Having a life that’s full of happiness and stress-free calm is within everyone’s grasp. Sure, it’s a hell of a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay rent or you’re going through a frustrating situation that’s out of your control (a divorce, a job search, health issues). But at the end of the day, we decide how we want to process our lives. We decide to put in the mental work to get rid of stress and anxiety, or we fill up our lives with junk so that we’re “too busy” to ever sort it out.
Water finds it’s own level. You may find your dream job, win the lottery, get swept away by your dream man or woman — but you’ll always find problems in your life, and they’ll always feel just as real as the ones you have right now. Rich, beautiful people deal with depression and anxiety and stress. Don’t let your happiness be something you deal with “as soon as” you achieve x goal. It’s not about external circumstances. You can have a higher quality of daily life right now. Why not work at it?
Here are 10 places to start, ways we sacrifice our personal happiness for things we only think we need.
1. Caring what other people think
It’s very easy to say “I don’t care what people think” but another thing entirely to practice it. For instance, if an obviously bitchy person is rude to you, it’s easy to brush them off, but less so when an acquaintance misunderstands you. You want to correct them. You want people to see that you are well intentioned. It takes a lot of energy to do this, however, to constantly wonder how you are appearing and work towards being well-liked by everyone in your work circle and family circle and social circle. The average American knows 600 people. It’s exhausting to figure out what 600 different people want from you and then become that person to them.
There are two things that are helpful in letting go of the need to please — repeating to yourself that what other people think of you is none of your business. Your friend’s boyfriend that you were a “loud talker” — so what? What actual repercussions will this have for you and your future? Whatever they are, they are smaller than the time and energy you will spend worrying about it.
The second thing is to remember that every relationship you have with other people is a relationship they are having with themselves, through you. People don’t like people who remind them of an aspect of their own personality that they don’t like. Or that remind them of another person they had a bad experience with. Or that conflict with their own personal values. It’s none of your business to deal with the other person’s prejudices and try to sort them out. Just let it go.
2. Being busy
Your 20s can be a very busy time. At one point I worked a full time job and had a part time job and a very busy social life. But it’s very easy to use being busy as an excuse not to take care of yourself, or to keep you from thinking about difficult stressors like “am I living the life I want to?”
Part of the reason we keep ourselves so busy is that we were told we could have it all. We want to prove that we can be the person that is advancing in their career and having a love life and a social life and playing on a rec soccer league and learning how to cook and being in a book club and having a pristine apartment. The problem is that very few people (in fact, I’ve never met one) want “it all.” We may want to appear this way to others (see #1) but we just aren’t programmed to have ten different goals we care equally about.
Stop trying to impress people with the quantity of things you do. Figure out what you really care about and be great at that, and then use the time you free up to do self-care. Do 20 minutes of bedtime yoga every night and use it to relax and figure out if you are satisfied or frustrated by the things you are filling your time with. If you feel frustrated more often than satisfied, change something. You can write this down afterwards for reference, it’s an ancient practice called the examen.
3. Feeling like you are being held back by others
I see this all the time. People say they are great at their dream job but no one will give them a chance, or feeling like they can’t achieve something because people value the wrong things. “I’m a great person and people should value the person I am but I can’t get a date because what people value is wrong.” “I’d be a pr person but I can’t get hired because people only want to hire attractive, outgoing people and they won’t give me a chance.”
In cases like this, you aren’t being held back by other people’s refusal to give you a chance, you are being held back by your own refusal to accept the world as it really is. Sure, in a perfect world people would hire you based only on quality and merit and potential partners would prioritize a great personality. But we don’t live in that world, and you are just causing yourself frustration and stagnation by wishing we did. Accept the world as it is and try to work within those parameters, if it’s too frustrating, find a new goal.
4. Trying to solve problems before they are problems
I definitely struggle with this one. I’m a process person so when someone does something in my life I’m always thinking about what precedent it’s setting. Is it a slippery slope to something I don’t want to deal with?
When you are frustrated about something ask yourself, “is my need to solve the problem the ACTUAL problem at this point?”
If you answer yes, let it go. You can’t solve anything until there is something to solve.
5. Feeling bad about the things you fail at
It’s okay to feel bad when you fail, but it’s not productive to dwell in it. Remember that every failure means that you learned something — the more failures the more things you’ve learned. You are not the same person you were before the failure. You learned something that didn’t work, try something else and move on. Experience and failure are the price you pay for wisdom — and it’s honestly a bargain rate.
6. Feeling as if you are “stuck” in a situation you “can’t” get out of
It’s your life isn’t it? You are in control of it. If something isn’t working, change it. Change isn’t always easy, but it costs you your happiness not to go for it.
People get wrapped up in thinking they can’t be happy because they are stuck in a marriage for the kids or a job for the money or in any other situation it’s easy to talk yourself into believing is immovable. It’s a lie. You are the most important person in your life and it is your job to give yourself the best life possible. Life your head up and look around. Think about what you would advise a close friend if they were in your situation and give yourself a little tough love.
It’s never too late to change, it’s never too late to start over or to try something new. We are a tough, we humans, we are made to go through challenges and come out the other side. And it’s always worth it, isn’t it? To improve your life, to look after yourself — to live the best life you can while you have the chance. It’s your one and only duty to do this.