DO YOU WONDER WHY YOU’RE NOT HAPPIER?
Do You Feel Like You Should Be Happier, Given That Your Life Is Pretty Good? Do You Wonder Why You Aren’t In A Better Mood, And Instead You Feel Cranky? Do You Feel Like You Should Be More Positive But You Aren’t Sure How?
Do you find yourself questioning why you aren’t more content, thriving or fulfilled or whatever adjective resonates for you? Do you feel everything is going well, but you can’t explain why you don’t feel happier? I know I can’t be the only woman to have ever experienced this disconnect between how I sometimes feel unsatisfied, and how I think I should feel, knowing that so many aspects of my life are actually going well. For all intents and purposes, I am happy. I’m just noticing those ungrateful, cranky moments that seem to permeate my mood on bad days and leave me feeling unsettled. There are plenty of good days when I’m productive and everything flows. It’s those other days, when you can’t stick with anything long enough to complete it because your attitude is getting in the way, that I’m talking about.
What Does Happy Mean
Happy means feeling and showing pleasure or contentment, or having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with something or someone. As per Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci of the Annual Review of Psychology, current research on well-being has been derived from two general perspectives: the hedonic approach, which focuses on happiness and defines well-being in terms of pleasure attainment and pain avoidance; and the eudaimonic approach, which focuses on meaning and self-realization and defines well-being in terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning. Which means we are talking about doing things that makes us feel good and living a life that has purpose. Clearly both concepts play a role in how we define our own happiness levels.
In a 2016 study by YouGov subjects were asked if they valued achievement or happiness more. The study found only 13% of Americans would rather achieve great things than be happy, while 81% want to be happy. Happy can be a fleeting moment, but we desire it to be a permanent state. Even though we realize this is not achievable we have the unrealistic expectation that eventually we will get there and stay there. Our pursuit of this objective causes problems. Real life, as we well know, is filled with unavoidable painful experiences and disappointments. It is a consequence of living, even when aspiring to live a good life. It’s also been documented that there is value in some stress; too little stress can cause boredom and depression. Medium stress levels can enhance motivation, forcing us to take action and problem-solve, which in turn increases our confidence. Intermittent stress can keep the brain more alert, promoting behavioral and cognitive performance. We often forget to factor this into our quest for happiness.
To some extent we can blame hormones for our moods and inability to feel happiness. I won’t delve into discussing hormones here, as every woman has a different experience. There is much written about the roller coaster your hormones can take you on, if you’re interested. I’ve been spared much of that ride, thankfully, but I acknowledge that hormonal issues affect many women.
The Good Stuff
The first thing to do is to take stock of the things that are important to you. What do you consider to be essential in your life? When I do this exercise, I recognize I have my health, a long marriage, two wonderful adult children, I have lots of family and friends I love and that love me back. I’ve never suffered abuse, mistreatment or neglect, nor have I lived in poverty or survived a natural disaster or a terrible tragedy. I have a college education, talents and interests, and a pretty good lifestyle. But human nature is odd, and despite what we understand rationally, our emotions take off on their own.
Comparing yourself to
many women, particularly in other parts of the world, you probably have it good, relatively speaking. I am aware, well aware, of what I have in my life that’s good, and I don’t take it for granted. When I was a little girl, I used to get homesick at sleepaway camp for my parents, thinking how much I missed them and that I was so lucky to have such a close family. Later, when I was a young adult, they got divorced and I was grateful that my early years had been stable and mostly positive. This allowed me to focus on growing up and not on being needed to take care of them. I went to college when I was 17 years old and never looked back. I had the freedom to look forward, a real luxury.
The Big SHOULD
Yes, we have so much to be grateful for and I truly am. However, there are those moments when I’m aware of feeling blue, or dark gray. Nothing is wrong, it just feels off. If I unpack those feelings at the time, usually I find there is an underlining theme. My inner critical voice is speaking loudly about something I’m not doing. It may be something on my To Do list, or it could be specific to the day. But it is always telling me I didn’t do enough of something, didn’t get something done, didn’t drive towards what I want. It’s the big SHOULD – I should be doing X and I’m not and therefore I’m disappointed in myself. Nevermind that I may have actually accomplished something in the same day, but it’s not enough. It never is.
Quieting the Inner Critic
So how do we quiet that inner critic? We all have our own versions of this self-criticism. At this point in my long life, I would have hoped I’d learned how to turn down the volume. I’ve had lots of practice and while practice makes perfect, I haven’t mastered how to achieve such a feat on a regular basis. For some people, meditation and other practices work, for others reconnecting with the outside world can quiet the voice. You may want to get grounded in nature, keenly observing what’s around you and paying attention with all your senses. Connecting with other people also forces you to stop focusing only on yourself. Doing something to serve and help someone else is ideal for redirecting your mood. Tackling a project you know is achievable can give you a sense of accomplishment. You’ve probably heard the terms Mindset and Mindfulness, and both apply to this situation.
Mindfulness is being aware of your feelings, your thoughts, your surroundings, and your mood. It is about accepting how things are right now. It’s important to notice how you feel when you’re going through one of these days when it feels like the cup is half empty instead of half full. Some days it’s okay to give in and not try fight it, this too shall pass. The important thing to remember is not to make yourself feel badly for feeling like this – you’re only human.
Mindset is about changing your thinking. In the blog Mindfulness vs. Mindset: What is the Difference (https://www.mindbydesign.io/mindset-vs-mindfulness) Mindset is explained as “…a perspective or belief in yourself. It is the way you interpret your experience. It is a positive, hopeful outlook on life. Mindset is learning from your experiences by acknowledging that you have the power to choose how things turn out.”
You do have the power to reset your attitude. You can read much about Mindset and find some techniques that work for you. Some people find affirmations helpful; others listen to podcasts by industry experts to learn how to incorporate this type of thinking into everyday life. Getting cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells – a process called neurogenesis – and boosts creative and mental energy. Whatever you decide to try, remember you can shake yourself out of the doldrums and get yourself moving again. For better or for worse, ONLY you can make this happen. And if you’ve read this far you undoubtedly have the motivation to get going!