Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to live a happy life

Before we even start, I need to make a correction - when I say "happy" life, I really mean "contented" or "opposite of depressed", since being permanently happy is not really feasible for a clinically sane person.

In our lives, day to day, it is very easy to become overwhelmed and buried under the mound of inconveniences, grievances, and general Things That Are Totally Wrong With Life.
When things go right, a lot of us tend to slide right over them without noticing, but every time something trips us up, we are left with a feeling of deep and burning injustice. Or do I mean indigestion?

This kind of thinking creates skewed perception of life, because when we take good things for granted, we end up mostly remembering the bad stuff, and feel like our life is tough and joyless.
In reality, there are a ton of absolutely fantastic things that happen to us every day, and it only takes a bit of personal training to teach oneself to notice and remember them.

Obviously, each person's perception will be different and will need some individual figuring out, but this is how I do it.

There are key points to remember:

You don't deserve a good life.

That sounds harsh, but it's a necessary part of leading a blissed out existence.

Somehow, there is a general notion that the world somehow owes us. Which is doesn't. We don't deserve a good life, because the word "deserve" implies that we've done something awesome to earn the good life.
But really, how many lives have you saved personally? How many great discoveries have you made? Wrote any classic novels or symphonies that will live through the ages? Go on, tally them up, I'll wait.

Back already? Thought so.

The good thing is that even though we haven't really done much of significance, we still have plenty of good things happen to us. For example, if you're reading this, you obviously are doing well enough to have either a computer or a smart phone. Which, you know, is nothing to sneer at. Of course, you might be reading this off your Uncle Larry's old G4 while crashing in his basement because you've been unemployed, and your parents kicked you out. Still, you've got Uncle Larry who's nice enough to let you crash in his basement. You see what I'm doing here?


Your life is already good, you just don't always appreciate it.

A little while back, I was moping around because work was being demanding and not creative at all, my kids were sick, and I was not getting much rest.
And then I thought of my grandfather's stories of growing up in poor post-Civil-War (that's Soviet Civil War) rural Vologodshina, and it hit me how hard they used to have to work - all the planting, tending, harvesting, herding life stock, getting firewood, and if you got really sick, the nearest hospital was almost a day away, getting there was a matter of arranging to borrow a horse and a wagon, and once you got there, you did not get much in the way of medicine, because that was before neat things like antibiotics were invented.
The sole fact that I am lucky enough to have a desk job, and when I'm sleep-deprived and exhausted, I don't have to go out into the field in the rain because it's harvest time, is enough to make me feel enormously thankful. Knowing that my kids will get the medicine they need, should they need it, is amazing.

Take the time to really consider what you do have and the fact that not everyone has cute toddlers (though they might drive you crazy) or semi-responsible teens (though they make you question the whole continuation of the species thing), or a car that runs, or fun co-workers who make your job so much more bearable. Or it may be the fact that you live in a non-tornado area. Or that your family has no mental illness history.
Whatever it is, just don't tell yourself, "At least I have…" Framing it in these terms demeans what you do have, making it a consolation prize. It isn't. It's effing amazing, and should be thought of as such.

Be Grateful.

For everything. Repeatedly.

You don't need to get down on your knees and pray (unless you want to), but if you can cultivate the feeling of gratitude for the little good things that happen, it's amazing how much easier your life suddenly becomes. You managed to merge into rush hour traffic without major drama? Awesome! Your baby fell asleep kind of quickly? Super! Your mom came over for an hour to give you a bit of a break from the toddler duty, even though you could really use 2 or 3 hours? Hey, that's one hour down! Score! You got to design something that was kind of creative, and then you positioned the confetti in such a way as to make it look like the Easter Bunny is pooping rainbows? And nobody noticed and made you change that, and it went to production like that? How can that not be The highlight of your life? Seriously.

Count Your Blessings.

And the things that are just kind of neat.

This is similar to the pervious point, but goes beyond the gratitude. Just notice the little things. You are driving in rush hour traffic and the car in front of you has a license plate that spells (but not on purpose) CAR-some-numbers. And it's actually a truck! Neat! And then the sun comes out of the clouds right in front of you, and in the moment before you got blinded by it you see how pretty the clouds look. How lucky!
And then, at work, when you were pondering how you don't want the lunch you brought, another co-worker griped how THEY did not want the lunch they brought and you either swapped or enabled each other to go out and get some Chinese. Sweet!
There are more moments like this than most people realize, because they are not actively looking for them. They are waiting for the other shoe to drop without realizing that the shoelaces are neon green and the shoe wasn't even going to drop anyway because it's hanging by those shoelaces.

In my family we play the "Five Good Things About Today" game at dinner. Everyone has to think of five good things that happened to them that day. It could be something like, "I got an "A" on the test," to "the sun was out when I went outside" to "we have mac and cheese with hotdogs for dinner!". It just can't be anything negative rephrased as positive, like "I didn't get kicked in the ribs today," even if that was a legitimate concern. And then, because I have competitive males in my family, the five things get pushed to become ten things, or more, and while my boys strive to remember more good things about their day, I can sit back and quietly enjoy the fact that they are getting a habit of thinking about the good stuff, no matter how small.

Decide what's important to you.

What do you want to remember ten, twenty years down the road?

Recently, my son was complaining about a kid in his school band that was being stupid and disruptive. Some of the complaints were reasonable, but eventually I saw that he was becoming obsessed with looking for the next jerk move that kid was going to make. So I asked him if that's what he was going to want to remember about his freshman year in the band. When he replied in the negative, I asked how he was going to remember the good things ten years down the road if he had hard time talking about them now.
We all choose what we put in our memory banks. If you choose to talk about the negative things now, that's what will stick in your mind for years to come.
Do I have jerky co-workers? Sure I do. But I'd rather think about and remember the ones who make my day brighter. I'd rather remember the one person who brings donuts every now and then than the person who dumps his work on others.

Obviously, it is always a work in progress, and some days are easier than others. And there may be some days that you really can't find anything good about. That is also ok.
We cannot choose our life for the most part, but we can choose what we remember about it and how we interpret what happens.
My grandmother remembers fondly the war years (that would be the WWII), because even though her mom was drafted as a nurse and my grandma and her younger brother were left to fend for themselves for most days, and even though there was not enough basic food, let alone treats, and even though their city was bombed regularly, it was the time of her youth, and so she remembers mostly how whenever anyone had a party, because of the martial law, which made it impossible for anyone to be outside past a certain hour, it had to be an all-nighter. And she remembers the guys vying for her attention rather than the fact that almost all the boys she cared about got killed in the war. She knows that the bad things happened, and she respects that, but that is not what she chose to deposit in her memory banks. If she can think back to World War II and go, "Aw, those were the years!" then really, everything else is cake in comparison.

And if all else fails, just tell yourself, "Sure, this really sucks, but what a great book it would make!"


  1. Tanya,
    Love this post, if only more people in the world would adopt this attitude!

  2. Tanya,
    Love this post, if only more people in the world would adopt this attitude!

  3. Betty,
    Thanks for reading this huge post! It kind of got away from me ^_^