As much as you want to have a healthier, more connected relationship with your partner, you must first understand that you are responsible for your own happiness. The truth is, we all miss out in certain ways when it comes to our emotional development, and instead of going back and reinforcing what we missed out on, most of us end up putting the burden on others to make us happy. As a result, we find ourselves on a perpetual quest for love and attention, and eventually lose the ability to love ourselves, to self-soothe, and to become happy, healthy adults. Instead we blame our partner for our unhappiness and start looking outside of the relationship to fulfill our needs. The best thing you can do for your relationship (and for yourself) is find happiness from within. Bringing a happier healthier YOU to any relationship will make a world of difference for YOU!
Money can’t buy happiness” is an age-old cliché, and the funny thing about clichés is that they are often true – even though we are still inclined to dismiss them as being overly simplistic and optimistic. This cliché, for instance, is certainly true, but its potency isn’t about money specifically. The truth is, nothing external can buy, bring, give, or deliver happiness. You are responsible for your own happiness, and you create it, starting with making a commitment to yourself to be honest about your needs and desires, even if that means getting a little uncomfortable.
In my case, it wasn’t until I accomplished my goals and got most of the things I thought would make me happy that I finally understood the wisdom behind this cliché: happiness can not be found in a house, a car, a new computer, or through the intoxicating experiences of sex, drugs, alcohol, making money, a relationship, high status, food, an affair, or whatever. Any of these things might make you feel good for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks, but that satisfaction won’t last. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that you move into a cardboard box with a yoga mat. I have nothing against wanting to get a good job, looking for an amazing relationship, or spending money on good “stuff”. But if it feels like your happiness depends on something happening or not happening, it will always be a fleeting illusion and you will remain stuck in an unproductive and unhealthy cycle of restlessly seeking happiness in external circumstances.
Unfortunately, most people have bought into this illusion. I can’t tell you how many times clients tell me, “If I only had X, Y, or Z , I’d be stress-free and happy.” But without fail, when they get what they want, something else comes up causing them to continue to be unhappy. We all need to understand that chasing happiness creates emotional toxicity that fuels the vicious cycle of insecurity, and reinforces our limiting belief that happiness must exist externally. One of the most common examples of this is winning the lottery: people believe that if they win, they’ll be endlessly happy, but research shows that “lucky” lottery winners are in fact as dissatisfied (if not more so) after hitting the jackpot than they were before. If you don’t believe me, take an honest inventory of the things you thought would bring you happiness over the last ten years and see if they actually did in the ways you expected. You might be unpleasantly surprised, like I was. Believe me, if you don’t break the cycle now, you’ll spend the next ten years (or more) chasing the illusion. While this may be a disheartening realization, your awareness is fundamentally empowering. With this awareness, you now have options because you understand that your happiness is ultimately your choice. You can keep chasing your tail, remaining trapped in your current state of unhappiness, thinking all of your problems would be solved if only you “won the lottery” (or fixed your partner). Or you can choose to step out of the illusion. If you want to discover happiness from within so that you can start showing up in your relationship as the best version of you possible, then start by consistently applying these 5 principles to your life:
- Make happiness your #1 priority.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that almost everything in life is a choice, including your happiness. So if you want to be happy, make it your #1 priority. Throughout the day, if/when something happens to disturb your sense of happiness, ask yourself a few questions:
- Are my own thoughts contributing to this feeling of unhappiness?
- Is this worth my health and happiness?
- How can I restore my sense of internal happiness, regardless of external circumstances?
2. Don’t avoid unhappiness.
Let me be crystal clear on something: Life is not about being happy ALL of the time. There are good reasons we are equipped with other emotions. For example, when going for a job interview, we feel nervous – that’s normal. When confronted by a bear, we feel scared, as it’s an evolutionary response to danger. I’ve had people in counselling sessions telling me they are depressed, only to find out that their best friend recently passed away. I find myself clarifying, “You’re grieving. This is a healthy reaction to what is going on in your life, not a psychiatric condition.” But because we so desperately want to avoid pain, we reach for alcohol, food, or whatever other numbing activity or vice that we can think of. Some of us feel that we need medication to mask our uncomfortable emotions, and would rather take antidepressants uncritically than dig through the mess of our own limiting beliefs, self-judgments and other insecurities. Instead of avoiding pain, lean into it, feel it, ask yourself what you can learn from it, and find the courage to talk to someone who can help you work through it.
3. Set yourself up for happiness.
Start the day out right by developing a morning routine that is conducive to a state of peace and happiness. Many rush out of bed in the morning (after hitting the snooze buttton three times) and get straight to worrying about what the day might bring. While worrying, they pound back a few cups of coffee, check emails and try to figure out how they will meet all of the demands of the day. So instead of pressing the snooze button, take ten to fifteen minutes and before getting out of bed in the morning, start your day as follows:
- Thank your higher power for giving you one more day on this planet. Be thankful that you woke up and have an opportunity to experience life again today.
- Ask yourself: How can I be of service to myself and others today? Do not try to answer the question, just sit with it for three minutes, trying to keep your mind free of any other thoughts.
- Breathe. It’s hard to believe that we often forget to breathe, or at least breathe deeply. Take a moment in the morning to take at least three deep breaths.
- Set three intentions of things YOU want to accomplish today. Your intentions/goals for the day do not need to be complicated. Review your three intentions at the end of the day.
- Whenever you encounter a problem, ask yourself: How is this the perfect problem to help me learn and grow today?
4. Be grateful.
Being grateful is incompatible with unhappiness. In other words it’s almost impossible to be in a state of gratitude and unhappiness at the same time. At least ten times today, ask yourself: What can I be grateful for? Make sure you are not rephrasing the question to something like Why can’t I just be grateful for what I have? Remember, your mind is sneaky, and will try to answer any question that you ask it — so with the latter question, it will find many reasons why you can’t be grateful. Asking better questions will give you better answers. Before going to sleep at night, it may be tempting to review all that went wrong throughout the day, but resist the urge. Instead, think about what you are grateful for, and take the time to write down what’s working well in your life. Remember, it is your choice whether you focus on the positive or the negative and that choice will significantly impact how you feel.
- Talk about the things that you appreciate.
At least 3 times per day, tell your partner what he/she says or does that make you feel happy. These positive interactions must be free of expectations of getting something in return and free of negativity (i.e. I love it when you rub my neck, but I wish you’d empty the dishwasher once in a while).
Finally, I’d like to remind you that if you truly want to be happy, you’ll need to work at it. I learned this the hard way – I always wanted to take shortcuts, but they always led me back to square one. Eventually I had to come clean with myself about my own self-destructive mental, emotional and behavioural habits, and gain the courage to make significant changes in my life. Now, I am reaping the benefits and you can too.
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