I used to be a happiness junky. Like an addict looking for the next fix I would beg, borrow and steal to get the rush of high that comes with those temporary moments of feeling like you're on top of the world.
Enrolling in classes, ingesting endless amounts of affirmations and quotes, and cutting the negative people out of my life to encapsulate myself in a positive energy field were just a few of the things I tried to sustain that happy experience I craved.
Over time I started to see the effects of chasing after something so irregularly unattainable and unsustainable. My moods were erratic with lots of highs and lows, I felt discouraged and adrift a lot of the time, and I was often filled with envy when it seemed like everyone else in the world had figured out the happiness secret except me.
Then somewhere along the way I came to realize that grasping after something so illusive was not the answer, and that my own happiness was less about getting and more about letting go.
So I decided to take an unhappiness inventory.
I started with these questions:
What am I doing regularly that reduces my happiness?
What thoughts, actions or behaviors lead to feeling unhappy?
Where in my life am I feeling unhappy?
How does remaining unhappy serve me?
While it's a bit fundamental to think in terms of happy and unhappy sometimes breaking it down to the basics allows for a good foundation for rebuilding. Looking at what's wrong before finding a fix makes more sense than looking for solutions or answers without a real sense of what problem you're trying to solve.
As a therapist I see a lot of unhappiness. Week after week I hear my clients complain about their jobs, partners, and even their own behavior. Lurking beneath all of it is a deep sense of dissatisfaction that stems from an unconscious knowing that they aren't living the lives they long to.
When I ask them to answer these four unhappiness inventory questions they come to realize, as did I, that finding the path to their best lived life starts with more undoing than doing.
Research has validated some very specific life qualities that improve levels of happiness in human beings. Feeling happy has been strongly correlated with seeing life as easy, pleasant, and free from difficult or troubling events, spending more time with friends, and being in good health.
Knowing that you can work toward improving your happiness quota by doing or adding these prescriptions to your life is great, but not enough. The truth is that no matter how hard you work at increasing your level of happiness you will always be limited by your unacknowledged unhappiness.
Your happiness to unhappiness ratio always needs to be in balance.
My personal inquiry into my own unhappiness brought me to three things I needed to stop doing right away. I want to share them with you even though you will come up with your own as you do your personal query.
Stop wanting more
Researchers talk about "hedonic happiness" -- the happiness that comes from pleasure or goal fulfillment as being the most temporary form of happiness. Living in a "never enough" society conditions us to constantly strive for something better, more or different. Whether you call it settling, being satisfied or simplifying being where you are learn to live peacefully with what you have. If you do reach for more be sure it's something that adds meaning and value to your life.
Disappointment, while a natural part of the human experience, leads to chronic unhappiness. Most of our disappointments come from having unrealistic expectations about others and ourselves. Learning to be more accepting and understanding of other people's limitations, and being realistic about each person's capabilities will help you align what you think you should expect with what you actually can expect.
Like many of my clients you may spend a lot of your time thinking about what you should do or how you should change something in your life with very little time spent actually doing something about it. Being stuck leads to unhappiness and when you're in a holding pattern you are definitely at a standstill. Fear is the ultimate obstacle for most people trying to live a better life so stop waiting and take even the smallest action.
The message here is not to lose aspiration or the drive to improve your life. The important moral of this story is that you need to create a recipe for happiness. Omit the ingredients that ruin the taste, and add the ingredients that give you the most well rounded and robust life dish.