Six Things You Can Do To Get Over Yourself And, Well, Be Happy
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Being happy is almost an obsession in our culture. We have this unspoken belief that it’s everyone’s right to be happy and that we should do everything in our power to actually be happy. But how many people actually achieve this aim?
Despite all the focus on it, it seems like we’re getting unhappier every day. The rate of mental illness seems to be going up, people are working long hours and complaining how much they hate their jobs, and the people’s shelves are filled with more self-help books than ever before.
At some point, you just have to ask: what if this focus on our own happiness is actually making us unhappy? What if our ways of trying to find happiness are actually leading us further away from it?
And if that’s true, what can we do differently? Here are a few ideas:
1. Get off the computer It doesn’t matter what anyone says or tries to tell you, having lots of internet friends does not make you happier. Sources show that being popular on this social network or on that social network does not make you feel connected. There is no substitute for real, in person relationships that you spend years working on and building. There is no substitute for having a friend take your hand when you’re upset and telling you that you’ll be okay. None. And lying to ourselves about this is just making the situation worse. Get off your computer. Join a book club or an exercise club or just spend time with the friends and family you already have. And stop expecting to get your mood lifted or your social needs met through social media. It just doesn’t work that way.
2. Practice kindness There’s a lot of talk about trolls online, people who seem to live to be horrible to everyone within their crosshairs. And even people who aren’t officially trolls seem to say things online that they’d never say in person. There’s a lot of speculation on the reasons for this online hatred. It seems like the distance afford by social media and the internet makes people think they can do anything, say anything they want. They seem to think it gives them permission to be horrible if they believe the other person “deserves it.” I guess it’s always easier to be cruel if you don’t have to look into the face of your victims. In a lot of cases, these kinds of comments are sometimes portrayed as that person being “assertive,” or “standing up for themselves.”
But that’s not what this is. It’s cruelty. Something about the anonymity of the internet has given people permission to be cruel whenever they feel like it. People can argue about this phenomenon forever, but the question for this article is: do you think people who choose to be cruel like this are happy people? It seems like a stupid question, but it’s important. Do you think this cruelty makes you happy? Or do you think it makes people unhappier? Every time you choose to attack someone, to bring someone down, you’re bringing yourself down as well. And eventually you’ll become the kind of person who does that all the time as a way to express your general unhappiness with life. So, stop it.
3. Face your fear Fear seems to be a prevailing force in our society. From anxiety in all its forms, to fear of physical attacks, to fear of terrorists, to fear of the rapid changes in our world, fear is driving so many people and so many choices these days. But it’s all under the surface. The truth is that people seem to be avoiding their fear, denying it. But fear is stronger and sneaker than that, and it finds a way out. And the way it usually comes out is often worse than the original fear. Violence, bigotry, hatred, and mistrust. These are all signs of fear and uncertainty coming out and striking out.
And it’s leaving only victims in its wake. Being afraid is not a reason to attack or vilify what you’re afraid of. This doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help the situation, and it makes the world a darker, scarier place. Instead, work to face your fear. Learn about what you’re most afraid of. Humans like to feel in control, and the more we know about something the more we feel like we are in control. So, look at what you’re afraid of with a curious and open mind and ask yourself: what can I do to make this situation better instead of worse? And act based on the answer.
4. Know what you really want Not what other people want for you, not what society has programmed you to want, and not what your friends want. What do you really want? This is a harder question than you might think, and it’s one that you’ll probably be chasing for your whole life. You might decide you want something, get it, and realize it’s not what you expected and you don’t actually want it anymore. Or you might get diverted on your way to getting something you want and realize the new destination is better. Be open to all of this. Trying to force ourselves into molds, whether we create them ourselves or if other people do, is almost guaranteed to make you unhappy. So, when you’re asking yourself what you want, try to decide where your desires are really coming from as well.
5. Stop trying to be happy Chasing happiness is ridiculous. Happiness is an emotion and emotions can’t be quantified, captured or guaranteed. If you hold up happiness as something you want more than anything else, something you can’t be satisfied without, than every time you watch a sad movie or lose a friend you’ll fail to achieve your goal. In fact, think of it a lot like goal setting. Most sources tell us these days that we need to set smart goals. They have to be specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely. Is the goal of happiness any of these?
It’s extremely non-specific, you can’t measure it, you can’t guarantee what will lead to it and it usually fades away after a while as if it was never there at all. This makes it a bad goal and one that will only lead to failure and more unhappiness. Make sure you goals are ones that you can actually achieve and ones that you hope will lead to more happiness in your life. That way you have a better chance of success and all the good feelings that come along with it.
6. Stop thinking about only yourself Humans are an innately self-absorbed species. Some of this is natural, a survival mechanism, but these days we seem to be taking it further and further. There’s an old story about having to put your oxygen mask on first in a plane crash, the idea being that you can’t help anyone else if you’re not safe first. But today, people seem to use this as an excuse for selfish behavior. They use it to do whatever they want regardless of the people around them and regardless of the damage they cause. But what this story neglects to mention is that this idea is only true in life and death situations.
If your plane is crashing, of course you need to make sure you can breathe before you try to move around and help others. But if your plane is cruising nicely it doesn’t mean you can take your seatmate’s food because you’re hungry and your needs should always come first. They don’t always come first. There are over seven billion people on this planet, countless animal species, and needs and problems so serious that they threaten countless lives. And ignoring that reality not only limits the real impact you could make in the world, it also makes life just that little bit harder for every creature on the planet. Including you.
The number one thing you can take away from this: happiness is fleeting and often unachievable. By focusing on it, we limit the real changes and actions we can take in the world, as well as the ways that our own pursuit of it is harming the world. If you really want to be happy, you need to take a step back. You need to engage with the people around you, and with the rest of the world. Because this individual focus really isn’t working for anyone.