I've been thinking a lot about happiness - what it is, what it isn't, and how to be happier in general. Have a look below the line to read on about three things that you need to give up to be happy in life.
Happiness is something that we all try to hold onto, but it's often really elusive. Think of it like the weather - there are sunny days and cloudy days, and even some rainy ones (I live near Manchester; there are A LOT of rainy ones!) but eventually the sun will shine through the rain clouds, and the clouds will replace the sun. That's the same with emotions - you never really feel the same emotion singly for weeks at a time. It can feel like it if you're feeling low, but often there are small moments of good in amongst the bad. Trying to hold on to an emotion is like trying to hold on to the sunshine as the clouds roll in - it's not possible, and it's likely to make you feel sad if you try to do it.
There are some things that you can do to make yourself feel happier though - and I'm not just talking about a good cup of tea or a really interesting book! If you want to be happy, try giving up these three things:
Comparing yourself to other people
"Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt
Imagine you're starting up a new hobby. Instead of focusing on the task in front of you, all you can think about is how good the girl in front of you is at it already, or how much you want the same watch as the person next to you. The more you focus on others, the less likely you are to be happy with what you have.
Comparison steals your ability to be content with what you've got, and robs you of being able to feel joy in the longer term. It makes you feel inadequate - we rarely compare ourselves to people when we think we're better than them - and stops you from feeling happy. Do yourself a favour - next time you notice that you're comparing yourself to others, stop and focus on something else instead. You're likely to find over time that you feel a little more content, and a little happier.
Living the way others want you to
As humans, we're social creatures - we spend a lot of time doing things for others and hoping that others will relate to us in the ways we want them to. But putting too much pressure on yourself to live your life according to other people's opinions of you is only going to cause confusion and frustration. We've all done it - continuing piano lessons because it makes our parents happy, not going out with a friend because your partner wants you to stay home - and sometimes it's okay if you're getting something out of it too. But in therapy I've seen too many people who went to University to do a degree that someone else wanted them to do - and most of them dropped out after a year or so. Living the way that others want you to does not make you happy. It might give you relief for a short time, because you're not fully expressing your needs and therefore avoiding conflict, but in the long-term you're going to be unhappy and unfulfilled, and nobody wants that.
I know it's hard not to go over exactly what you said at your friend's house last night in minute detail, looking for any reason that she might be mad at you today, but I promise you it isn't making you happier! Again, because we're social creatures, sometimes our brain gets the wrong idea about protecting us from social rejection and amps everything up to 11 in terms of anxiously scanning conversations or situations where there might be conflict. It's a good idea not to be around people who aren't our cup of tea, but that doesn't mean that everyone hates you, and it certainly doesn't mean that you can manage your anxiety by overthinking everything. It won't work, and it won't make you happy. Try to relax, and do something else instead.
Are there any other things you think we should give up in order to be happy? Let me know in the comments.
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Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects