They say it’s not what happens to us, but how we react to the things that happen, that determines our overall happiness in life. And I find this to be 100% correct.
I’m not talking about serious tragedies. I’m talking about the everyday stuff that can just make life feel like such a struggle. And within this struggle, some thrive and others flail. Some get stronger and others get jaded and bitter.
Experience is the greatest teacher and I’ve spent nearly a decade now using my experiences to help people with their relationships and overall wellbeing. Throughout my life I, like many others, have had times where it feels like my life is running me, where I’m just trying to keep my head above water lest I be consumed. And on the other side, there are times where I have experienced that magical feeling of being on top of everything, of feeling totally OK. There are times when you just feel panicked and constantly on edge, and times when you have that confidence in yourself and your ability to handle anything. That’s what we all want, but how do we get there?
Things typically don’t just magically click into place. You have to make an effort and make some changes in order to get to that elusive place of feeling like everything is as it should be. When you can implement some of these changes into your life, you’ll experience significantly less anxiety, your relationships will improve, as will your overall level of happiness.
1. Don’t solve problems until there’s a problem to solve.
We are all guilty of this one because negative thoughts have a way of becoming magnified and then multiplying. You see something that seems like a bad sign and then you anticipate the worst and then you rack your brain trying to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist yet!
I recently did this very same thing and caused myself so much unnecessary stress and anxiety. I am having my second child in a few weeks and in true New York City fashion, rather than move and spend a gazillion more dollars per month in rent, we decided to wall off a section of our apartment and make it into another bedroom for the older baby and then put the little baby in his tiny little room which was formerly a walk-in closet.
The first night didn’t go too well. He screamed his head off and begged me to put him in his old crib. I was exhausted and not willing to fight with an irrational toddler at that moment in time so I complied. And I spent the entire next day trying to solve a problem that wasn’t even a problem yet. I stressed about it and tried to figure out a solution and just felt so stressed! The next day my husband and I talked to him and explained things a little more clearly and that night after a whole two minutes of crying, he fell asleep in his big beautiful crib. Our non-problem was solved!
This is just a recent example, but I can think of about 100 more. All of us do this. I know because I can’t count the number of times I’ve told friends and readers to stop solving problems that don’t exist yet. A common example I see over and over is a girl starts dating a guy and after barely even knowing him she panics over the prospect of losing him. It’s all just so silly when you look at it from an objective angle.
I think it makes us feel better in a way, a little more in control, but a much healthier and less crazy-inducing way to deal with things is to just say, “I’ll give it more time and if it’s still an issue, then I’ll deal with it.” Or maybe you can mentally think of what plan B will be, but then just leave it alone and move on with your life instead of staying stuck in some worst case scenario non-reality.
2. Respond instead of reacting.
This ties into the point above. It’s about checking yourself and slowing down when something happens. When you respond, you get to choose how to deal with something. You take in the information and then make a decision about how to deal with it. When you react, you have no control. You’re a slave to your emotions and knee-jerk reactions.
For example, let’s say you’re dating a guy and one day he doesn’t text you. Your mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario: He’s not interested anymore and I’m being ghosted.
And then comes the flood: Why does this always happen to me? … Why can’t things ever go my way? … What’s wrong with me? … Why is he doing this? … Nothing ever works out for me … I’m going to end up alone forever .. I’m not good enough … My parents screwed me up … My ex-boyfriend screwed me up … I’m totally screwed up … There’s no hope … My life is miserable …
And then after going down this dark and soul-crushing path, he texts! Suddenly you feel elated, but now it’s scarier than ever because you know what can happen if he disappears. He has full control over your mental and emotional wellbeing and from there, a needy and desperate mindset takes hold. But that’s a different discussion.
Instead of reacting, take a minute, take a breath, and choose a response.
OK, so you didn’t hear from him. Maybe he’s busy, maybe something happened, or maybe, yes maybe, he’s not that into you. And if that’s the case, so what? If you attach a ton of meaning to this then you set yourself up for devastation. If you can just let it go and not take it personally, then you will be in an emotionally healthy place and won’t have so much at stake every time you enter into a new relationship.
