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There was a point in my life when I thought I'd never be happy again.
Depression had sucked the life out of me.
I wasn't sleeping.
I was overwhelmed at work.
I had just undergone sudden, shocking heart surgery at the age of 24, something I now know can wreak havoc on your brain.
The depression had taken hold.
I struggled with a mild case of it for two years and a major one for five excruciating months.
But it was through that pain that I learned how to be happy again--although, I don't wish that learning process on anyone, not even my own worst enemy.
I'm here to say that you're not resigned to being a miserable person.
There are going to be times in life when it feels like all is lost.
But if you come back to root causes--instead of cheap tricks and advice anyone can give--you will find your way through it.
The Meaning Behind It All (Being Happy Again)
Your situation is not my situation--and never can be.
What's crushing you will always be different from every other individual on this planet.
But that doesn't mean we can't connect through root causes.
Since we all have mental health, we all have root causes to draw from.
Causes like heartbreak.
These causes are universal, even if how they play out in your unique life is particular to you.
If you feel like you'll never be happy again, you need to ask yourself "Why?"
What is going on in your life to justify that?
Yes, depression has a biological component. But what can you control?
Even if it feels like there is not one thing you can do to change your situation, there is something.
You can lift your head up towards the ceiling.
You can try to muster a smile.
The tiniest actions start you down a road.
And just because you can't see the whole road right now doesn't mean you don't have the power to determine how you start moving down it.
It all starts with awareness.
More importantly, it starts with curiosity to make a change.
Your Emotions - What Are They Telling You About Why You're Not Happy?
The first places I had to look when I was figuring out how to be happy again were in my negative emotions.
Negative emotions carry the seeds of information that will one day release you from the struggle you're in.
Here are some of the deeply unsettling emotions I had for months at a time:
- Intensely ashamed of my past actions
- Feeling like a burden most of the time
- Feeling like a failure all of the time
- Being exhausted
- Thinking everything was hopeless
When I was depressed, it was far too easy to just lump all of these emotions into one bucket and call it a day.
The more difficult, but more valuable response, was to be curious about each individual emotion.
This is what I mean by that: I had to acknowledge that I was not feeling one bucket, but many buckets, of very difficult emotions.
I had to look into the shame I felt for drinking too much in college and treating people badly. I had to acknowledge that I still felt I was drinking too much at 24 and not making great choices.
I had to peer into the feeling that I was a burden and that no one wanted to support my sorry self.
It was only by facing these feelings that I could find data that disproved what I was feeling.
When I lumped all of the negative emotions together, it was easy for the emotions as a group to write my story for me.
When I separated them into the multiple buckets that they were--and then peered down into each individual bucket--I began to take my power back.
Happiness Is a Habit For the Happy Person
And this is when I realized something fundamentally important about trying to be happy.
I realized that happiness is a habit.
I'm not saying that being happy is like lifting weights or going for a walk.
You don't do these things and then suddenly and miraculously become happy.
What happens is that you go through the process of doing healing things--and then happiness comes forward as a byproduct of what you're doing.
You can't call on happiness to return to you at any given moment.
Instead, you have to think of root causes.
When were the times in your life that you felt most at peace with yourself?
Was it when you were walking in nature?
Was it when you were painting a picture or maybe doing something else that consumed your entire focus, like putting together a puzzle?
The key is finding the activities that grounded you in the present moment.
To build a happier life, you have to dig through the fundamental actions that made you feel most like yourself.
This sounds wishy-washy to most adults, but you have to consider that children don't think this way.
To a child, it's much easier to just be yourself.
A child intuitively understands the happiness habit. It's the adult that loses sight of this after years and years of indoctrination, of being told "This is what you're supposed to do. And this is when you do it."
That's a crushing of curiosity, and it can sap the happiness from your bones.
Playing The Gratitude Game
But what's the end goal for happiness?
Why do you want to be happy?
It sounds like a stupid question, but it's so important to think about.
If you don't even know why you want to be happy, you can't ever orchestrate lasting happiness.
Pursuing something without knowing why you're pursuing it is meaningless.
After I got through my heart surgery and the ensuing depression, something emerged from the fog.
That something was gratitude.
If happiness is a habit, gratitude is a game.
And the real question you need to ask yourself is this one:
What game are you playing?
Some people feel grateful just for being alive.
Others derive their gratitude from their work.
There are still more who get their sense of gratitude from their family or friends.
Don't know yet where you get your gratitude?
It's hard to play the gratitude game if not.
One tactic is to start a gratitude journal.
During a set time each day, pull out a notebook and write all the things you're feeling grateful for.
Do that enough times, and you start to realize what you find meaningful in your life.
Because the long and short of it is this: the happiest people know themselves, and they know themselves extremely well.
Unhappy people bounce around through life, and it's all a blur.
But happy people dig deep to uncover what is important to them. They keep asking themselves questions until they know what game they're playing.
Some people want to be millionaires. Others would be unbelievably happy just to have a family or live on a farm.
What works for someone else is not guaranteed to work for you.
Only when you know which game you're playing can you follow the right rules.
True happiness is not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle. It's paying attention to your daily life so that you can figure out who you are.
Remember, it's all about root causes, not generic tactics that anyone can share.
You're looking for your own emotional intelligence, not whatever flavor of the week others throw at you.
The Art of Reframing Your Life and Mental Health
Narrative theory / therapy states that you are in control of your life story.
And if you're not happy, there could be plenty of reasons why that is, some of which will always be outside of your control.
But what you can control is how you respond as the sole author of your valuable life.
Happy people have an internal locus of control. Said in a seriously less fancy way, you decide which stories you tell about yourself and your life.
You decide which stories do not serve you and which ones truly make you come alive as the protagonist.
I used to live my life with a "woe is me" attitude.
"I can't believe I need to have heart surgery."
"I can't believe this is happening to me."
"What if I die?"
These were--and are--serious questions, but I never bother to think, "But what if I live?"
Or, "What if I'm successful? What if I get everything I want out of life?"
Marianne Williamson has one of my favorite quotations about this, whatever God means to you:
“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? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Too often, I thought the story of my life was decided for me without any of my own input.
But, over time, I started to think about happiness as a habit and gratitude as a game.
These new frames, or reframes, put me at the center of my life.
They made me realize that my level of happiness was largely up to me, that my life satisfaction was largely under my control, and that I could--and would--be happy again.
So the next time you beat yourself up about how unhappy you are or bemoan your misfortune, take a different approach.
You are a person who will go through good and bad experiences, but that doesn't mean you need to automatically wear "good" or "bad" labels.
Experiences just are.
And it's a bad habit to think that everything is outside of your control.
Your sense of happiness is an inside job.
You can meet difficult situations with a positive impact.
Each event that happens to you can meet an internal event of your own making.
Every intense emotional response you have is telling you something.
Analyze your emotional responses on a regular basis, and you are well on your way to happiness.
Because reflection is the reason for personal growth.
Emotional intelligence stems from how you respond to your daily life.
You can be happy again.
Look inward, because the answers are in your life.