We’d all prefer to be happy all of the time – wouldn’t we? But it’s not always easy to be happy when things aren’t going so well. Most of the people who come to see me about problems in their lives are not feeling at their happiest when we first meet. Some seem to have lost touch with how to be happy. This is especially true for those coping with depression or anxiety, or struggling with major life difficulties such as bereavement. But regaining a measure of happiness when times are tough can make such a huge difference, it’s one of the things I aim to help my clients to do.
It’s important to remember, though, that being happy all of the time is probably not ideal; we need ups and downs in life to be able to enjoy the ups. But that means that we have to cope with the downs too.
So, how to be happy when times are tough? Here are my tips on how to be more happy more of the time:
- Be thankful for what you already have. It’s difficult to be happy if you are constantly thinking about what you don’t have. By appreciating what is already in your life you will increase your levels of happiness and you will feel gratitude when you do receive more. This is a simple mindshift, but a very powerful one. So, look at what you already have to be thankful for.
- Think of others. Happy people are more considerate people, they tend to do more for others. Therefore, by doing more for others you can make yourself feel happier. Indeed, misery can be quite a selfish state of mind.
- Remember that things will get better. It’s just the natural order of things that nothing lasts forever – and that goes for hard times too. Much as happiness rarely lasts forever, well, nor does sadness. It’s a constantly fluctuating wave. When you are at your most down, take hope and courage from the fact that you will soon be back on the upward curve. It may help to look back over your life and to recognise times that have proved this to be true.
- Accept that hard times can be beneficial too. This may be a tricky concept to accept, especially when you’re in the middle of the bad times, but the most difficult experiences we go through can also be the most enriching. Scientists have recently identified the phenomenon of Post Traumatic Growth – which is the flip side of Post Traumatic Stress. People who have experienced truly dreadful things often claim that it has helped them in some way they could never have imagined. Again, look back and identify times in your life that were tough, but from which you gained something – even if it was only a lesson learned.
- Don’t think that happy people have life easy. It’s a common misconception that people who always seem to be happy must have charmed lives. They don’t. They are just better at dealing with the hard stuff. So how do they do that? They treat life as a series of experiences, some good, some bad, all of them useful. They don’t complain that life is unfair – they just get on with life, accept what it gives them, and are grateful for what they get.
- Focus on the present. In times of danger we become very present-focused. Survival in the here and now becomes our only aim. When our life is not at risk our minds become free to dwell on stuff that has happened in the past, or to worry about what might be in the future. Yet it’s when we are present- focused that we can be our strongest and most resourceful. I am not suggesting that we live life in a constant state of risk (though some people seem to enjoy that), but that we try to remain present-focused as much as possible. We cannot change the past and we have only limited control over the future, so make the most of the present (it’s a gift, to use the old cliché).
- Don’t put off being happy. It’s very common for us to delay being happy until…… until you have more money, until you’ve finished studying, until the kids have grown up, until all your problems have gone away…… But you will always have problems, that’s just life – so when will you finally allow yourself to be happy? How about now? You don’t need more money/stuff to be happy, and the happiest people are those who don’t put it off.
- Laugh. Humour is so important. It’s good for the heart and the soul. And laughter is free. Spend time with people with whom you can laugh – even over the silliest things. Watch funny movies or TV shows. Listen to comedy on the radio. Spend time with youngchildren as they also know the value of humour. Make a stranger laugh by telling them ajoke….. and learn to laugh at yourself when previously youmay have criticised yourself.