How to Increase Your Happiness Long-term & Give Yourself Grace
Do you worry that you’ll never be happy again?
Maybe you feel stuck in a dead-end job, or you’re dealing with relationship issues. Or, perhaps spending a year at home has drained your energy and enthusiasm.
There’s no doubt that the world is full of things that can steal your happiness. With so many external pressures, it can be easy to blame other people or circumstances for the misfortunes in your life.
But here’s a question: how often do you sabotage your own happiness?
Maybe you tend to see the glass as half empty or struggle with negative thoughts. Aside from causing you to feel dissatisfied with your life, depressive thoughts can reinforce feelings of unhappiness.
How can you improve your situation so you can feel happy again? A big step is to identify what’s making you unhappy so you can take steps to break free from it.
Things That Can Steal Your Joy & How to Fix Them
Habitual, negative self-talk trains the brain to see things pessimistically. Negative thinking can effectively rewrite your neural networks, reinforcing pathways in the brain that make it more likely you’ll have a gloomy outlook.
Additionally, having persistent negative thoughts can reduce brain activity related to self-control, judgment, and planning. This can lead to harmful behaviors and poor decisions.
Dr. Daniel Amen refers to these as automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). ANTs can cause your brain to release chemicals able to make you feel awful. The opposite is also true – positive, happy, hopeful thoughts release chemicals that help make you feel good.
Take captive every negative thought that enters your mind and ask yourself if it’s true. If it isn’t, disregard it. Over time, you can recondition your mind to filter out negative thoughts, which should also help increase your happiness.
Has there ever been a time in your life when your perfect plan suddenly went down the drain? If you’re like most people, this has happened to you repeatedly in life.
It’s natural to be temporarily frustrated by such setbacks before moving on with your life. But some people set expectations for nearly everything in their life to protect them from possible negative outcomes. These behaviors might be motivated by internal insecurities or a desire to control people or circumstances.
It’s been said (in A.A. meetings and elsewhere) that expectations are premeditated resentments. Having expectations of others (a spouse, friend, family member, etc.) is like setting a trap for them, and when they don’t do what you expect or want, you trigger the “Why didn’t you ____?” landmine.
Expecting people to guess what you want can wreak havoc in relationships. It’s great when others can anticipate your needs, but most people are too busy to do it effectively, and no one can read minds. It’s important to speak up about what you need, rather than remaining silent and holding a grudge when others fail to act in the way you want them to.
Having expectations of a situation or another person can make you miserable, especially when they don’t live up to your preconceived or idealistic notions of how they should respond or behave. Expectations can lead to resentments, disrupt connections with others, and interfere with personal growth.
Of course, some of the worst expectations are the ones you place on yourself. Did you expect to get your degree 10 years ago? Did you expect to be married 5 years ago?
Over time, the emotional weight of such expectations can become unbearable and steal your happiness.
You may pride yourself on having high standards, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if you’re the type who’s so focused on getting every little detail just right, you’re sure to be disappointed with many aspects of life. The perfectionist’s paradox is that you may feel superior for having lofty goals but feel inferior when you fail to attain them.
Here are 3 common types of perfectionism:
- Socially prescribed perfectionism – the belief that other people will only value you if you’re perfect
- Other-oriented perfectionism – demanding perfection from others
- Self-oriented perfectionism – an internal desire to achieve perfection
All types can be detrimental, but socially prescribed perfectionism can be potentially harmful and even fatal.
5 Ways Perfectionism Can Disrupt Your Life + Helpful Tips
- Unrealistic Goals
Perfectionists tend to set extremely high goals, which might be unattainable. They may fail to reach their goals or give up due to fear of failure. Either way, they might buckle under the incredible pressure they’ve placed on themselves.
Helpful Tip: Set Realistic Goals
Goal-setting isn’t a vague idea of something you’d like to obtain at some undetermined point in the future. Write down your specific goals in a calendar and then review them every day to make progress toward completing them.
