Stop Striving for Happiness and Start Practicing It Now

Happy People

“Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” ~Chuang Tzu

It all started when one of my boys asked me if I was happy, and of course I answered yes.

Why wouldn’t I be happy? I have a handsome and kind husband, two boys of which I am very proud, I had a successful business, I had a house I loved, I was surrounded by friends, I was a sought after speaker in my community, and blah blah blah.

Then my son asked why I didn’t have fun anymore. I began defending my happiness to him, explaining all the reasons why I was happy, and I began to realize I wasn’t really happy at all. I was “surface” happy.

It was that day, almost four years ago, that I started my journey toward finding happiness. Needless to say, there were plenty of bumps in the road.

The problem was that in typical “type A” fashion, I wanted happiness right then. I did my research and found things that made people happier, like spending time with friends and reducing stress. I made a bunch of changes that were supposed to make me happier but in the end only caused my stress levels to rise.

It didn’t take long before I realized my quest for happiness made things worse. I spent more time worrying about trying to be happy then just allowing myself the freedom to feel happy. Bottom line: trying to be happy was stressing me out.

Then my husband lost his job and we were in jeopardy of losing our house. With the circumstances surrounding us, my worry and stress were kicked into high gear. And instead of moving toward happiness, I felt as if I was moving further away.

Things were getting a bit desperate when my husband was offered his dream job in Bangkok, Thailand. Yes, the same Thailand that is located halfway around the world. I fought it, I ignored it, and I laughed at it, but most of all I worried about it.

Moving that far away was inconceivable to me. We had two teenagers, a home, and family and friends in a town we loved. How could we just leave?

With little choice, off to Thailand we went with two suitcases each and my fingers crossed for a smooth transition. Soon after our arrival in Thailand, my life was shattered. I received a phone call from my sister telling me that my brother had been murdered.

Twenty-seven years ago, my other sister’s life was cut too short because of a car accident. I physically did not think I could endure this pain again. My heart had yet to heal and now the hole in it just got bigger. 

I immediately headed home to be with mom, leaving my husband and the boys behind, when what I wanted most was to hold them tight.

It was a very surreal time. It was like I was watching someone else’s life as I went through the motions of supporting my mother, accepting condolences, and trying to wrap my head around all that was going on.

It is always tragic to lose a loved one, but to have a loved one murdered takes grief to a whole new level.

The time came for me to head back across the globe and back to my boys. It became clear I couldn’t go back as a barely functioning mother, and I knew my boys would learn about adversity and grief through my example.

I took the time to re-evaluate my quest for happiness that I started what seemed like a lifetime ago. This time though, I started with some small actions instead of tackling everything at once. Here’s how I did it.

Practice Gratitude

You’ve probably read by now that gratitude has the power to change your life. It’s hard to imagine something so simple having such a big impact. It’s also hard to imagine why more people don’t do it.

I wanted to practice gratitude, I really did, but it always seemed an inconvenient thing to do as I crawled into bed. I had to figure out a way to remind myself to do it every night before my head hit the pillow, because once I crawled into bed all bets were off.

It dawned on me that I went into the bathroom every night, so I put my journal in the bathroom next to my toothbrush. Not the most glamorous place to write in your journal, but it worked.

As I brushed my teeth, the journal beckoned and soon it became automatic, better known as a habit. A habit that was helping me focus on the good in my life.

I am blessed to be surrounded by a loving and supportive family, have meaningful friendships for encouragement and guidance, and my boys have kind hearts. And that’s just the beginning of my list.

I learned that even in the midst of the darkest day, there are moments of light. Sometimes you just have to search a little harder. Quiet your mind and look for it. Believe me, you will find something wonderful that fills you with gratitude.

Trust That Things Will Work

I am not going to lie; trusting that everything will work out is scary and hard—very, very hard. But it does. It might not work out the way you intended, but it usually works out somehow.

It’s hard to break the habit of worrying because there is no visual cue around the stuff in your head. When I worried, I noticed I played with my hair. I admit I play with my hair when I’m not worried too, but my hands hang out in my hair more when I am.

Now every time I play with my hair, I ask myself what I am worrying about. Then I remind myself to trust that whatever happens, I can handle it, and I probably will become stronger and happier because of it.

Look for cues that indicate you might be worrying and when you encounter them, talk yourself through the process. Create a mantra for yourself that calms your mind and helps you release your worry. Your self-talk may take longer in the beginning, but keep at because eventually your mind will get on board.

Choose Happiness

I quickly found wanting happiness isn’t enough. You have to choose it and work for it.

I added one more step to gratitude practice. At the end of the day I began setting my intention for the next day—something that will make me take time to enjoy the moment.

My first intention was to take pictures of flowers because flowers make me smile. Then afterward, I wrote about how my intention made me feel and added things that filled my heart with gratitude.

An intention might be something as simple as watching an inspirational video or smiling at a stranger. The key is to choose something that will make your day brighter.

I learned many things during the first year following my brother’s murder. I learned about forgiveness, grief, and true friendship, but the most powerful thing I learned was that I was in control of how I felt every day

Practicing gratitude, trusting things will work out, and setting intentions has led me to create my own definition of happiness, a definition that is just right for me.

Take the time to experiment with practices that work for you. Everyone goes through dark times, but you can find happiness in the midst of darkness by committing to the practices that work for you.

Happiness image via Shutterstock

About Kim Yuhl

Kim Yuhl helps others define and design their own version of happiness through coaching and month-long guided explorations. She shares the 7 Habits to Happiness that transformed her life from “surface” happy to “soulful” happy in less than two years. Get it free at kimyuhl.com.

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