You know what I never realized? How much work actually goes into being happy.
First, you have to set up a bunch of good habits for yourself. Then, you have to actually do those things every day. You have to motivate yourself, overcome the lies your brain tells you about what will actually make you happy, and engage in a constant battle of wills with the negative thoughts floating around your head.
Since I got interested in positive psychology a few months ago, I’ve been trying to implement as much of what I’ve learned into my daily life as possible. I meditate every day, practice gratitude, journal, get 8 hours of sleep (often more), and spend time learning about new happiness practices. There are other areas that I know would make a huge difference and I’ve made some strides in, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I can still go weeks without exercising, I order way too much takeout, and as a result of the pandemic, I don’t have nearly as much social connection in my life as I’d like.
When you still have so far to go, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making much progress at all. I haven’t been unhappy these past few days, but I also haven’t been bursting with joy. I haven’t been actively excited about my life, which is the way you want to feel when you’re putting all this work in.
Luckily, my meditation app helped put some things into perspective for me. This morning, after I finished my guided meditation, I was given a prompt about what small changes I’ve noticed since starting my practice. I realized that since I started meditating and putting some of my other positive practices into place, the minor irritations of the day hardly faze me anymore.
In the past, if a car blared its horn for a minute straight outside my window, it would have made my head pound and I’d be unable to focus on anything else. But now? Nothing. If something went wrong at work or I had extra tasks piled on at the last minute, I’d get stressed out. Now I just accept it, knowing that however I feel about it isn’t going to change anything. I dive straight into figuring out a solution, and I’m able to reach a solution or finish the task much quicker.
Even more unbelievable, since I started practicing stoicism, there are times I find myself actually hoping for a setback in my day just so I have a chance to pass a “stoic test.” I never thought I would say that!
Looking back at my progress has me realize happiness is truly like a muscle. It’s something that needs to be exercised in order to become stronger. For the best results, it’s something you have to do regularly, ideally every day. I’m still very early into my happiness journey, and I suppose if happiness was such an easy thing to achieve, the world would look a lot different. People wouldn’t shell out money on cosmetic surgery, or expensive houses and clothes, or work themselves ragged trying to get that promotion—all the things most of us mistakenly think will make us happier.
The good news is, there’s no time limit or deadline on learning how to be happier. It’s a lifelong journey and you can start anytime. Those little bits of progress add up, and maybe as I make more progress and gain more knowledge, the changes will become even easier to notice. That’s how it is with everything else in life: working out, learning how to play an instrument, starting a new course in school. There’s no reason becoming happier should be any different.