For most of us, the answer to the question, “Are you happy?” depends upon who we’re with, our health, work life, finances and family dynamics. When one or more of these factors changes, our answer to this question quickly changes. Does this describe you? Do you allow circumstances, lost chances, “what if” scenarios and people to dictate your mood? I did.
Over the past few years, I realized that I was allowing the emotional ups and downs of circumstances, people, the bygone glory years and the “what ifs” to contaminate my otherwise happy disposition. This, in turn, began to affect my health: stress binge eating sometimes; not eating other times due to the pit in my stomach from stress; a nightly glass or two of wine to unwind; lack of sleep quality and quantity; and high blood pressure. For anyone who knows me, this is not “me.” I love life and had always approached each new day with gratitude and excitement. But I hadn’t been feeling this way for quite a long time. Maybe it was the realization that I’m in the over-50 club and was experiencing regret over my life not being the way I had pictured it 30 years ago. Or maybe I was over-scheduled and trying to do too much, for too many people and nothing for myself. The reason wasn’t important; I knew my attitude needed to change to get my “happy” back on and only I could do it. There is no utopian life, the grass isn’t greener on the other side, and there is no Prince or Princess Charming. It’s all up to me.
And, it’s all up to you. If you find that you are dragging through life, feeling stuck, follow these steps to create positive changes and become happy 90 percent of the time, because we are in control of about 90 percent of what happens to us. It is all in your attitude.
Step 1: Look forward. Some of my angst was due to me looking back at what was or what could have been if I had made other choices. My attention was diverted by looking in the rearview mirror of my life, not paying attention to where I was currently driving or where I was going. I had no focus, no acceleration and no vision for the present or future. I decided to put my foot on the accelerator, enjoy today’s scenic drive through life and look forward at what was coming down the road. My energy increased as I cast my attention on today. I suddenly didn’t feel disabled in yesterday and felt excitement to venture forward to the bright promise of tomorrow.
Step 2: Let it go. When I carried yesterday further than I should have (i.e., I didn’t learn from the experience, ignore the mean-spirited person or wasn’t appreciative of my youth), I ruined my today. By ruining my today, I spoiled my tomorrow. I couldn’t get rid of yesterday because I was either thinking or talking about it. Every time you bring up regret from your past, a failed business deal, lost case, broken relationship, 20-pound weight gain, argument with a friend or family member, or financial mistake, you relive the hurt and allow it to keep you in the dumps.
In addition, I allowed what other people said or didn’t say to suck the energy out of my marrow. This is a hard one for me because I want everyone to like me; don’t we all? When someone snapped at or otherwise treated me with disrespect and rudeness, I would go from happy to sad in a millisecond AND fret and worry about it all day, maybe all week, wondering what I did to cause this person to be upset with me. The wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt helped: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I decided that if someone was grouchy, that was “them” and not me. Many of these crabby-types grumble at everyone and everything. Now, I do the best I can to let criticisms and gruff comments roll off my shoulders and out of my mind.
Step 3: No one else can make you happy. I was looking for that person or thing to bring me constant happiness. I never found it because it doesn’t exist. No other person, fame, fortune, object or situation would or could ensure that I would be completely and unconditionally happy 90 percent of the time. I had to make up my mind to be happy. As you’ve heard, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Truer words could not be spoken.
Step 4: Set a course and change your situation. I didn’t like where I was in several areas of my life, but I also had not thought about where I wanted to be or how I would get there. I was on the road trip of life without a destination, wandering Indiana. How the hell was I supposed to get to the place I wanted to be if I didn’t know where that place was? I needed an action plan.
If you’re feeling stuck in the muck of your life because things didn’t go or aren’t going as you thought they would, do something about it! Stop the pity party, get over yourself, and move forward, one tiny step at a time. Journal your thoughts, writing down where you want to be: a different job or maybe an entirely new vocation; retirement; different friendships or relationships; new hobbies; a change in health status through weight loss, better nutrition, quality sleep, etc. There is something so exhilarating about figuring out that you can move in a different direction from where you are and you don’t have to feel doomed to this existence. Write out your end goal and begin to set forth small, attainable and realistic steps to get there.
I wish you well on your journey, as I continue to do the same. I hope we meet some day on the road of happiness!•
Sharon McGoff is a graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, a certified personal trainer and health fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine, and a certified life and wellness coach with WellCoaches Inc. The opinions expressed are those of the author.