There's no one "how to be happy" solution out there that will suddenly lead to a more positive life. That may not be an incredibly comforting thought to people who are anything less than happy, but it's also the case that at any given moment, just about everyone in the world falls into the category of "less than happy." That's because happiness as many people define it is something closer to absolute momentary elation than a consistent, sustainable positive feeling. So the existential pursuit of how to be happy is often focused on catching a fleeting sense of being sky-high, when all it takes is a slight shift in thinking to see that achieving contentment is a much more realistic and fulfilling goal.
Contentment is similar to happiness and yet also very different. Whereas happiness can come from any number of personal successes — scoring the job of your dreams, finding out your crush has a crush on you, too, winning a competition — contentment is based more on what already is and assuming a positive outlook that doesn't constantly look for what's missing. This isn't to say that trying to improve your life in various areas is a bad practice, but only that any period of happiness can easily slide into an unhealthy "now what?" syndrome. Whether it's an hour, a day, a month or a year, eventually we have a tendency to become unsatisfied with the current status quo and convince ourselves that getting to another benchmark will automatically make us happy.
In reality, the goal should be much more about finding an inner peace. As writer Mo Seetubtim puts it on her site Brand Mentalist, we need to "let go of everything that has been holding [us] back — emotionally, mentally, physically — and just be."
If you're unhappy with the current state of things, ask yourself how long you've been that way. What's changed in that period of time? If it's nothing substantial, that might be why you're in a cycle of bad feelings. If something isn't working for you, don't be afraid to shake things up, whether that means a new city, a new job, an end to a relationship or something else. Even though breaking out of routines can be uncomfortable, it's important to realize that change isn't bad — it's just different.
If you're afraid of failure in taking on a new direction, let Jim Carrey's words on failure give you a swift kick in the *ss: "You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love." Don't get paralyzed by staying conservative and continually make excuses for not mixing up a life that doesn't seem to be working.
Have Your Own Back
We're all our own toughest critics. Ever stare at the ceiling in bed at night mentally assaulting yourself for a dumb mistake you made that day? You're not alone. Part of achieving contentment is accepting that bad things happen and training yourself to react appropriately when they do. Those bad things are inevitable and frankly not always in your control. What is in your control is how you view yourself when they happen and how you move forward. Embarrassments, mistakes and shortcomings are unpleasant, but wallowing in their wake is far worse.
Cut yourself some slack when you mess up. Your future self will thank you for it.
Stay the Course
Achieving contentment, or a sense of satisfaction with who you've been, who you are, and where you're going takes a real commitment. Changing things up when you're not feeling great is a smart practice, but jumping around place to place physically and mentally at the first sign of problems is unhealthy. Self-improvement is hard work, but it's also the most rewarding. Challenge yourself with tough but attainable goals, adjust your definition of success and always be sure to stay true to the most important cause: your own. Whenever you hit bumps in the road, see them exactly as they are, not roadblocks that require you to start over and lay a totally new path.
When all else fails, make sure to indulge in the little things that can propel you through hard times and keep you going. No matter what, always stay the course. It's worth it.
Cover image: Wikimedia