Maintaining Happiness

TL;DR

Without finding a permanent mental place of happiness, we’ll fall back into cynicism.

We find our optimism by shifting our perspective:

  1. Getting rid of low self-esteem.
  2. Living in the present.
  3. Learning gratitude.
  4. Finding control of ourselves.
  5. Releasing things that give us stress.
  6. Avoiding things that make us unhappy.
  7. Interacting with others.

We need a loving and dynamic place where everyone is free to live and grow together, also known as a healing environment.

Finding happiness isn’t the end

Optimism versus cynicism is the battle between desire and fear, defined by what we focus on.

We only maintain optimism by shifting our focus:
  • Ignore or invalidate bad things happening (eventually reduces self-awareness)
  • Focus on positive things more than negative ones (easiest to form)
  • Finding good related to the bad (the hardest, but also strongest)

When you create positive habits around how you react, you’ll start feeling like nothing bad ever happens to you.

Optimism is easier when you’re being specific:
  • General statements are impossible to refute (e.g., “Mondays are always bad for me”).
  • Specific statements mean the rule isn’t universal (e.g., “My day was bad today”).

To find positives, think beyond your constraints:
  • Brainstorm terrible options, far worse than what you currently observe as a decision.
  • Find enjoyment in bad situations (e.g., use a power outage to look at the night sky).
  • You always have options if you can manage your stress.

Low self-esteem destroys happiness

Discouragement isn’t uncommon, but it tends to invalidate any satisfaction we’ve accumulated.

Low self-esteem makes us value the one thing we have the most control over as nearly worthless:
  • We often add dysfunction to our experience by imagining ourselves as noble for suffering from our self-bullying.

Poor self-esteem makes us blow conflicts, loss, rejection, failure, and loneliness way out of proportion:
  • Can’t solve challenging problems or create meaningful results
  • Won’t take risks or adapt to change
  • Inconsistently asserts and self-defines boundaries and goals
  • Won’t accept affirmations and recognition from others
  • Higher risk of falling into addictions
  • Further, self-affirming statements often make people with low self-esteem feel worse about themselves

While it’s easy for us to identify when we feel inadequate, changing them is a challenging procedure:
  1. Identify the conditions that would make you feel worthy of acceptance and love.
  2. Analyze how those conditions block your happiness.
  3. Consider whether your standards are reasonable, rational, and possible.
  4. Note any comparisons with others or expectations others hold over you.
  5. If you see any poorly set standards, create healthy alternative goals that allow unconditional self-acceptance.
  6. Separate your limits and rules from your worthiness of love.
  7. Practice removing further conditions you’ve placed on yourself as you encounter them.
  8. Identify fears, beliefs, and habits that keep you from loving yourself unconditionally.
  9. Replace your oppressive fears, beliefs, and habits with viewpoints that reflect your inherent value.
  10. Verbalize open, unconditional acceptance of yourself.
    • The full extent of self-acceptance requires experiencing the full consequences of your actions while never deviating from your self-love.
  11. Specify to yourself the benefits of possessing full responsibility for your decisions.

Live in the present

We only have control over “now”:
  • The future is completely uncertain, so it’s not worth thinking about beyond what today involves.
  • Memories of the past fade as soon as we store them, and are very unreliable.
  • The present moment is all we really have.
  • Barring present physical pain, every problem we have is either fear about the future or fear that the past will replay into the future.
  • How we think and feel about today determines how we remember yesterday.