Success can come much easier when you make small, manageable goals. Setting realistic goals, that you can focus on daily, can help reduce stress and make a significant difference in your outlook on life.
- Toxic Thinking
Perfectionists are often filled with ANTs, especially All-or-Nothing ANTs (thinking of things as being either all good or all bad) or Just the Bad ANTs (seeing only the bad in a situation). For example, if you need to create a multimedia presentation for work, unless it’s the best one ever created, you may think it’s a tragic failure (All-or-Nothing ANTs).
Helpful Tip: Kill the ANTs
Learning to challenge the All-or-Nothing or Just the Bad ANTs that infest your brain can help you accept that doing the best you can is far better than trying to be perfect and never completing anything. As Winston Churchill said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
You can disinfect your thoughts by exterminating the ANTs that steal your happiness. Whenever you feel sad, mad, nervous, or stressed, write down what you’re thinking and then challenge that ANT. When you stop believing every fearful thought you have, you can start to regain control of your life.
Perfectionism often leads to paralyzing procrastination. For example, while trying to write a presentation for work or a paper for school, you may feel like you can’t start writing until you’ve looked up more sources, interviewed more people, and come up with an amazing introduction.
Before you know it, it’s the night before the deadline, and you need to crank out something to avoid being late. Now you’re kicking yourself for letting it slide for so long. Once again, you may feel like a failure.
Helpful Tip: Prioritize Your Life
Don’t wait for everything to be absolutely perfect before you dive into a project. Remember, it’s okay to get started now and incorporate additional materials as you go.
If working on all your projects or goals at once becomes overwhelming, set up a hierarchy. Select a few things you absolutely must accomplish, several things you want to complete, and many things that would be nice to finish in the future. Not only will this pyramid structure allow you to focus on the essentials, it will also help to reduce the debilitating pressure of trying to juggle so many objectives at one time.
- Mood Issues
Decades of research have found that perfectionism fuels mental health problems. Even more disturbing is the link between perfectionism and suicide.
A 2014 study in Review of General Psychology suggests that perfectionism is a bigger risk factor for suicide than previously thought. Research has found that among young people who die by suicide, nearly 70% placed high demands on themselves and had high expectations.
Helpful Tip: Get Outside
Engaging in outdoor activities is important for everyone. Whether you enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, or just taking a walk, being outdoors has an overall positive effect on mood and vitality.
While enjoying the great outdoors you’ll get the added benefit of sunlight, which is a natural way to increase your vitamin D levels. When it comes to mood, the scientific evidence is clear; the higher your vitamin D levels, the more likely you are to feel happy rather than blue. Daily exposure to just 10 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight can boost vitamin D levels, which can help improve your mood.
- Eating Irregularities
Several studies have found links between self-oriented perfectionism and eating irregularities. People may have an intense fear of gaining weight and seek to control their caloric intake by attempting to create a perfect diet. Others may feel frustrated by the slow progress of their diet and decided to put it on hold or just give up and return to regular eating habits.
Helpful Tip: Avoid Triggers
It’s important to acknowledge what emotions (stress, loneliness, boredom, etc.) are driving you to make bad food choices. Sometimes it isn’t even an emotional trigger, but the sight or smell that makes you crave certain foods…many people can’t resist buying popcorn once they’ve smelled it in a theater lobby.
A good strategy is to be prepared with a healthy alternative before you encounter a triggering event. Healthier swaps of your favorite foods are a great way to outsmart your triggers.
Even if you’ve spent much of your life chasing perfection, you can learn to let go of your unhealthy tendencies.
Letting yourself (and others) off the hook for past mistakes, especially common ones, can help you overcome negative thought patterns or destructive behaviors. You might find that your outlook on life is much more positive when you’re not being so hard on yourself. Giving yourself more grace might improve your circumstances and increase your happiness.
Hopefully, these practical tips will help you break free from the negative thinking, unrealistic expectations, and oppressive perfectionism that can prevent you from being your best self.
Remember, you don’t have to be perfect to be happy.
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