This is just one example but choosing to respond instead of reacting is a crucial skill you can use in any area of your life – when your boss makes a rude comment, when your toddler does something destructive, when your friend is passive-aggressive, and so on. We can be a slave to our instincts and immediately retaliate or beat ourselves up, or we can take a pause and think before we do anything.
3. Be present in whatever you’re doing.
If you can master this tip, you will drastically reduce the amount of anxiety you feel on a given day and will find you enjoy life a lot more. So here’s what messes a lot of us up. You’re doing something and all you can think about is all the other stuff you need to be doing. Or your mind is just somewhere else entirely.
Personally, I struggle with this a lot because I’m a work from home mom. This has a ton of advantages, but it was also causing a lot of internal struggle for me. When I was with my kid, all I was thinking about was the amount of work I need to do. When I was working, I was feeling guilty that I wasn’t spending time with my kid. Same with whatever other tasks I was doing. I was just not fully there and not doing anything 100%.
Then I stopped and changed my modus operandi. I decided that if I’m working, then that’s where my head is and from this time until this time, that’s all I’m going to focus on (unless something urgent comes up). If I’m with my delicious baby, then I’m going to enjoy him and soak him up and be as present as possible. And I actually notice that when I am fully present and there, he is so, so much happier (my husband and I have actually committed to putting out phones away when we’re spending time with him so we can give him that gift of our full attention).
So many of us are missing out on our lives because we’re somewhere else in our minds. And we’ve all basically lost the ability to do one thing at a time thanks to our handy little smartphones that have the capability to do 5000 things at once. We aren’t in our own reality, instead, we create a filtered reality for all to see.
We just aren’t there and as a result, so many people suffer internally. They don’t feel connected or happy and they just have this sense that something is missing.
And that aside, the unnecessary anxiety is crippling. There is no worse feeling than that of feeling like you’re buried under a pile of things to do. There are plenty of tips on how to organize and manage your time, but one major shift you can make today is just being present with whatever it is that you’re doing.
4. Be happy for other people.
Your friend gets engaged and you’re happy, but secretly bummed. Why wasn’t it me?
Your other friend gets a promotion and is making bank and you think, I wish I was making that kind of money.
When someone else experiences a bout of good fortune, you want to feel happy but you just kind of resent them for it. And these days, it’s not just reserved to your friends and family. We have more access to people than ever thanks to social media … and what we’re seeing isn’t even real, it’s a highly filtered highlight reel of their lives. We know this, but we also forget it and instead envy and resent these people for their seemingly perfect lives.
It’s hard to be genuinely happy for others, especially since most people aren’t being genuine in what they reveal. For example, the girl who posts the bouquet of flowers that her boyfriend bought for her alongside the home cooked meal he made isn’t also going to say that they’ve been fighting a lot and she feels really down about the relationship. She’s going to say, “Look what my Bea did for me! Love him to pieces #blessed.”
The point is, when someone else falls into good fortune, they aren’t taking anything away from you. Your friend finding an amazing guy doesn’t mean she took away your ability to ever have the same thing (and hopefully said friend didn’t take the guy away from you, that’s a different story!).
Try to be motivated by the success of others, rather than crippled by it. If your friend loses a ton of weight, then be inspired by it and use it as motivation to get more into fitness. If someone has something you want, recognize that you can have it too.
Also, remember that no one is perfect and everyone has problems, even the most seemingly perfect among us. Everyone. And no one’s life on social media is an accurate portrayal of what their life is actually like.
If someone is living a perfect life then I feel sorry for them because that sounds incredibly boring. The challenges and struggle are what give us richness and depth. They fuel our journey and encourage us to change and be better and try harder and that’s what life is all about. There is no such thing as stagnating, at least not if you want a better life. Staying stuck in the same place is a recipe for unhappiness. Moving forward is what enhances our lives and helps us become our best selves.
So remember, just keep going and growing. Embrace the change and the challenges and just try to be present and be there and be in your life.