In the darkest moments of my life, I had come to the recognition that it was both my right and my responsibility to be happy. I deserved happiness as much as anyone else did. But I was going to have to take matters into my own hands. I was going to have to set out on a quest and find out just how to bring about the satisfaction, serenity, and well-being that my daughters and I needed if we were to survive and move forward with our lives.
Knowing that I had that much influence on my own emotions, I began to proactively ‘own’ my happiness. This became my focus – simply to be happy. Sounds simple, but not so easy. More times than I like to admit, I had to force my way out of old patterns to allow myself to be happy.
In my pursuit of happiness, I found my path to studying positive psychology, and what I found worked for me most was later validated by the research I was studying.
These are just some of the simple truths – in thoughts and actions- that led me to become happier.
1) Be completely in the moment. This means doing one thing at a time, no multi-tasking and be totally present enough to notice the most simple things. When you are grieving, this is easier than most times because everything feels that much harder to do, so this one was surprisingly not so hard. Losing myself in the moment felt really good.
2) Focus on the good. This took constant effort. When negative thoughts came in, I constantly would shift to a good one to take its place. In fact, I created opposite thoughts for the negative ones. This helped a lot. When I would think of my losses, I would focus on my girls and how blessed I am to have them. I knew that life could actually be worse. The reality was I was blessed with so much love around me that it became easy to stay in the ‘good’ the more I practiced.
3) Give gratitude. I practiced this throughout the day, but most importantly when I woke up and when I went to bed. I was grateful for having the gift of a new day and for all of the experiences that I had throughout the day. When life around you is cut so short, it becomes easier to appreciate the most ordinary of things.
4) Show up as whom you want to be. If I desired to be happier, I had to act happier. This meant I needed to change my behavior. I made a commitment to myself that I would not complain, blame or sulk. I had to be fully engaged in whatever I did, and show interest in others intentionally. This was not to say that I was ‘fake.’ I vowed to be genuine, but if I felt myself falling into a negative or defensive position, I had to stop myself and come back to center, just like when you meditate and your mind wanders you have to come back to your breath. My focal point in this case was the image of who I wanted to be as a Mom. My girls had lost their Dad already, and they deserved the best Mom I could be. That is who I wanted to be.
5) Be Compassionate. I learned all too well that everyone has their own struggles and you never know what someone else is facing – no matter how put together they look on the outside. I gained so much empathy from my own journey, and I decided from that day forward that I would not judge. In fact I found this to be one of the most liberating experiences: to go through life without any judgment and opt for compassion instead.
6) Be Helpful. I decided to go out of my way each day to help at least one person in any way that I could. Every day I would get up and ask for guidance for whom should I serve today. I would go out of my way to hold the door for someone or help someone in need. I would do things that my old self would have brushed off or not taken time for, or perhaps not even noticed as I was lost in my own swirl of busy-ness. I remember one day when I was getting a sandwich at a local deli and the girl behind the counter was very rude to me. Instead of taking it defensively, I said to her compassionately, “It looks like you are having a tough day, is everything ok?” She looked at me and started to cry and said no, and she went on to tell me about a difficult situation with her boyfriend and custody over her daughter. I gave her space to tell me what was going on, and just listened and validated her, and let her take her time. And afterward she thanked me and said she felt better, and I thanked her for sharing, and I told her I felt better too.
7) Be Open. I knew that my experience could turn me very bitter and closed if I let it. I chose to be open instead. I committed to saying hello to strangers on the street, smiling to people I didn’t know, and initiating conversations with people on planes or at the checkout line. I was amazed at how good it made me feel. It also felt great for me to have such anonymity with others – freeing actually. To talk to people who did not know my immediate truth. It was very healing, and became part of my routine quite naturally. From this I also found serendipitous connections that later on would result in opportunities for me on my path.
As I adopted these new behaviors I began to feel happier. So much happier that it became easy to stick to it, and became my new way of being. I had to be conscious of my thoughts and behavior to choose to be/to think/to do these things. What I learned is that anyone can learn to be happier – that is the truth.