Who doesn’t want to be happier?
While some people are blessed with the natural ability to be happy most of the time, this is not the case for most of us.
The average person has 60,000 thoughts in a day and 80% of those thoughts are negative.
The good news is that happiness is a skill that can be cultivated. By making small changes on a consistent basis, we can create new habits that make us feel a little happier every day.
RE-FRAME YOUR STORY
Contrary to what many of us believe, our emotions are not created by our circumstances. The way that we feel is dictated by our thoughts. We think thousands of thoughts in a day and many of those thoughts are so automatic, we don’t even realize that what we’re thinking is a choice.
We typically think we’re just “telling it how it is”, but we can choose how we want to frame the things that are happening around us.
The first step to being happier is to pay attention to your thoughts. When you find yourself thinking a thought that seems negative or that you may not even believe, ask yourself why you are choosing this thought.
Is this thought serving you? Is the thought useful? Is it even true?
Observe your thoughts without judgment. Beating yourself up for a negative thought won’t help. Simply notice the thoughts and consider a different thought that might be more useful.
For example, instead of thinking “Today sucked. It was awful and I can’t believe what so-and-so said”, you might try thinking “Today was really hard, but I did an awesome job handling it and I’m really proud of myself.”
Notice how a different spin on the same story makes you feel a different emotion.
Be kinder to yourself. Most of us are so mean to ourselves. When you pay attention to what you’re thinking, notice the way you talk to yourself. Would you talk to your best friend this way? Or your child? Or your beloved dog?
If not, why do you talk to yourself this way?
Be compassionate with yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then do better.”
Other people are doing the best they can too…even if it doesn’t seem like it. Love and accept them for who they are instead of expecting them to be different.
Thinking kinder thoughts about yourself and about other people will lead to more happiness.
CHANGE YOUR INPUTS
Many of us spend much of our free time watching the (depressing) news and scrolling through angry political posts on Facebook, and then we wonder why we feel like crap all the time.
While we can choose what we want to think, it’s not easy to think positive thoughts when you’re constantly bombarded with all of the terrible things that are happening in the world. If this is all you’re consuming, of course you feel like everything is awful.
Limit the amount of time you spend consuming negative information, and balance it out with some positive input.
Read a good book, check out some inspiring blog posts, chat with a positive friend, enjoy beautiful music, or listen to an uplifting podcast.
I listen to podcasts every day and it’s honestly one of the best parts of my day. After listening to a podcast, I always feel encouraged or inspired.
My favorite uplifting podcasts are:
SPEND MONEY WISELY
It seems obvious that being in debt or not having enough money to pay your bills will lead to unhappiness, and research has confirmed this.
Interestingly, researchers have also found that what we choose to spend money on can impact our happiness levels too.
As you know, our circumstances do not create our emotions. However, it is also true that we will find it easier to think positive thoughts in particular situations.
For example, if I’m playing with an adorable puppy, I’m probably going to find it easier to think positive thoughts than I would if I were sitting in a hospital room receiving a scary diagnosis.
When we spend money in the following five ways, we make it easy for ourselves to think positive thoughts.
- Spend money on experiences rather than things. These memories will last, and every time you remember a fun or joyful time, you’ll experience those same emotions again.
- Spend money on others instead of yourself. When we spend on others, we’re often excited to see how they’ll react and we feel good about ourselves for being generous. Spending money on ourselves, in contrast, may lead to feelings of guilt.
- Making it a treat. If you buy Starbucks every day, it’s ordinary. If you treat yourself to it once in a while on special occasions, it becomes a fun experience that you appreciate so much more.
- Buying time. Time is our most precious resource. If you pay someone to clean your house or pick up your dinner, you can spend time doing what you value (like hanging out with your loved ones or working on a fun hobby).
- Pay now, consume later. If you buy tickets for a future event, this is something exciting that you can look forward to.
MAKE TIME FOR JOY
When we’re busy, our hobbies are often the things that fall to the wayside because they aren’t “essential”. I would argue that making time for things that bring you joy actually is essential for your mental health and well-being.