Take personal responsibility for every single thought that isn’t in the present moment:
  1. Stop thinking about the past.
    • Since wishing for a better past is impossible, we must make peace with it to find satisfaction.
    • Releasing memories means giving up the hope of a better past.
    • If you can’t part with the past, reconcile it by finding every possible way to learn from it until you don’t want to think about it anymore.
  2. Find excitement in the future’s possibilities, but stay focused on the present.
    • happiness-focus
    • Destination addiction (or the Rat Race in Ben-Shahar’s Happiness Model above) is a preoccupation with finding happiness in the next thing or person.
    • You’ll never be happy if you believe your happiness will come later.
    • Learn gratitude for present benefits and future hopes.
  3. Focus only on what you can do today.
    • Take one day at a time and each hour as it comes.
    • Train yourself to see problems and obstacles as challenges and puzzles.
    • Create goals that challenge your limits, but are fully attainable.
    • If you’re still anxious, make backup plans for the day.
  4. Only concern yourself with reality and good things.
    • Ignore others’ opinions about current events.
    • Disassociate from any bad news, especially if it’s non-planning discussions about the future or conjecture.
    • Finding good things is difficult when everyone else around you is in a bad mood, but it’s still necessary.
  5. Release all other nagging thoughts.
    • Stop thinking about hypothetical or “why” questions.
    • Ignore dumb things like annoyances, inconveniences, and mistakes.
    • Give up the remainder of your issues to God as you understand him.
    • Devote your energy to only one thing at a time:
      • Besides causing unhappiness, multitasking is unproductive and ineffective.
  6. Persist in your “present” state of mind to build patience.
    • Patience is the ability to stay focused on the moment instead of wishing for the future to happen faster.
    • The skill of patience can apply to different domains: across time, with things, with people, or with yourself.

Learn gratitude

Stop obsessing about what you can’t have:
  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • While it’s not a bad idea to create goals and work toward them, you won’t see the full consequences of those goals today, and today is all you have.

Gratitude is focusing on what we have instead of what we don’t:
  • Think of one good thing you still have.
  • Find things you’re thankful for by looking at the good things that allow you to think of your current problem:
    • Your car breaking down means you still have a car.
    • Nothing to eat in the fridge means you have a fridge.
    • A lousy job is still a paying job.
    • A broken leg from snowboarding came from snowboarding.
    • Enjoy life’s small pleasures.
  • Recall three things that you’re grateful for every morning.
  • Thank your friends for their sacrifices.
  • Find underappreciated people and thank them.

Sadly, we often only experience gratitude after we lose things we took for granted:
  • Most people aren’t aware of what they have until they lose it.
  • Many people who suffer severe hardship have the opportunity to become very satisfied after their hardship has passed.
  • As civilization advances, we tend to forget that our ancestors didn’t have the conveniences we’re accustomed to.
  • To reproduce the experience, imagine losing absolutely everything: your possessions, health, reputation, relationships, and the people we love.

Don’t count your blessings too frequently:
  • Count your blessings about once a week.
  • If you dwell on them 2–3 times a week, you won’t find as much satisfaction from how frequently you’re doing it.

Get more control of yourself

Become more independent:
  • Live with less.
  • Learn a new skill.

Define your feelings better:

Get healthier:
  • Do a short morning workout to avoid feeling guilty the rest of the day (20 minutes will improve the next 12 hours).
  • Eat reasonable, consistent portions.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Practice breathing slowly.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Work on your posture to avoid hunching or back problems.

Make your life more productive:
  • Prepare for the morning the night before.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier.
  • Get up and take charge of the day, even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Get to work early.
  • Make copies of important papers and duplicate keys.
  • Memorize where things go.
  • Avoid procrastination.
  • Set goals as small as possible.
  • Avoid committing to things you might not be able to do.
  • Make something you hope for into an attainable plan.

Add meaningful hobbies:
  • Prioritize hobbies that bring new experiences over simply accumulating things.
  • Do or learn something new each day.
  • Plan for play time within each day’s schedule.
  • Do things you love.
  • Listen to music that either inspires you or gives you an emotional release.
  • Meditate for 10 minutes a day.
  • Read enriching, educational things for 10 minutes a day.
  • Find and seek beauty in ordinary things.

Plan ahead for future unhappiness:
  • Make a music collection that always cheers you up.
  • Learn to trust friends more.
  • Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people.
  • Write down positive thoughts, fold them up, and put them in a jar for when you’re unhappy.

Release your stress

Develop a sense of humor:
  • Consume humor more often.
  • Nothing in life is ever as severe as it feels.
  • We heal through laughing at both ourselves and our situation.

Keep a journal or diary:
  • Write down daily accomplishments and things you’re grateful for.
  • End the diary with questions about the future to inspire more journal entries.
  • Reread your diary later to see how much you’ve changed and how far you’ve come.
  • Next January, start filling an empty jar with notes about good things that happen, then empty it and read them all back on New Year’s Eve.

