Happiness is a state of mind. Throughout life, we constantly experience moments of happiness as well as unhappiness. Some people have a natural disposition to be upbeat in spite of their unhappy moments. But some people (read me) forget their fair share of happiness moments and their memory clings on to their unhappiness moments more. They are habituated to be unhappy all the time no matter what successes life gives them. Those who have more negative emotions than positive ones, tend to be more, unhappy. For them, happiness is elusive.
Why perfectionists remain unhappy: I have been a typical Type A personality. As a child, I was good at both studies and extra-curricular activities. I was obedient to my parents and teachers, highly ambitious, competitive and striving for perfection in whatever I did. I was a people-pleaser who could never say ‘no.’ I remember my teachers, neighbours and relatives telling my parents that, I was the quintessential child that any parent could ever dream of having.
From an early age, I was training to be a concert-singer, practicing for hours together, daily. Along with music, I also went for dance, painting, language and even swimming and skating classes. I was good at many things, a jack of all trades. But I used to find myself involved in a constant struggle with the clock. Those who knew me, other than my parents, would always say that I was always in a sense of urgency, always anxious and restless. There was not even a moment of non-productivity, never a moment to relax, since my daily schedule from a very young age, was always too tight. I was over-critical about myself. I could never deal with failures, not even the relatively insignificant ones. Failure, big or small, broke my heart, and fear of failure kept me awake in the nights. I would perceive failure as a blow to my self-esteem. I grew up, never enjoying my own successes, whether small or big, since I was always running after bigger and better things to be achieved.
When I was in my twenties, I rejected one after the other of the many amazing job offers that came my way, since I perceived them as not up to my benchmark. Everybody who knew me, thought that I was being too over-confident and arrogant. (Yes, I was). Time passed while I waited impatiently for ‘the next big opportunity.’ And ultimately, I had to settle down for a less than fulfilling job. As a result, sooner than later, I burned out, and people who knew me as a child, now found me, way below their expectations. And by my late twenties, I found myself feeling down in the dumps, both professionally and personally.
Perfectionists who want to do everything perfectly, and be perfect always, tend to be very unhappy. It is because very often, perfection, acts as the noose tied around your neck. It suffocates you. Perfectionists can never deal with mistakes or failure. For me, the fear of failure and getting criticized for not meeting people’s expectations meant that my mind was always riddled with anxiety. Perfectionists forget to realize that life is a combination of winning and losing. When winning makes you happy, failure teaches you resilience. For me, seeking too much perfection in life meant, missed opportunities, over-anxiety and ultimately, unhappiness. You need to strive for perfection, but not at the cost of the well-being of your mind. Sometimes, being vulnerable to mistakes and being at ease is also good for you.
Why not to be a people-pleaser and approval-seeker: I was a people-pleaser, and that meant, I was always sugar-coating in relationships with people who were associated with me. But that caused more harm than good. That sometimes meant, pleasing others at any cost, even at the cost of my self-respect, because, making some people happy meant, repressing my own feelings, values and opinions. That made me very unhappy. I was expecting people to behave the same way I was behaving with them. I was expecting perfection in relationships. I was too naive to say ‘no’ to things I didn’t want to do. That made, some people take me for granted. It built up resentment and negative feelings in my mind, and I simply didn’t know how to let go off those negativities.
It took me a couple of years and a number of “really really” bad experiences to realize that people-pleasers will always remain unhappy in their lives, whether professional or personal. One of the key factors of happiness in personal relationships is to express oneself, honestly. Honesty is always the best policy. You have to be real and others have to accept you that way. Making somebody happy doesn’t mean repressing our feelings and our self. You have to be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, needs, values and opinions. And you should be willing to share these, with people who are associated with you on a personal level. It also means letting others express themselves the way they are. Thus you agree to disagree. You cannot do sugar-coating in relationships. You cannot go on sucking it up for the sake of the other person’s sense of happiness which he/she derives by being in denial and you, being closed up.
It is a good thing to help others. You may really be a caring person and may always want to help others. But don’t go overboard by overdoing it. Because the one who gets your help may not be very appreciative of your efforts as you may expect them to be. Or, do whatever you feel like doing for them, and switch your mind off. Don’t expect their appreciation or approval. Be happy for whatever you did.
