5 Steps to Cultivating Happiness
What are your thoughts on where happiness comes from in a person?
Do you believe that happy people have had easier lives and therefore have nothing to be upset about? Do you believe that some people are born happy while others are predisposed to be pessimistic?
I used to be pretty negative. I mean, I’m not exactly known for my upbeat personality now, but there was a time when I actually took pride in my dark side. I would always question people’s motives and this played out in a variety of ways. I would get irritated with acquaintances who seemed happy and wonder what was really going on below the surface. I didn’t trust strangers who smiled and/or said hi to me. That would actually piss me off! I told myself that I was meant to suffer and that nothing in my life went smoothly. I got overwhelmed easily and true happiness seemed elusive.
I’ve since gone through many, many, many hours of self-reflection and self improvement. I’ve been in therapy, completed an amazing emotional intelligence training and have taken professional courses on improving mood. It’s been a long road but at the end of it one truth became known to me.
HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE.
Yes, that’s right. Happiness isn’t something that happens to people, it’s a mindset, a decision. It is true that people who have experienced trauma or who have a mental illness have to work MUCH harder at cultivating this happiness. There is more to process, more to wade through to get to the other side. But still, it is a choice. I chose to find ways to wade through my darkness. That darkness was real and it resulted from something real. But that didn’t mean that it needed to continue to darken the rest of my life.
Choosing to be happy also doesn’t mean that you are always happy. It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden everything is wonderful and that all negative emotions disappear. Happiness is an emotion like the rest. It has its time and place and can be enjoyed when appropriate. Happiness doesn’t make sense when you are arguing or have lost a loved one. Cultivating happiness means that you create opportunities for happiness to balance out the shit moments of life.
Everyone loves a step by step breakdown, so here I list the 5 steps to cultivating happiness:
Identify your core beliefs that prevent you from truly experiencing happiness. What happened early on in your life that taught you to be guarded, to expect the worst or to be afraid? This can be a difficult process as it requires you to think about painful experiences that you might avoid. It also requires a high level of personal insight into your current behaviors and how they connect with other points in your life. For this reason, I recommend that you seek counseling with a professional who specializes in treating the issues that you face. Sometimes learning to trust a therapist is the first big step in learning to trust people in general. Therapists can help you deal with difficult emotions that arise when trying to find out where your darkness comes from.
Let go of the past and step into the present. Once you know what beliefs, experiences and emotions are preventing you from being happy, it’s time to let them go. Self talk is key here. Bring awareness to yourself when you repeat the same patterns and encourage yourself to make a new choice. Believe that change is possible when you are consistent and positive with yourself.
Figure out what happiness would look like for YOU. When you have processed the past and let go, it’s time to look forward into the future. Imagine what you will be doing, how you will be talking and who will be in your life when you are happy. Consider what steps you need to take to create that new reality for yourself. Journaling in the form of bullet journaling, emotional writing or morning pages can all be instrumental in opening you up to new possibilities.
Go for it!! Now that you have a plan, it’s time to take action. Keeping your ultimate goal of cultivating happiness in mind, use each day as an opportunity to find joy in the things that you do. Be intentional in your decisions and how you talk to yourself and redirect yourself when you notice the old patterns starting to creep in.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Creating this happiness takes immense work, emotional labor and bravery. You did it! Take a moment to reflect back on where you started and congratulate yourself on all you have achieved. Know that you can always go back to any of these five steps when needed to jump start this process if necessary.