A survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago in 2020 found that only 14 percent of Americans said they were “very happy.” This is a 17-percentage point drop from 2018 and the lowest number ever since the survey began in 1972. Prior to last year’s survey, this number never dipped below 29 percent. It isn’t hard to figure out why the drastic drop in 2020. And things really haven’t changed all that much in 2021. There’s still so much going on in the world, and within our country. All we need to do is to flip on the morning news and we’ll instantly feel our happiness start to slip away. But the good news is that we CAN be happy, despite everything going on around us. Today, we will discuss how to do that as well as identify some happiness killers that are the culprits for sucking all the happy out of our lives.
Why do we feel unhappy?
I want to start out by recognizing that some people aren’t happy because they are suffering from a health issue that can only be addressed by a professional. If this is you, please talk to a health care provider today. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, please contact 1-800-273-8255.
There are many reasons why people are unhappy. But today, we will focus on comparison to others, being stuck in your comfort zone and focusing on the past or future as the main reasons why people aren’t happy.
COMPARISON TO OTHERS
I talk a lot about comparing ourselves to others in the episode entitled, “I am enough.” If you haven’t heard it already, I encourage you to take a listen. // It’s easy to read and hear about the amazing things happening in other people’s lives and then look at our own and feel mediocre, like we’re behind or haven’t done enough. Sometimes, it’s motivation for us to get off our butts and follow our dreams or do what we’ve always wanted to do. But sometimes, it can make us feel disappointed, which could take a toll on our happiness. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
STUCK IN YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Being unhappy can also come from being stagnant. If we don’t feel like we’re growing or making progress towards something, we may look up one day and realize we’re not happy. We’re just going through the motions. Our comfort zone is a breeding ground for unhappiness. We can’t expect that playing it safe will always produce a fulfilled life. We have to be willing and ready to stop outside of our comfort zones to a place a little less familiar. Doing so will stretch us in ways that promise growth and improvement. It doesn’t always feel good. In fact, it can be uncomfortable or even downright scary. But those feelings are only temporary and when it’s all over, you’ll be glad you did it.
FOCUSING ON THE PAST OR FUTURE
I also discuss being stuck in the past on the episode entitled, “I am at peace with my past.” But we can also be stuck in the future, even though it hasn’t gotten here yet. We get so worried about the horrible things that could happen that we ignore the beautiful things that are happening right now! The key is to live in the here and now. That’s why they call it the present. Because every day is a gift. We can’t go back and undo something that happened in the past and we can’t always control what will happen in the future. We need to understand and accept that all we have is today. Today will be the past, and it was the future at one point in time. So let’s make the most of it.
If any of these are the reasons behind your unhappiness, the obvious first step to becoming happy is to stop comparing yourself to others, step outside of your comfort zone and to focus more on the present and not as much on the past or future. But I’d like to provide you with a couple more tips for how you can get (and stay) happy.
HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Every day, we get to choose what attitude we will have. We can have either a positive attitude, or a negative attitude. Having a positive attitude means that no matter what happens, we will look on the bright side; the silver lining. It means that we are focused on the possibilities and expect good things to happen. Having a negative attitude means that you let whatever happens to you ruin your day. You focus on problems, dwell on disappointments and live in a constant state of worry and anxiety. I can guarantee that if you have a positive attitude, happiness will follow.
Most of the things that affect our happiness are temporary. Getting stuck in traffic. Not getting the promotion. Getting your order wrong in the drive-thru. Will we care about these things 6 months from now? Probably not. We need to make it a habit to shake it off and move on. Instead of thinking it’s not fair or that these things always happen to me, we should think, “I’m not going to let something like traffic ruin my day. A better-suited job is in store for me. People make mistakes. I’m going to treat them the way I’d like people to treat me when I make a mistake.
Remember, it’s not always the circumstances that make us happy. It’s our attitude towards those circumstances that can make all the difference.
The second thing you should do is exercise. Exercising releases endorphins, which are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. They interact with receptors in your brain to trigger positive feelings throughout your body. I can attest that I work out from 5:30am to 6:30am Monday through Friday. When I’m finished, I feel a natural high that makes me ready to take on the day. I don’t drink coffee or tea; I run on these endorphins all day long. I can also attest that throughout the day, I have a positive attitude and not many things bother me longer than a few minutes.
Some people also use exercise to vent their frustration or anger. Just imagine having a hard day at work where your supervisor was riding your back every hour of the day and then going to a kickboxing class in the evening. Or maybe you’re the mother of a newborn who cries a lot. Just think of how you would feel running a mile on a treadmill releasing stress with every step. The benefits of exercising are two-fold. It impacts your happiness and your overall health!
Attitude of gratitude
A lot of us go to bed each night thinking about all the things we don’t have; the things we lack in life. We believe that happiness is contingent upon getting those things. But, we can be, and should be, happy today just by being thankful for the things we do have. That job you hate? At least it allows you to provide for your family. Someone out there would love to have your job. Child acting up in school? Somewhere there is a woman who lost her child, or one that can’t conceive one at all. What she wouldn’t give to be able to hold that child in her arms. We need to be thankful for what we have because it can be taken away in a split second.
There’s nothing wrong with working towards those things that we want or achieving specific goals, but we must have an attitude of gratitude for the things we have now. Oprah said she’s been keeping a gratitude journal for years now. Every day, she writes down five things she’s grateful for. She said it’s changed her life. Why not give it a try? Denise Albright sells cute gratitude journals for a low price. She even makes them for kids, too!
Happiness is not something you can chase down and grab onto. It’s more of something that we can choose to or not to have. First, we must find the source of our unhappiness and address it. Whether it be comparing yourself to others, getting stuck in your comfort zone or focusing too heavily on the past or future, we must recognize these as being barriers to our happiness and make adjustments accordingly. And if we have a positive attitude, get some regular exercise and have an attitude of gratitude, we will start seeing a shift in no time. My last bit of advice, SMILE! Scientists say doing so can bring you a boost in your mood and happiness levels.
Here are your positive affirmations to ponder on this week:
- I am happy.
- I am learning not to compare myself to others.
- I am willing to step out of my comfort zone.
- I am living for today and not focusing on yesterday or tomorrow.
- I have a positive attitude.
- I am grateful.