“What I’m looking for is not out there, it is in me.” ~Helen Keller
I used to think that life should be easy, and if it wasn’t easy, then I was doing it wrong.
I’m older and wiser now, and I’ve learned that if it is hard, that means I am probably doing something right.
I had a good childhood. I had a loving family, plenty of opportunity, and I excelled at whatever I put my mind to. But I was a high-anxiety kid, and a relentless perfectionist. As I grew older, that need to have everything flawless impeded my ability to be happy because I didn’t like myself very much.
When I got married, I felt like I had added a notch to my self-worth belt. As someone who didn’t have a whole lot of self-esteem or love for herself, when someone else loved me, it was just what I needed to feel validated, or so I thought.
But that wore off too.
Then, I had kids, which was amazing—I love being a mom. But there was still something missing. I was happy enough, but I didn’t feel alive. There was this little whisper the whole time that said you are not where you’re supposed to be.
I felt this urgency to figure out how to be happy, but at the same time, I didn’t. I was happy enough, and there was that guilt. I should be happy. I was so blessed with two beautiful children, a husband, a gorgeous home—you know, the American dream. I’m a terrible, selfish person if I’m not thankful for everything I’ve been blessed with.
And life was comfortable. It wasn’t what I had dreamed of, or as beautiful as I had thought it would be, but everything was “fine.” And the comfort of “fine” and certainty seemed better than the unknown.
And then it happened.
That whisper turned into a very hard and abrupt shove into another lane, as if I didn’t get the hint the first time.
I could have taken it as a punishment for not being one hundred percent happy with where I was at, and, I suppose I did for a while. But now, I know it was the universe trying to tell me something, and it wasn’t whispering anymore.
The universe was now yelling at me, loudly.
The lane-changer happened the day I discovered my husband of seventeen years had been cheating on me with another man.
The life I knew—the life that I was happy enough with—was gone in an instant on a hot, sweaty July day.
I did not handle it gracefully. I was an utter hot mess for months and months. The better part of a couple of years, really.
But I made it through the other side into my “new lane.” and I want to share a little bit about what helped me get here, and what helped me be truly happy here.
The reason I was so devastated when I was thrust into my new lane is that I had been clinging to this vision of the life I thought that I should be living—the life that was “normal.”
I was attached to so much—having a husband, having children, having a home, doing married-people-with-kids things. I could have never imagined my life a different way. In fact, it was scary to imagine my life differently.
As I got older, my world shrunk. My comfort zone got bigger.
When the crisis with my marriage happened, I tried to hold on tightly to everything that had just crumbled in front of me. But there was nothing left to hold on to –I was experiencing complete groundlessness.
That attachment to the way things had been was all I had. I didn’t have a ton of self-love, or “I’m okay on my own” mentality. My identity was “we” with my partner for nearly twenty years, and I didn’t know how to function as a “me.”
I had taken the little things, and the big things for granted.
So what helped me survive this?
Someone asked me this after I was feeling like my life was back on track, and after really thinking hard about it, three things came to me.
Gratitude, mindfulness, and self-love.
I’m often amazed at how succinctly I was able to boil down these lessons into a few things that were the tipping point for me to find myself, and my happiness again.
Start with Gratitude
Focusing on what we are grateful for is a super-simple and powerful tool that is often overlooked. We have access to gratitude at all times, and it is absolutely free. How’s that for a deal?
Practicing gratitude on the regular has a ton of benefits. Focusing on what you’re grateful for has been shown to increase self-esteem, make us less self-centered, improves health, helps us sleep better, improves our relationships, and… gratitude makes us happier. Boom!
Remember, gratitude is a practice. The more you cultivate it, the more you will feel it. Stick with it and try these simple ideas:
1. Make the decision to be grateful. It all starts here.
2. Keep a gratitude journal. Putting pen to paper (or a gratitude journal app if that’s more your speed) is a great way to get in the habit of focusing on the good things in your life, rather than the not-so-good things. Aim to write down at least 3 things you are grateful for every day.
There are other neat ways to do this too, such as sharing something you’re grateful for at the dinner table each evening, or keeping a gratitude jar, in which you write what you’re thankful for on slips of paper and drop them in the jar.
3. Create visual reminders of things you’re grateful for. Maybe a vision board? Or just a journal filled with images you love. If you’re an artist (or even if you’re not!), an art journal can be fun!
4. Think of ways you can show your gratitude in everyday life, like doing something nice for a homeless person because you are grateful to have a roof over your head
5. Think about how you can be grateful for the setbacks you’ve had—it’s hard, I know, but I promise you can find a silver lining in anything if you try! Journal about them.
6. Think about how you’d feel without something. How would you feel if you had ZERO family or friends? Or if you hate your job, how would you feel if you didn’t have a paycheck?
Next, Practice Mindfulness
I know, I know. Everyone talks about how mindfulness will help you be happier.
That’s because it works.
The benefits of practicing mindfulness are many. Personally, in terms of the quest for happiness, I think the greatest thing that you can learn being mindful is how to observe your thoughts without judging them.
Have you ever tried meditating, and found thoughts popping in and out of your head like a whack-a-mole game? And, if you’ve been in that space, have you been hard on yourself for not being able to meditate “properly”?
There is not a right or wrong way to meditate. You will have thoughts that pop into your head and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The point is to notice the thoughts and let them be there without any judgment (good or bad).
Starting to pay attention and notice your thoughts is a huge step toward seeing which thoughts and patterns are getting in the way of your happiness. And then, once you begin to notice those thoughts and patterns, you can start to form new ones that will better serve you on your quest for happiness.
Finally, Treat Yourself Like You’d Treat Someone You Love
Once you’ve become more mindful of your thoughts, you might notice that your inner critic can be quite nasty sometimes, telling you you’re not _______ enough or not worthy enough.
Chances are, you’d never speak that way to your children, best friend, or partner. So why on earth do we say such horrible things to ourselves?
Think about it this way: Your inner critic has a lot of information that it has assimilated over the many years of your life. Some of it is helpful, and some of it just isn’t.
I used to hate my body. I was not nice to myself at all.
One day, it occurred to me that I would never say the things I said to myself to my daughter, and as someone who spent much of my adult life struggling with an eating disorder, I certainly did not want to pass that on to her.
I committed that day to work on talking to myself like I would talk to my daughter. To caring for myself like I would care for my daughter.
That started with telling myself I was worth self-love and self-care.
The second step was noticing when my inner critic was telling me that I was not worth that love and care. Once I was able to notice those thoughts, I was able to start replacing them with more helpful thoughts and words.
Is any of this going to happen overnight?
Happiness is something we all spend an awful lot of time looking for, and this feeling of peace and contentment that we all hunger for seems pretty elusive sometimes. But remember, it is in you. You already have everything you need inside of you. These three practices are some pretty simple things that you can do to start your journey toward happiness using what is already inside you.
Everything is a process. You don’t get from point A to point B overnight. It’s the little things that you take the time to do every day that get you there. If you stare at a blade of grass, you can’t see it growing minute-by-minute, but when your lawn needs to be mowed, you can be pretty sure it grew a lot!
The end result will come, but you must have patience. You must be grateful for the process to learn and grow. And during the process, you must treat yourself with love, kindness, and respect.
When you can embrace this truth, you are sure to end up in a beautiful place, and one day, you too, will live from a place of happiness, purpose, and fulfillment.