We all feel that life sucks at times. Just getting through the day can seem like an uphill battle.
You drag yourself into the office each day with as much enthusiasm as you might have for climbing into a boxing ring with Mike Tyson.
It would be more fun to watch paint dry than to sit through another drab and tedious work meeting.
There is more spark in a dodo than in your relationship. Your kids hate you. And even worse, you hate yourself for having created a life that sucks so bad.
Where did it all go wrong?
What happened to the kid who dreamt of being an astronaut. Or the happy-go-lucky guy who, not that long ago, felt so joyful and alive backpacking around South-East Asia?
Your life sucks and you want your happiness back.
But there seem to be so many obstacles standing in the way.
But is this really true?
I will let you in on a little secret that might surprise you.
According to happiness researchers (yes, such a job exists!), your life circumstances account for a mere 10% of your happiness.
That’s right. A measly 10%.
What about the other 90%, you may ask?
Well, researchers tell us that 50% of our happiness is genetically predetermined. The other 40% is a question of mindset.
In other words, changing the lens that you view life through will have a greater impact on your happiness than changing your life situation.
You can learn, as the Monty Python song goes, to: “Always look on the bright side of life.”
If you want to increase your happiness straight away, here are seven concrete steps you can take to get you off on the right foot… even if your life really sucks.
7 Ways To Get Your Smile Back When Life Sucks
1. Make A Conscious Decision To be Happy
“Most people are about as happy as they decide to be” — Abraham Lincoln
The first step, making a conscious choice to be happy, is a prerequisite for all the other steps. Without prioritising your happiness, all the old unconscious habits — the moaning and complaining, the grunting and groaning — will keep rearing their ugly heads and crowd out your happy thoughts.
Happiness doesn’t happen by chance. Whether consciously or unconsciously, happy people choose to be happy.
So, when you wake up each morning, start the day with the firm decision that: “Today, whatever happens, I choose to be happy.”
Keep reminding yourself of your decision as you go through your day.
2. Kick The Blame Game
Your happiness depends much more on your attitude than on external factors.
My partner gets upset if I make a mess in the kitchen while cooking. If she were to do the same, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. When we are out in the car, on the other hand, I get really impatient with other drivers. She doesn’t even notice.
It is our thinking that makes situations ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Our own personal interpretation creates peace or suffering.
When you view your negative boss as an obstacle to your happiness, for example, you build up anger and resentment inside. If you see him as a messenger who has been sent by life to teach you tolerance, patience and compassion — you will most likely feel happier, perhaps even grateful.
It may well be true that your job, your relationship or the state of the world is less than ideal but, until you drop the habit of blaming everything (except yourself) for your unhappiness, you are unlikely to make much progress.
Acknowledging that only you, and you alone, are responsible for your happiness is an important and empowering step forward.
3. Change It, Leave It or Accept It — All Else Is Madness
Whenever you encounter a challenging situation, there are three options available to you. You can change it, leave it or accept it.
Anything else — for example, complaining about a situation that you can’t leave or change — is a sure recipe for unhappiness.
If you find your job dull and boring, changing the nature of the job is probably not an option. If leaving the job is not an option either, due to financial constraints, then the only remaining strategy is to focus on acceptance.
When you stop resisting what life has given you, you may still be disappointed, bored, angry or upset but you are no longer adding the additional pain of non-acceptance.
Acceptance is about saying YES to your difficult experiences and to the thoughts and emotions that accompany them — saying yes to life as it is. It is about befriending ‘what is’ rather than making an enemy out of it. If it is there anyway, it is better to flow with it than fight against it.
Allow the thoughts that say: “This isn’t fair” or “I can’t stand what is happening” to be there, with an attitude of openness and non-judgemental acceptance. Wrap the sadness, the hurt, the disappointment in the peace of non-resistance.
Do whatever you can to create happier circumstances, but while you are in the process of making positive changes, adopting an attitude of acceptance towards your current reality will make you much happier.