This will look different in different seasons of life. If you’re in an insanely busy season, maybe it simply means listening to a podcast while you’re driving or going for a 10 minute walk every day.
Think about what activities are life-giving for you. What brings you joy or fills your cup? For me, it’s photography, blogging, scrapbooking, and spending time with my husband and our sweet pugs.
How can you incorporate joy into your day, even if it’s only for a few minutes each day?
Sometimes when we’re feeling unhappy, we just don’t feel like going to church…but this is often when we need it the most.
Colossians 3:1 says “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
As we’ve discussed, happiness comes from our thoughts. No matter what struggles we’re facing, we can find peace and joy in the middle of the mess if we choose to focus on God’s love, grace, and faithfulness.
Different people prefer different methods of worship. While all methods are important and can be included in your worship, consider what is most meaningful to you and make sure you’re carving out enough time for that.
For me, I’m an auditory learner and I love listening. The methods of worship that I love most are listening to a Christian podcast and enjoying worship music.
You might prefer something that is more interactive or creative, like bible journaling/faithbooking, attending a discussion-based class, or joining a small group.
Whatever it is that brings you the most joy and makes you feel the most connected to God, make that thing a priority in your life.
Thinking positive thoughts is awesome, but it’s even better if we write those thoughts down. There is something special about getting those thoughts out of our heads and putting pen to paper.
Research has shown that writing down our thoughts helps us to remember them later, to process through our emotions, and to clarify our priorities.
Emily P. Freeman said on her podcast, “We don’t learn from experiences; we learn from reflecting on experiences.” She was quoting someone else and I don’t recall who it was, but this quote resonated with me.
If we take the time to document our lives, we can live more intentionally and we can make sure that we’re living the story we want to tell.
Documenting looks different for everyone. For you, maybe it’s keeping a journal, taking photos, creating a scrapbook, or starting a blog. Find whatever method works for you!
START A GRATITUDE CHALLENGE
Research has shown over and over again that focusing on what we’re thankful for makes us happier. Instead of simply thinking about a few things you’re thankful for, try one of these exercises instead:
- Share three things you’re thankful for every week with a loved one and have them tell you three things they’re thankful for.
- Start a gratitude journal and write down one thing you’re thankful for each day.
- Take a photo a day for 30 days – at the end of the month, you’ll have 30 pictures of things you’re thankful for. Even better, put them together in a collage, a photo album, or a scrapbook.
Even when life is really hard, you can ask yourself “what is the blessing in this situation?”
We find what we look for.
ACCEPT NEGATIVE EMOTION
This last one might seem a little strange to include on this list! What does this have to do with being happier?
When we try to avoid or minimize negative emotions, they don’t go away. We simply bury them and they bubble back up later.
Often, we rely on things like food, alcohol, overspending, or social media to numb our negative feelings. The feelings are still there (we haven’t eliminated them), but now we’ve created new problems, like being overweight or in debt.
Are we happier now?!
Of course not.
Instead of doing this, we can accept negative emotion. We can allow ourselves to feel crappy sometimes because life isn’t perfect. Sometimes life sucks and that’s okay.
Brooke Castillo calls this the 50/50 of life. As she says, life is 50% good and 50% bad. We’re going to feel terrible half the time and accepting that will give us peace.
Byron Katie says “When I argue with reality, I lose, but only 100% of the time.”
When we allow ourselves to feel our negative emotions (instead of avoiding them or beating ourselves up for “being too negative”), we can process through them and move on.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Want to be happier? It starts with your thoughts.
I recommend beginning with 1 or 2 new habits to cultivate (so it isn’t overwhelming).
Give it enough time (at least a couple of weeks) and see if your happiness level improves.
Then, start incorporating more of these habits into your life.
To recap, the habits are:
- Re-framing your story in a more positive and supportive way.
- Thinking kinder thoughts about yourself and/or other people.
- Reducing negative inputs and increasing positive inputs.
- Spending money and time wisely.
- Worshipping God in ways that bring you the most joy.
- Documenting life.
- Doing a gratitude challenge.
- Accepting negative circumstances and emotions.
Let me know how it goes.
I’m cheering you on!