We all want to be happy, but, too often, we don't know how. When you're in the trenches of your busy life and barely have time to think — much less make time for yourself — even the tiniest molehill can seem like a mountain you're not strong enough to climb.
While it's easy to get discouraged by the everyday trials and tribulations, it's just as easy to meet those obstacles head on with a smile. At least, that's what Amy Newmark, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Simply Happy, does.
As the editor-in-chief of Chicken Soup For the Soul, she's basically become a happiness expert through reading tens of thousands of stories submitted to their publications. All the lessons she learned from over 20 years of Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, as well as her own life, have culminated in the 240-page book Publisher's Weekly named one of its top 10 lifestyle books for Fall 2016.
While happiness is an abstract concept, there are simple, concrete, yet impactful, ways we can all add a little extra to our lives every day. Here are five tips from unofficial happiness expert Amy Newmark herself:
1. Stop trying to be perfect.
Newmark is the first person to say she's not perfect and, more importantly, doesn't want to be. "You should strive for excellence, but not perfection," she tells A Plus. "Perfection is a losing game." She knows because she's calculated the score in her own busy life. By dividing her life up into three sections — parenthood, marriage, and career — Newmark soon realized that if she tried to score a perfect 100 in any one of them, she'd "lose points" in the others.
"I couldn't do any of those things perfectly. I couldn't achieve 100 percent on any of those things, and the way I looked at it was if I can be 90 percent of what I hope to be as a wife, and 90 percent of what I hope to be as a mother, and 90 percent of what I hope to be in my job ... Well, that's three things I did at 90 percent, so that's 270 points for me," she explains. "And if I tried to do just one thing perfectly, I still wouldn't get to 100 percent — maybe I'd get to 98 percent. So I'd have one thing where I got a score of 98 versus three things with a total score of 270."
2. Look at the trees, not the forest.
Whenever you feel bogged down, stressed out, or fed up by the sheer number of tasks you need to complete in a day, Newmark encourages people to turn the adage, "You can't see the forest for the trees" on its head. Though Newmark acknowledges it's important to recognize the forest as "the big picture," she says, "If you are a very busy person and you have a lot on your plate ... if you look at the forest, if you look at gigantic list, you're gonna go insane."
It's important to stay aware of all the items on that gigantic list, while pushing the less urgent ones to the back of your mind. This way, you can more easily focus simply on what needs to be done each day. "I try to take that to-do list and carve it into tiny little pieces. Instead of the forest, I'm looking at little saplings," says Newmark.
3. Count your blessings.
A natural optimist, Newmark always tries to look for the silver lining in any given situation. While some (her teenage children) might call that rationalizing, she considers her positive outlook a rational response to whatever obstacles come her way. "There's always a bright side to everything, and I always remind myself of the blessings in my life."
She's even made it part of her daily routine. "When I get in the shower every single morning, I'm grateful that I have a nice bathroom with hot running water, clean towels waiting for me, [and] that I'm going to eat breakfast," she explains. "I'm grateful for every one of those elements in my life because I think about the fact that [much] of the world doesn't have that."
Because she counts her blessings every day, she knows just how lucky she is. That daily reassurance allows her to view every situation from a new perspective and let go of everyday annoyances because she thinks, "What could I possibly get upset about, really?" Her answer is always fewer things than her number of daily blessings.
4. Make any day better by smiling at others.
"I know that sounds so sickly sweet, but a smile is like a boomerang," Newmark says. If you can get over the cheesy factor though, she promises of sharing just one extra smile a day with another person can make a huge difference in your lifelong happiness. "When you throw a smile out there, it will come back at you," she adds. Newmark encourages people to practice smiling so even on those days when you're feeling grumpy or stressed, you can still walk around with a smile on your face and potentially "make a connection with a real person ... to instantly change the tenor of your day."
"Just by smiling, even at a complete stranger ... it changes how people interact with you," Newmark explains. "And just by smiling, you'll find that you're acting differently also." Newmark does this herself every single day and swears she's seen a difference in how others react to her.
5. Be your own best friend, not your worst critic.
How many times have you looked in the mirror and found 20 things to criticize, but not a single thing to compliment? For many people, that happens every day. Newmark admits she's guilty of doing this herself, even when she was just "a skinny little thing" in high school, but that's exactly why she's so happy the national conversation about body image has shifted in a more positive direction since then. "There's way more conversation about how women should be fit within the bodies they were issued," she says. "But I think that's something women [still] go through every single day."
"I try not to weigh myself every single day because we're more than a number," she adds. Even remembering the ridiculousness of her calorie-counting days, Newmark acknowledges that loving yourself is often easier said than done. "We are definitely our own worst critics," she says. "But we should actually look in the mirror and find something to compliment about ourselves and also realize we look so much better to everybody else in the world than we think." Though this negative thinking is more prevalent among women than men, Newmark encourages everyone to change the way they look and think about themselves when they look in the mirror.
"The crazy thing is that if you carry yourself with confidence, you already look twice as good," she affirms. Referencing some of the stories she read for her company's new book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident, Newmark explains, "We have a number of women who talk about how they realized that half the battle is acting confident." While these women didn't change a thing about their appearance, everyone who encountered them thought they'd lost weight or changed their hairstyle.
Even when we think our happiness is tied to our physical appearance, Newmark's experience and advice prove it's just another case of mind over matter. By incorporating these five simple and quick tips into your daily life, you won't just change the way you act, but the way people react to you. Besides being better equipped to approach and overcome obstacles, you might even stop thinking of them as obstacles at all.
Cover photo via Unsplash