Remember when you were happy?
Maybe you were in a love-filled relationship, maybe you partied, dated, and hung out with friends every evening without a care in the world, maybe you were a top-notch athlete, or maybe you had a job that fulfilled you.
Whatever the case, there’s no denying it…
You were happy then. You’re not happy now.
Then, you popped out of bed excited for the day, you looked in the mirror and liked what you saw, you approached people and situations with confidence, fervor, and excitement.
Now, you feel insecure and lonely. You’re missing meaning, purpose, and a good reason to get out of bed everyday. You’re empty inside.
But… where did your happiness go?
Why is it gone?
Who stole your joy?
Well… you did.
Let me explain.
You Were Happy Before… But Why?
When you were happy, what made you happy?
Think about it — that time you’re reminiscing back to — why were you happy then? Was it because you were in top physical shape? Was it because you were with the love of your life? Was it because you had meaning and purpose? Was it because you didn’t have a care in the world?
Okay. Great. Now let’s go deeper.
Why did that make you happy?
You might think — well… anyone would be happy if they were in that position.
Sure, that might be true.
But who decided that that was your ideal life? After all — one person’s idea of happiness and fun might be snowboarding all day but another person’s might be reading a good book.
Who decided this will make you happy but that will make you unhappy?
You did, silly.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
— Henry David Thoreau
You decided — unconsciously — that the life you were living was fun, exciting, and exhilarating.
Which means that you also decided (unconsciously) that the life you’re currently living isn’t fun, exciting, and exhilarating.
After all, who else would decide that for you? There are people in a very similar situation to you who are perfectly happy.
The truth is, you’ve defined happiness and unhappiness for yourself. You’ve set the terms.
We all have them.
I cheated on my diet so I must endlessly barrage myself with insults.
I got angry at my spouse again so I must be angry with myself.
Or, on the opposite side…
I followed my diet so I can feel good about myself!
I woke up when I said I would wake up and now I can be happy!
My point is, if you’re unhappy, it’s because you’re choosing to be unhappy. Not consciously and not intentionally. You’re not, after all, sitting there and thinking I won’t be happy, I won’t be happy, I won’t be happy.
No. These rules are so ingrained in your psyche that you never have to think consciously about the decision to be happy or unhappy — it just… happens.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is… you can set new terms.
You can set terms that make it easy for you to be happy, as things are right now, without any work whatsoever!
But… I know what you’re thinking…
If I set new rules for happiness — easy-to-achieve rules — then… won’t I just settle and be this way forever?
Greater Happiness Now DOES NOT Equal Less Achievement Later
You really do want to change your life — that’s why you’re making yourself feel like trash — you’re trying to shame yourself into changing.
I know because we all do it.
And not to be sassy or anything but… how’s that working out for you?
Yeah. Not so great.
Guilt is a wonderful emotion when we see it for what it is — a reminder to change — and then let it go. But it becomes a big problem when we wallow in it.
Hanging onto guilt creates a cycle. Here’s what that cycle looks like.
- Feel guilty.
- Don’t change because you’re too busy beating yourself up.
- Beat yourself up more because you still didn’t change.
- Feel more guilty.
- Ring around the fuckin’ rosy.
When you’re feeling guilty, you’ll never change. Period. End of story. Bye, Felicia.
Think about it — have you ever made a big, life-long change when you felt like shit? No! You’ve only ever changed when you were motivated, determined, and hopeful.
Maybe pain drove you to make a change — the pain of a certain situation — but that pain didn’t make the decision. Hope did.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change” — Carl Rogers
After all, if you have no hope for the future, then why change?
Letting go of fear, of shame, of guilt… that doesn’t handicap your success, it unleashes your inner power, it reignites your inner fire, it gives you the ability to change.
Being happy now is your ticket to living the life you want to live — a more empowered, joyful life.
Here’s how you’re going to become happy again.
You Can Set New Terms For Happiness And Unhappiness
Let me take you through a quick exercise.
Write down all of the rules you have for when you believe you must be unhappy. Write down everything that comes to mind. Here are some things that might be on your list.
- I feel unhappy with myself when I hit the snooze button.
- …when I eat sugar.
- …when I get angry with my spouse.
- …when I drink caffeine.
- …when I stare at my phone.
Once you’re done, just take a moment and look over your list.
Now answer me this question as objectively as you can… is that fair? Think of the person you love most in this world — maybe a family member or friend — would you be comfortable giving them your list and saying “These are your new rules for when you must feel unhappy”?
That would be cruel to set these standards upon them. If they screwed up… broke their diet, got upset, or scrolled through social media for a few hours… isn’t a little bit of grace and forgiveness in order?
You would say “No biggie! You’re still awesome to me.”
You wouldn’t give them a rundown of the reasons why they must now feel like shit for the rest of their life.
Why. The. Fuck.
Do. You. Do. That. To. YOURSELF?
You should love yourself more than anyone in the world. And yet, you’re punishing yourself when you make the tiniest mistake.
You’re beating yourself into unhappiness with these unfair terms you’ve created.
If I treated my own daughter half as bad as you treat yourself, Little Andie would be seriously fucked up by adulthood.
So why not set some new rules?
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
— Henry Miller
Most of us have more rules for unhappiness then we do for happiness. That is, of course, ridiculous! You want to feel happy, not unhappy, so let’s balance the scales.
Write down the new reasons you’re going to allow yourself to be happy. And have fun with it — it could be anything!
Here are some examples.
- When I wake up, I’m going to be happy.
- When I feel my toes moving, I’m going to be happy.
- When I start work, I’m going to be happy.
- When I kiss my spouse, I’m going to be happy.
- When I put my key in the ignition, I’m going to be happy.
The goal is to set yourself up for success and make it easy for you to be happy.
Since you can consciously decide when to be happy and when to be unhappy, why not stack the cards in your favor?
As we’ve already discussed, unhappiness, shame, guilt; they don’t serve you. They paralyze you!
Once you have your new rules written down, review them every morning and consciously choose to be happy — whenever one of the items on your list occurs, smile, straighten your back, and breathe deep. Allow yourself to experience joy.
And remember, those unhappiness rules you’ve set for yourself are completely unfair. Hitting the snooze button once doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it just means you hit the snooze button (nothing more, nothing less). Breaking your diet once doesn’t mean you’re undisciplined, it just means you broke your diet — no biggie. Give yourself a little more grace, the same grace you would give a close friend.
Start living by the new happiness rules you’ve created. Because, in the end, happiness is a choice, reigniting your inner fire is a choice, and building a life that excites you is a choice.
But it always has to start with hope, grace, and joy.
Mike is a writer for SUCCESS, AdWeek, and Addicted2Success. He’s been quoted on Forbes and Entrepreneur for his expertise in marketing and personal development. He’s also the owner of Get Your Gusto Back where he helps people reignite their inner fire.