4. Water The Flowers, Not The Weeds
There is a well known phenomenon in psychology called negativity bias. It refers to the mind’s tendency to register negative impressions on a deeper level than it does positive ones.
The stressful job, the noisy neighbours or the depressing world news stick to the mind like velcro.
Positives such as having the full use of your limbs, a healthy bank balance or the freedom to express your views without being stoned or beheaded are largely overlooked and taken for granted.
If you have a tendency to focus on the things that are ‘wrong’ in your life, you may wish to consciously take note of the blessings that are all around you—to nurture the qualities of gratitude and appreciation.
Each of us is the gardener of our own inner landscape. The plants that flourish are the ones we give the most attention to.
Focusing on worry, sorrow, self-pity or resentment will give you a garden full of weeds.
Gratitude, love, compassion and service will blossom into beautiful flowers.
5. Focus On The Happiness Of Others
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Happy people are giving by nature. Happiness and serving others go hand in hand.
If you are down or unhappy, the quickest way to pull yourself out of it is to focus on the needs of someone else.
When you are unhappy, the tendency is to be self-absorbed — to wallow in your own mind-created suffering. Serving others is like a magic elixir that can pull you out of the rut of self-absorption.
Practice random acts of kindness. Make it your default mode to look out for opportunities to serve others.
Buy a beggar a coffee or a sandwich. Smile at the people you pass in the street. Let someone go in front of you at the checkout. Offer to carry someone’s shopping to their car.
Be thoughtful. Ask a homeless person if there is anything they need. A blanket? A jacket? Buy them a pair of gloves. Give up your seat on the bus to an elderly person. Send someone flowers or a box of chocolates. Spend a few minutes picking up litter in the park.
6. Don’t Pay Too Much Attention To Your Mind
“My life sucks. Where did it all go wrong? I am such a loser. I don’t know what to do with myself.”
Do you have a mind that drives you nuts?
The truth is, we all do to some extent. It is part and parcel of being born human.
But, do you know something? You don’t have to give it too much attention. In fact, if you want to be happier, it is highly advisable not to.
When you believe your life sucks, you are probably locked in a perpetual battle with your mind. It is not your thoughts that are the problem. It is how you relate to the thoughts.
We give our thoughts an inordinate amount of power over us through indulging in them—resisting them, believing them, chewing on them, marinating in them, taking them so damn seriously.
And you don’t have to.
Humour them, like you would an old uncle who has had too much to drink and is talking a load of gibberish.
Don’t believe them, don’t resist them, don’t identify with them. Don’t touch them at all. Leave the mind in peace to do its thing and it will leave you in peace to do yours.
You might want to check out my book “Kick The Thinking Habit”, where I go into the topic in detail.
7. Set Your Prisoners Free
Bearing grudges, harbouring resentment or maintaining icy relationships with others are all significant barriers to your own happiness.
Forgiveness is the key to unlocking the door of your prison cell, to setting yourself free from self-inflicted suffering.
You may have been criticised harshly, betrayed by a close friend, unceremoniously dumped for another by your spouse, cheated by a business partner, mugged in the park, or worse.
However justified you may feel about holding on to your grievances, the fact remains that harbouring thoughts of anger, resentment or indifference towards another pollutes your own inner space and crowds out happy thoughts.
Choosing for happiness means drawing a line under the matter—recognising that you no longer wish to carry feelings of anger, resentment or hurt in your heart because to do so is disempowering.
Forgive for your own sake, for your own peace of mind, for your own happiness.
Your Happiness Is In Your Hands
Challenging situations, people and events are unavoidable. They are black keys on the piano, without which the symphony of life couldn’t play out
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” — Jon Kabbat-Zinn
There will always be situations in your life that make you feel bored, frustrated, trapped or dissatisfied. And that is OK. Life sucks at times.
The question is: Are you going to let life’s challenges control how you feel inside or will you choose to rise above them and choose for happiness instead?
Whatever your current circumstances, it is always possible to be happier.
Use the 7 steps above to bring a little more happiness into your life and into the world.