DIY Quick-Fix For Unhappiness
Happiness, contrary to its mellow meaning, is a thorny subject with no clear consensus on its definition or measure. But if you are feeling emotions that you would describe as discontent, unhappiness or dissatisfaction, here are a few points to ponder over.
The ideas I discuss here are important concepts of many religious and spiritual practices. These ideas are recommended by psychological and philosophical schools of thoughts as well. No doubt, each of these points are by themselves paths worth pursuing for self-growth, peace, contentment and joyful living. However, these ideas are also simple enough so that you can reflect upon them yourself, and see your unhappiness and discontent melting away over time. Most of my clients say that they could see the positive effects of these shifts in thinking within a few days.
Dial Down Expectations
This is seemingly a commonsense idea that permeates a number of world philosophies. However, it is difficult to apply in life. A few questions that are worth our contemplation in order to implement this idea in our daily lives are:
What is the expectation I have deep down that is leading to the unhappiness?
Why do I have this expectation?
If I think it is only fair that a certain situation in my life should be in a certain way, what is the reason I feel that things should be fair for me? Am I special? What makes me feel things are unfair for me?
If I think the situation should be better in return for my goodness, or my devotion to a God, or as reciprocation, then I need to re-evaluate my motivation for my goodness, altruism or my religiousness.
Am I unhappy by comparison? Do I think if someone else has it this way or that way, that is how it should be for me as well? Why? Is social media fueling my discontent?
Can I do good, be good and accept goodness without expectations?
Once you have spent some time meditating over your expectations, you are likely to find that it is our entitlement that often leads to expectations. Life is unfair and random for every living being.
I always remember Joseph Fiennes saying to Jude Law in Enemy At The Gates: "I've been such a fool, Vassili. Man will always be a man. There is no new man. We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there'd be nothing to envy your neighbor. But there's always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don't have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts, poor in gifts. Rich in love, poor in love."
Once we have the humility to feel one with other people and livings beings, we can live a more unfettered life - a good life without the unrealistic expectation of external things going our way. It is liberating and empowering to be free of expectations, because all of a sudden we have this huge surge in our personal contentment score and inner strength.
Gratitude All Day
There is an increased awareness of the importance of gratitude in enabling one to lead a happy and fulfilled life. There are entire businesses around gratitude - workshops, diaries, planners, journals, etc. There are TED talks, meditation teachers, mindfulness books and spiritual gurus who are extolling the benefits of gratitude. Contrary to many other hypes of this sort, Gratitude actually WORKS. Here is how you can apply this concept in your daily life.
Start with a method that allows you to allocate time and opportunity to reflect on things you are grateful for, like journaling, drawing, consciously thinking, gratitude meditation, etc. This is just a start.
However, the aim is not to find moments of gratitude. The goal should be to build a habit of gratitude. The idea is to automatically have your thoughts wandering off to some grateful thought or the other, just like our minds wander off to negative thoughts.
It does not have to be abstract and spiritual things that one can be grateful for. Be grateful to the people in your life. The material things. The food that you have. The clothes. The books and music. The weather when it is good. The shop you get your things from. For your own health or the good health of a loved one. You can be grateful for having internet that is allowing you to do something that is meaningful to you. For music. For having a mobile phone to keep in touch with loved ones. The online shop that you use. The random person who did something nice or kind. The night you slept well. The day you went to a good restaurant. You will find a million things that we take for granted. The nice chai you had just now. If you see the moon. The pigeon on the ledge. Have a child's eye and awe, it will be easier to be appreciative of all that you have and experience.
Once you make it a habit of feeling grateful for all the small and big things in your life, in the context of the day, your community or country, or the era, you will see that the habit just keeps on growing. It becomes your second nature to have automatic thoughts of gratitude. And when you are grateful for hundreds of times through the week, you will find it quite impossible to hold on to gripes.
As you might have noticed, the first two approaches don't really change anything in your life. They ask you to change your attitude to what is already good in your life, instead of pegging your happiness to things beyond your control. The third thing I would suggest is to try to do things that give us purpose. We could already be doing things that make a difference to the life of someone else. We can also choose to take up things that make things better for ourselves.
An important thing is to acknowledge your own efforts without expectations of admiration or thanks from others. Be appreciative of yourself for whatever it is that you are doing.
When you love yourself as you are, you will forgive yourself for a lot of unnecessary burden that you carry, and you will try to grow. Not because that can get you something or that your worth is tied to that future achievement, but because we care for things and people we love.
While purpose often involves things we do that impact others, we can also do self-help things with a feeling of purpose.
Self-development things can include going to the gym, joining a hobby club, or taking up yoga or tai-chi to improve your mental and physical health. Connecting to arts and nature always helps us find our balance and joy. You could take up a new skill that will be useful at work. You could start something you have been putting off, like reading. Understand the purpose behind what your are doing.
You could be volunteering for a charitable cause. You could be part of a community activity. You can find ways to mentor another person for something. You could decide to find ways to spend more time with your family. You could take up reading self-improvement or productivity books or take up such courses that may improve your work-life balance.
When you are doing something for another person, make sure to recognize that you are ultimately doing it because it makes you feel good. The activity should make you feel joyful and authentic, and not entitled or superior. What we do for others can bring us unparalleled joy, and that is the aim of it.
Try to be compassionate towards yourself through your activities. Do not beat yourself up if you are not able to maintain the tempo you started out with. Do not be disheartened if sometimes the daily grind seems devoid of meaning and purpose.
You will find it easier to continue if you are patient with yourself. Do not try to be perfect. Try to excel, by all means, but do not be discouraged by your own unrealistic goals or by what you see on social media.
Every bit counts, no matter how small. Our competition should not be with others, it should only be with our previous self. If I was not exercising at all till last month, and this month I have exercised for a total of 40 minutes, it is an improvement over my previous self. If you did something to help someone in a small way, it matters to that person. We sometimes do not know the ripples we create by small actions.
These three basic ideas are easily embedded into our thought systems. Once you have made a conscious note of these ideas, you will slowly get into the habit of weighing your thoughts and actions in this new context. And you will see that you are happier than before.