The internet and the self-help section at Barnes and Noble are bursting at the seams with advice on how to be happy. And there’s a lot of great ideas out there, but what I’ve learned is that happiness is a very personal journey.
Though I think the journey to pure bliss is a marathon and not a sprint, here are five life lessons that have stuck with me and helped make me an all around happier person.
1. Expectation is the root of all evil in every aspect of life.
Seriously. Our expectations rarely take into account that we are all flawed human beings and that frankly, sometimes things just happen. Whether we realize it or not, we often expect a lot from ourselves and from other people.
Maybe you have a friend that didn’t show up for you in the exact way you wanted them to. Maybe you expected to be married with 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and a dog named Elvis by the time you turned 30, but you’re still single. Maybe you expected you’d be a well known author by now, but in reality the most compelling thing you’ve written is next week’s grocery list. (You’re out of bread, by the way.)
Now you’re disappointed because you don’t have a novel, you aren’t married or your friends aren’t meeting your needs.
Let’s unpack this, shall we?
When we set these expectations, more often than not, they won’t come to fruition—at least, not exactly how we want them to. Simply because when we expect something, we have a clear vision of what that looks like and reality often doesn’t measure up. Instead of having high expectations, have high standards.
Have friends in your life that you can count on who love you (even if they’re not perfect 100% of the time), don’t settle for someone just so you can reach some arbitrary age goal, and practice every day to hone your skills. When we set our standards high, we are focusing on the quality of our goals, who we want to be, and what we want instead of the exact way these things have to be realized.
2. Allow yourself to just be exactly where you are.
There’s a lot of reasons to love The Office, but one of the things I love most is this little nugget of wisdom that came by way of one Andy Bernard: “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good ol’ days before you’ve already left them.” Well, Andy, there is. We are in them right now, but we often get so bogged down with trying to figure out our next moves, our next goals, our next, next, next that we blink and miss them. I’ll be happy when I lose the weight/get the job/pass the test/get the promotion/get the degree/win the award. But in reality, we rarely so much as pause to savor those moments because we are already thinking about the next hurdle to jump through. And y’all, there’s a lot of joy between those hurdles.
By all means, have all of the goals you want. Don’t stop believing, baby! But also, don’t stop living in the space between your goals. Because that’s where the magic happens. That’s where you grow, push, laugh, cry and become the person you were meant to be. And that is not nothing.
3. Being rejected doesn’t mean I am not talented or worthy.
A few months ago, I had an interview with a very talented and successful blogger I admire about potentially joining her team. The interview went great and we clicked so well that when the conversation ended after talking for a couple of hours, she was ready to hire me. However, I encouraged her to go through with interviewing her other prospects. We left it in a way that I felt the job was mine and I was elated.
Fast forward to the next day. After interviewing the next candidate, though she still felt I was a better fit for her, she had decided to go with this other person because there was one skill that person had that I didn’t yet have and it was a skill that she really needed right now. I told her I understood and then proceeded to get off the phone and sob into a bag of Doritos.
In a flurry of orange chip dust, I surmised that I simply wasn’t good enough and I was terrible at my job and I was a terrible writer and I had really bad skin and my hair was dry and everything in my closet looked stupid on me and the only people who love me are my dogs and that’s just because I feed them and I am the worst AND AND AND.
You see how quickly that spiraled out of control? Whether we get rejected by a friend or a potential job, it’s hard not to let that turn into an avalanche of destructive self talk. At the end of the day, that job just wasn’t for me. That didn’t make me any less talented or any less of a human being.
4. Let yourself feel the bad things.
That seems counterproductive, right? Listen, just because I’m happier, doesn’t mean every day is sunshine and rainbows and money trees. It doesn’t mean I don’t still get upset or sad. It just means I don’t live there anymore. Take the incident I just mentioned in the last paragraph: I lived there in that rejected state of Dorito-covered despair far too long.
Instead, I could have used that as fuel for my fire. I could have dusted myself off, learned a new skill, kept searching for other gigs and moved forward. Instead, I let myself sit there and wallow in self pity. And y’all, it was not cute.
More recently, my relationship with a client came to an end because my services weren’t really needed any longer because their vision had changed. At first, I felt really rejected and bummed out. Once again, my heart threatened to wallow in a sea of potato chips. But when I sat back and took stock of the situation, I realized how much that gig had taught me about myself, my professional and personal boundaries and that frankly, I am darn good at what I do. It wasn’t just an end of something; it was also a beginning. Which leads me to the last lesson….
5. Let go of things and people that are not for you.
Woo, boy. This one is a doozy, y’all. Because I am not a letter goer. I will try to resuscitate a dead relationship/situation until we are both out of oxygen.
Some people and some situations just aren’t going to be for us, no matter how hard we try. But I have now begun to figure out how to discern the difference. Ask yourself, do I feel happy in this situation/with this person? Do I feel challenged? Am I learning something? Do I feel anxious, belittled or unimportant? When I think about this situation/person, do I feel sad, resentful, or angry? Am I serving this person/situation and are they/is it serving me?
A friend once gave me some advice that really stuck with me. If it costs you your peace, it’s too expensive. I know exactly when I’m not following that advice and I’ll bet you do too. Your heart will feel troubled and uneasy, and that anxiety can bleed over into the rest of your life.
Even knowing that I will still hang on for dear life. But when I choose my own peace, I never regret it. Not ever. Some situations and some people are not going to be for us. You can try to force it all day long, but it’s going to leave you feeling depleted, resentful, and frustrated. And so many times we miss out on some really great things right in front of us because we are so focused on something completely wrong for us.
We are all on an emotional and mental budget. You can’t go on a Target shopping spree when your bank account is empty. (But wouldn’t that be cool?! Target is my fave!) You also can’t give to new people or situations when your emotional wallet is empty. Spend your love, your worry, and your time wisely.