Develop yourself spiritually:
  • Trust that God is in control.
  • Learn meditation.
  • Connect with other people of faith.

Create a savoring album:
  • A savoring album is creating and savoring memories of your positive experiences.
  • Use a camera as a savoring tool to take photos of happy events.
  • Stay mindful of how everything will eventually come to an end, which will provoke you to enjoy the present more.

Avoid things that make you unhappy

Avoid overexposure to an overcrowded big city or desolate open countryside.

Repair or discard things that don’t work properly.

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes.

Avoid smoking, drinking, and drugs.

Find alternate routes around your daily commute’s traffic, or find an alternative mode of transportation.

Turn off social media:
  • Everyone paints their social media as the “greatest hits” of their lives.
  • In reality, those people are often as unhappy as you.
  • Adding to the stream of self-indulgence doesn’t add to anyone’s life.
  • Skip reading a social media feed and contact your friends directly.
  • To share something meaningful, write a blog or post a vlog.
  • By stepping away from social media, you’re focusing instead on real life.

Turn off the news and avoid politics:
  • The news media makes money through advertisements, and they’re paid more when you pay constant attention to them.
  • Generally, we are most attached to news when we’re miserable.
  • Therefore, you’re being manipulated by continuing to watch the news.
  • Often, the news is simply an attempt to bend your political opinion.

Get involved with others

Find new ways to socialize:
  • You’ll find more happiness in helping others than in being helped.
  • Make frequent small talk with strangers.
  • Create meaningful conversations whenever you can.
  • Do a random act of kindness about once a week.
  • Join a volunteer organization or get more involved at your church.
  • Make a goal to get someone to smile.
  • Avoid alienating topics with strangers, such as religion or politics.
    • Convert people to your way of thinking by showing them your happiness first, then telling them why.

Learn to BIRG:
  • BIRGing is “basking in reflected glory”, which is feeling the success of someone else.
  • Most clubs and groups are BIRGing together at some level.
  • By connecting our feelings of accomplishment to someone else, we can become satisfied with their success, as well as fuel our drive to succeed.

Open yourself to new social challenges:
  • Get more connected with your community
  • Get a pet.
  • Make a deeper commitment with your life partner.
  • Have children or adopt.
  • Reach out to one person each month who inspires you.

Find a healing environment

A healing environment is a community that lets us recover from life’s trauma.

Everyone can feel a healing environment:
  1. Group members guide each other to good things:
    • Things that make everyone well.
    • Healthy values that open everyone to change and growth.
    • Freedom to show and receive physical affection.
    • Everyone commits to each other to survive current crises for better causes.
  2. Everyone is encouraged to support each other, but nobody blames anyone else for difficulties:
    • Nobody is condemning, cruel, or abusive.
    • There’s no risk of banishment from the group.
    • Members spend more time provoking feelings toward possible solutions than condemning unpleasant feelings.
  3. Everyone clearly and directly resolves disagreements and conflicts:
    • Members disapprove of power struggles to maintain emotional control of the environment.
    • Nobody plays the role of victim or martyr.
    • Nobody reacts or gets defensive about constructive criticism and feedback.
    • Nobody considers past mistakes, shortcomings, backsliding, and failures in a conflict.
  4. There’s zero tolerance for bitterness, belittling, rejection, resentment, not forgiving, and revenge.

Healing environments only form when everyone agrees on a few things:
  1. People with problems are sick or ill and not evil, wrong, or defective.
  2. Everyone is flawed, which means anyone at any time could be causing an issue.
  3. No solution is unsolvable if everyone is willing and brave enough to attain it.
  4. Openness and honesty are crucial to resolving any conflicts.
  5. Everyone should seek direct feedback on any issues, concerns, faults, and feelings.
  6. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes.
  7. For the sake of connection, transparency is worth the risk.
  8. Forgiveness is always worth it, even if it isn’t always easy and the offense might happen again.
  9. Everyone deserves a chance to heal and grow.
  10. Feelings are always legitimate and should be listened to, even when they’re not based on reality.
  11. Everyone deserves a chance to love and be loved.
  12. Everyone should be emotionally supportive, understanding, patient, sympathetic, and caring.

