imperfection.
For instance, I’ve accepted that life often will not go my way. My plans do not always happen on my schedule, and people frequently do not act in the manner that I would like. And that can be frustrating!
However, I’ve found ways to be happy in the midst of imperfection. For example, if I can find a bookstore and a café, I can be happy in the middle of just about any nonsense in my life. In fact, many times when I’ve faced challenges in life, I’ve taken refuge at Barnes & Noble. There is nothing like a good book and a cup of tea to help me forget about the rest of the world!
So, if you want to be happy, accept that life is imperfect. Stop expecting everything to go your way. Stop expecting everyone to do exactly what you want them to do. The world isn’t built solely to meet your needs. Instead, realize that life is imperfect, and find ways to be happy amidst that imperfection.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
Our minds are intimately connected to our bodies. As a result, if we have negative thoughts, those thoughts can manifest themselves in physical illnesses, aches and pains.
Similarly, if we don’t take care of our bodies, our poor health can impact our happiness. For example, when we don’t care for our bodies, we may be unhappy with our appearance. Or we can feel depressed from either carrying extra weight or from not having enough stamina to get through the day.
But when we exercise, we release endorphins that boost our mood. And when we eat healthy foods, we feel good and alert. So, in order for our brains to be happy, we need to take good care of our bodies.
To be happy, you need to devote part of your day to physical exercise. Of course, we all feel like we don’t have time to exercise. However, time isn’t the issue. The issue is that we aren’t making our health and happiness a priority.
Think about it this way. There are 24 hours in a day. Eight hours should be devoted to sleep. Another eight – 10 hours are dedicated to work and commuting to work. That leaves six hours per day. What are you doing with those six? At least one of those hours should be given to exercise. Even 30 minutes of exercise each day would significantly impact your health and happiness.
Likewise, eating good food is a great way to increase our happiness. I will admit that chips, soda and fast food provide momentary enjoyment. However, ultimately, those foods make us feel sluggish. When we eat healthy food, our bodies operate better. Our bodies weigh less. We get sick less frequently. We feel more energetic. And, in turn, we feel better about ourselves. The intimate connection between how we feel about our bodies and our overall happiness cannot be underestimated.
Like all good things in life, having a happy life takes work! It doesn’t just happen. I encourage you to use some of the above approaches. Train your brain to be happy, and watch your happiness increase!