This just in: Each part of this series will also be the topic of that week's Mornings with Maggie: LOA MASTERCLASS broadcast on Facebook Live. Tune in Wednesdays at 10 a.m. eastern time!
First, let’s figure out what these happiness blocks are.
Some might have expected the number one happiness blocker to be “money” or “not enough money.” But if you dig into it a little, it’s not how much money you have or don’t have that causes misery. It’s worrying about it. Worrying it’s not enough, worrying you won’t be able to afford to pay this or that bill. People who have money worry about keeping it. What if it all evaporates tomorrow? How can they keep it from going away?
Worry is a killer. When you worry, your body feels unsafe, because you are actively telling it that it’s unsafe by filling your head with fears about the future (which is another definition of worry.) This causes your brain to signal the release of stress chemicals into your body, cortisol and epinephrine, the flight-or-fight juice we used to call adrenaline. Your entire system goes into defense mode, ready for attack. This draws the body’s focus away from well being. It stops its natural processes of gently repairing anything that might be off in the system, and focuses all resources on just surviving the impending attack.
A constant state of worry eats away at your health bit by bit.
Worry is nothing more than being ungrateful in advance. You’re so sure things are going to go wrong that you’re already suffering the results. And when you do that, you actually ensure that will be the result, and block things from going right.
Worry is planning ahead for things you do not want. It’s actually bringing them into your reality.
Guilt is worry’s sidekick. We often live our lives trying to be all things to all people, and failing, and then beating ourselves over the head for failing. We feel strongly that the happiness of our parents, our children, our spouses and our friends all depends on us. We set very high goals for ourselves and berate ourselves if we can’t achieve them. We assign ourselves tasks that are not only impossible, but far less important than we think they are, and torture ourselves when we don’t get them done.
If we knew of an employer who demanded of his employees, the same expectations we demand of ourselves, we would label him a tyrant. And yet that’s exactly how we treat ourselves.
We rarely say no to anything anyone asks us to do. We push our own priorities so low on our lists that we begin to forget what they are.
The cure for this is realizing that we are not responsible for the well being of the world, and believing we are is kind of ego driven. Everyone is capable of being happy on their own, and in fact, it’s not possible for us to create well being in anyone but ourselves.
This goes hand in hand with guilt. We have this endless to-do list we’ve assigned ourselves. (No matter who we blame it on, we truly do assign it to ourselves.) And we have also convinced ourselves the world will end unless we get it done.
And no human on the planet could possibly get it all done.
So we spend our days scrambling, rushing, hurrying. Doing that releases all those same stress compounds into our systems that worry does. And around and around we go.
The truth about the to-do list is that it refills itself perpetually. When we die, we will still have a huge pile of self-imposed assignments left undone. When we accept that–that there’s truly no such thing as getting it done, and that the world won’t end as a result, we can let go of this a little more easily.
I call this one “caring too much what other people think about me” syndrome. I know someone who has this so badly that she begins apologizing every time I see her. I run into her in the grocery store, she shrinks into herself and says she didn’t have time to fix her hair better this morning. I stop by her house and she cringes and begins to explain why it’s not cleaner. If she gives me a ride somewhere in her car, she spends the entire time apologizing that it hasn’t been vacuumed lately. I exaggerate not at all.
Some of us tend to think we know what others are thinking, and we usually believe they are thinking about us. So we’re self conscious about everything. Our weight, our shape, our age, our wrinkles, our hair, our teeth, our clothes, our homes, our cars, our jobs, our intelligence.
When the truth is, most of the people we believe are focused on all those things about us, are actually busy worrying (and assuming they can guess) what we are thinking about them.
Accept that there is no way you can possibly know what anyone else is thinking of you, that they usually aren’t thinking about you at all, and that it doesn’t matter what they think of you anyway. All that matters is what YOU think of you.
Depending on Others
The very opposite of self consciousness, worrying what others think about you, is the disempowering habit of letting the way the others in your life behave, decide your happiness for you. If your husband is loving today, you’re happy. If he forgets your birthday, you’re sad. If your kids bring home excellent grades, you’re happy. If they struggle in school, you’re frustrated. If your parents are healthy and well, you’re happy. If their health is failing, you’re miserable. If your best friend accepts your invitation, you’re happy. If she declines, you feel snubbed and you’re hurt. If your book is doing well, you’re happy. If it’s not selling at all, you’re upset.
This is conditional living. The key to beating it is to develop the habit of choosing to be happy no matter what, and the key to finding that habit is first realizing that you can. That it IS a choice.
Shifting your attention to the things you like about your life, and the good things that come to you throughout your day, is a habit you can cultivate that will take your mind right off the things that you think are going wrong.
During the coming weeks, we are going to devote one blog post to each of these five happiness busting habits and give you exercises and practices you can implement to break them for good, and make your life happier and happier.
And if there are things that you think are keeping you from being happy that I haven’t listed here, tell me so in comments and I’ll make sure we cover your specific issue too!
Be Conscious, Be Present
All this week, try to be conscious of your feelings. When you start feeling bad, stop and notice what you’re thinking about, doing, experiencing, looking at. Try to pinpoint which of these habits you’re exercising in that moment. What block are you putting between you and happiness? Write it down. Don’t dwell on it, just notice it. And the next time that particular thing pops into your mind or into your life, get your focus off it before it has a chance to trigger those same feelings.
This is just a matter of sharpening your awareness. You can build new, happiness-boosting habits in very little time, and rid yourself of all your happiness blocks. Which will result in a happier you living a happier life.
And what’s not to love about that?