A healing environment is challenging to create because one person’s bad attitude can halt it:
  1. Failing to forgive, understand the need for forgiveness, or release issues.
  2. Unable to accept personal responsibility for faults, errors, wrongdoing, and consequences of actions.
  3. Fear of backsliding, getting hurt or taken advantage of, or long-term loss.
  4. Fear of taking risks, accepting change, or failing.
  5. Assuming others are evil, disbelieving others’ good intentions, or non-commitment toward the group.
  6. Disbelief in personal ability to meet the challenge to change and grow.
  7. Confused about reality and unable to observe events:
    • Interprets problems literally instead of rationally or without connecting them to other significant problems.
    • Fails to accept parts of the situation that don’t fit preconceived notions, expectations, or fantasies of how things “should” be.
    • Committed strongly and permanently to a relationship with little nurture or growth.
  8. Meets all discussions of alternate viewpoints and differing methods with name-calling, belittling, ignoring or condemning.
  9. Mental disorders like depression or schizophrenia that forbid a healthy give-and-take engagement.
    • Parents’ and leaders’ roles will shift from nurturers and enablers to caretakers and maintainers.
  10. Communication barriers make problems impossible to solve:
    • Failure to receive or engage others’ feelings.
    • Not reading nonverbal communication.
    • Unable to verbally talk through issues.

Disruptive behaviors against healing environments come from multiple sources:
  1. High-stress or dysfunctional family backgrounds that provide feelings of condemnation for “bad” behavior.
    • Dysfunctional backgrounds often immobilize people through blaming, bickering, fighting, arguing, yelling, and complaining.
  2. Withdrawn, silent, or unable to communicate issues:
    • Refusing to admit problems or unwilling to get help.
    • Refusing to express fantasies and expectations of others.
    • Ignores personal rights or violates others’ rights without permission.
  3. Addiction or abuse of any substance or person.
  4. Impulse to fix or recreate a childhood home.
    • Even with complete enlightenment, an adult child will rarely fix their childhood home.
  5. Rigid and constrictive religious, political, or social beliefs.
    • Inability or feeling unable to think or act with a sense of personal autonomy or independence.
    • Can’t say “no”, hear “yes” or “thank you”, laugh at themselves, or be straightforward with themselves.
  6. Sexual or emotional unfaithfulness.

An unhealthy environment can become a healing one

Everyone must be willing to work to foster a healing environment.

A. Carefully understand what you need:
  • Look at issues in your life, what groups they exist within, and with whom.
  • Consider how willing everyone is to work on those problems.
  • If they aren’t, examine whether you can comfortably stay in the environment and why.
    • If someone is in a dysfunctional environment where members don’t want to discuss or fix the matter, they’re almost always better off emotionally separating and creating new connections somewhere else.

B. Consider whether you have everything necessary to start building a healing environment:
  • Ask why everyone in the group needs a healing environment.
  • Figure out who should develop what healing behaviors.
  • Consider all obstacles that stop a healing environment.
  • Discern the beliefs everyone must follow to create those healing behaviors.
  • Connect the issues you see in the environment itself that will directly benefit from those changed behaviors.

C. Clarify expectations with the other members and plan together:
  • Everyone must agree on the issue.
  • Everyone must agree on possible solutions that could resolve the issue.
  • Specify the actions and habits each person must improve on.
  • Agree what outside help everyone will use to address their issues.
  • Clarify how everyone will confront all setbacks, relapses, or backsliding.
  • Set a date and frequency to check how everyone is doing, revise the plan, continue unchanged, or create a new one.
  • Set target goals to show the beginning of a healing environment.
  • Make everyone verbally commit, sign, and date it.

If all this fails, go back to Step A or find a new group.

One of the clearest indicators of successfully framing a healing environment will come through how children respond in that social dynamic.

Not everything works for everyone

Everyone’s personality is different, so they will need different things to find their happiness:

  • Some people simply need to focus on the present.
  • Others need a strong community, a sense of responsibility, and a focus on the present.

Often, all we must do is change our perspective, and the rest will follow.

The hardest part is becoming aware of what you require, and doing it is usually easy by comparison.

This page is Part 2 of How To Be Happy. Part 1 was Defining Happiness. Part 2 was Fighting Unhappiness.