People are important. Relationships are important. But relationships in your life are worthwhile only if there is mutual respect. There is no point in maintaining a relationship, if respect and understanding are only one-sided. There are some people who are prudish. They have this ‘oh my shit don’t stink, but yours does’ attitude. They live in their own world of hypocrisy and denial. Once you get a sense of such people, be aware never to seek their approval or appreciation, because you will never get it from such “holier than thou” hypocrites.
Protect yourself from people who emotionally drain you, those who want you to be deliberately unhappy, and may even be harassing you in a passive-aggressive way or even being,‘in your face.’ You may genuinely want them to love you, and also appreciate your efforts to show them how much you respect them. But they may not be feeling the same about you. They may have nothing but contempt for you, no matter what you do to make them happy. Even if you allow them to sit on your shoulders and crap over you, they may still not be pleased with you. Stop pleasing them, because they may be ridiculing your efforts. Understand that such type of people, don’t deserve you (they may definitely deserve your crap, but gift-wrapping your crap in a box and sending it to hurtful people may be considered too outrageous! You can start stonewalling them for a change.) Give them nothing, but your silence. Some may get it and change their behaviour towards you. But if they don’t, then it is time they deserved something better than your silence. That means, sometimes you may have to let go off some people in life. Depression comes from hopelessness. You have no idea how to manage an unhappy situation and so you deem it hopeless. Sometimes, the only way to be happy is by correcting the external factor that is causing unhappiness in the first place.
(It is another thing if the so-called sadistic person who degrades you is your boss. Then you may sometimes have to bite your tongue and suck it up, if you want to retain your job. Or if you can afford to quit and get another better job or work with better people, you may, as you please).
It took me a while to change my brain’s wiring, to realize that it was impossible to find ‘the perfect people’ and ‘the perfect possibilities’ in life.
Giving space: Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception. Times change. People change. Some people change with time. Give space for yourself. Give space for others too. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and in the same way, don’t be too hard on others, by jumping into quick judgements and conclusions, about them being wrong. Give space for people to change.
Changing perceptions: Sometimes, all you need to do is to shift your perspective. What you may have thought as very important for you in the past, may not be that important for you now. I have had the habit of holding on to the bitter moments that happen sometimes in life, while forgetting that life has given me happiness in the form of a wonderful husband, a beautiful and healthy child and a lifestyle which is the envy of many others who know me. It took me a while to change my perspective, But change, I definitely did. Life is ‘now’ and happiness is ‘now.’ Don’t think it has been easy for me. It takes great effort from my part to live in the present moment. But I have realized that it becomes a way of life only with daily practice.
How can one insulate oneself from mood swings and grow happier day-by-day?
By Exercising: Exercise is a great mood booster, besides the health benefits. Even 20 minutes of moderate exercise can help increase the happiness hormones in your brain. If you like walking, especially outdoors, it adds another bonus point.
Being Grateful: Feeling grateful is a very important factor for being happy. Friedrich Gottlob Keonig, the German inventor, famous for the high speed printing press once said, that ‘we tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.’ Be grateful for the good things in life. Always begin your day by feeling grateful for getting to live one more beautiful day of your life. And also be thankful for the good fortunes you have in your life. Count your blessings whenever you are feeling low. As Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Smiling Often: You can always feel upbeat by smiling often. It doesn’t cost anything. You can make others happy, with a smile. Some have serious difficulty grinning. But as the saying goes, ‘fake it till you make it.’ When you get up in the morning, see yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning, and smile to yourself.
Helping those, in Need: A timely gesture of help or kindness goes a long way in making you feel happy. Try doing at least one good deed a day.
To conclude, everybody has a fair share of happiness as well as unhappiness. It is up to us, what memories we cling on to. True happiness doesn’t lie in money, or jewellery, or having a fat bank account, an excellent career, or beauty. True happiness lies within oneself. It lies in resilience in failure, it lies in conquering one’s weaknesses. And happiness is in living ‘now’ and cherishing each good moment of your daily life, like sipping a hot cup of tea in a cold morning, snuggling in bed with your loved one, watching a favourite show. And Happiness is not only getting it, but also, giving it. And as the saying goes, ‘Happy is what happy does.”