“It’s easier to be heavy; harder to be light.” ~ Gretchen Rubin
You know those people with a perpetual frown on the faces, black holes of doom and gloom who always find ways to rain on your parade? The ones who like to indulge in self pity parties?
After a series of life blows in my early years – dysfunctional family life, separated parents, unconventional childhood, untimely death of loved ones – my default mode is that of defensiveness. I have trust issues. I’m snippy and snarky.
When I meet perpetually happy people, I get suspicious. Sunny dispositions, helpful souls, kindhearted people seem otherworldly to my grey-tinted-glasses world.
But I’m also curious. How do they do it?
Because here’s the thing. Being miserable is easy. As someone who’s spent most of her life being sad (read: “profound” & pretentious), I know this first hand. Trying to be one of those people I’m suspicious about – the ones I used to call Polyannas – is hard. So much harder.
You don’t’ need to expend much energy to be grumpy. You simply react to the bad things happening to you. Someone trolls you, you lash back. Knee jerk. It’s easy.
See how much harder it is to control your tongue, turn the other cheek and choose to be happy. To remind yourself to be nice and gracious when someone’s attacking you is the last thing on your mind. To be optimistic in the face of sad news is no mean feat.
For me, it’s tougher than most to have a positive outlook. It’s something I’ve had to work hard at all my life. But I try.
Here’s how I, Eeyore personified, turn into happy, bouncy, optimistic Tigger in three simple steps.
1. Practice the Three A’s
Which are: attitude, awareness, and authenticity.
I got this idea from 1000 awesome things. Neil Pasricha writes about the small, every day things that make his life so awesome. It’s exceeding simple, and yet it hit a raw nerve among people who live a life of “quiet desperation”, as the writer Thoreau had said.
What prompted Neil to start his blog was a series of depressing life events: his wife left him, his best friend committed suicide, he lost his job. As he began to wallow in self pity, he remembered a game he used to play with his father as a child.
They’d go to the grocery store and look at the stickers on the fruits. His dad would say: “Can you believe they’ve got a date from Morocco? Do you even know where Morocco is? Let’s find out.” They’d go home and flip through an atlas until they find the mysterious country. His dad would say, “Can you believe someone climbed a tree over there, picked this thing off, put it in a truck, put it all the way to the docks and sailed it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and then put it in another truck and drove all the way to our tiny grocery store just outside our house so they could sell it for 25 cents? Things are amazing. There’s just so many things to be happy about.”
That mundane trip to the grocery store became an adventure that opened 5 year old Neil’s eyes to a world much larger than his own. The story best exemplifies the 3A’s: an awareness to appreciate the little things, an attitude of openness and gratitude, and the courage to be authentic and true to what you know and have yet to understand.
2. Happiness Jar
This is a practice inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert where at the end of the day, I write down a moment of bliss on a strip of paper, and put it inside the jar.
My happiness jar is my gratitude reminder. That piece of paper is my daily sliver of goodness even on those days when it doesn’t turn out to be the smashing success we all hope daily life could be. It trains me to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
It doesn’t’ have to be an earth shattering, momentous occasion.
Elizabeth Gilbert recounts that on the day she first appeared on Oprah to talk about Eat, Pray, Love, the moment that really stood out for her was not the interview, but a moment that happened back in the hotel room. Her mom was ironing the dress for the show. As she watched her mom carefully preparing her clothes, fussing over her, she was enveloped by a warm feeling of unconditional love that reminded her of a childhood filled with happy memories.
Yes really. So simple, so many benefits.
Fake it ’til you make it. Like a yawn, a smile is highly contagious.
Science backs this up with research, claiming that “a warm smile can create a “halo” effect, helping us “feel more optimistic, more positive, and more motivated.”
Have a look at these 15 fascinating facts about smiling, which include more links that prove how smiling boosts our immune system, and how it’s easier to do than frown.
Take it a step further by laughing. Big, booming belly laughs will immediately boost your mood. A joke shared between friends, watching a comedy, or listening to a laughing baby never fail to take me out of the doldrums. You can even trylaughter yoga if those suggestions don’t work.
These three optimism boosters help me focus on the good things. By turning these steps into a daily ritual, the thoughts that fill my head at the end of the day remind me why my day counted, why it was beautiful, and why I was profoundly grateful for my blessings.
Those thoughts put a genuine smile on my face.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
~ Max Erhman