What’s your experience of happiness? A state to be achieved where the sun always shines and the birds are singing? A few precious moments to be enjoyed while you can? Or is happiness only something that happens to other people who are most likely richer, smarter and wiser than you?
The International Day of Happiness aims to celebrate being happy, and to identify goals to achieve happiness across the globe. But, for some people, happiness feels elusive and even impossible.
Whatever your personal definition of happiness, there are some behaviours that stand in the way of achieving it.
We have identified some common blocks to happiness that you may recognise within yourself and/or people around you:
1. Comparison with others
If you find yourself comparing your lot with your friends, neighbours, family members and even strangers in the street, then you may often judge yourself as less than. Everyone else is having a fabulous life while you feel lonely, sad or fed up. Poring over pictures on social media of other people’s happy, shiny lives can be a stick to beat yourself with. You feel you are pressing your nose against the window of life instead of truly living it.
How to overcome this block: Count your blessings. Yes, really. Even if you think you don’t have any. Start keeping a gratitude journal: write down five things at the end of every day that you are grateful for. You’ll be amazed how many positive things you can find in your life. Practising gratitude daily can help you appreciate the small things in life that can bring you happiness.
The inner critic can be a merciless bully. Even when things are going well and you start to feel yourself stepping into happy territory, there can be a strong inner tug that drags you back into misery. It’s as though there is a part of you that believes you don’t deserve to be happy, and that part seeks to prove you right. So you sabotage relationships by being demanding or withdrawing. You overanalyse everything in your head, and you put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect that you end up spoiling things anyway. This can be exhausting.
How to overcome this block: Take the pressure off yourself. Allow yourself some treats. Listen to music that makes you happy – and that drowns out the voice of the inner critic. It might help to write down the typical things your critic says – and then counteract those phrases with some positive ones instead. When happy moments come along, enjoy them, instead of fretting that the moment won’t last forever.
3. Believing in ‘if only’
There’s nothing that deadens moments of happiness than believing that a happy state only exists ‘out there’. Or when you promise yourself that you’ll be happy ‘if only’ you could earn more money, get promoted, have a perfect relationship, a bigger house, a better car, a gold-plated life. This kind of thinking puts your happiness firmly in the future, and therefore out of reach. Believing in ‘if only’ robs you of the present.
How to overcome this block: Live in the present moment. A mindfulness practice teaches us that life is happening now, not in some idealised future. When you find yourself drifting off into some indefinable future, drag yourself back to the present. Having a mantra might help: something along the lines of “I am present now. I am alive now. I am happy now” could help keep you anchored in the present moment.
We can become so scared of trying new things, or of reaching out for what we really want, for fear that we will fail. Worse, that people will witness our failure and we will feel embarrassed, discouraged and ashamed. And so we keep ourselves small, wishing we had the courage to say, do, be the thing we’ve always wanted. Fear robs us of happiness. Fear can keep us trapped in a lifetime of what ifs.
How to overcome this block: Change can’t and won’t happen like a lightning bolt, zapping your life from miserable to happy. Change happens in those tiny little decisions we make every day. Just for today, make a decision to do something that pulls you ever so slightly out of your comfort zone. When you can prove to yourself that you can survive this, try something else tomorrow that stretches or challenges you. And survive that too. Gradually you will build your confidence into reaching for the thing in life that you really want.
We’ll leave you with the inspiring words of Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
If you feel that happiness continues to elude you, and you’d like some support working through some deep-set blocks, then give our reception team a call on 020 8673 4545. They will match you with a therapist who can help. You can also email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.