Recognize the unhappiness you are experiencing. Research indicates that accepting your negative feelings will, paradoxically, increase your well-being. Accepting negative feelings such as disappointment, anger, and sadness will also reduce stress. While it is not clear why acceptance of negative feelings is such a potent strategy, previous research has shown that labeling negative feelings — “I’m feeling resentful,” “This is sadness,” etc. — shifts your feelings from the emotional part of your brain to the thinking part of your brain. Once your “thinker” (the prefrontal cortex) is on board, you can put your feelings in perspective.
- Give yourself some compassion.
Talking kindly to yourself could bring moments of comfort.
You may not have many people in your life right now who can give you the deep empathy that you need, but you do have one person — you.
- Give yourself permission to be happy when possible. Tell yourself that you don’t need to feel guilty for wanting moments of relief, happiness, and joy in your life.
- Experience pleasureful and healthy distractions. Once you give yourself permission to be happy, you can better allow yourself the experience of small pleasures — a walk, a cup of coffee, a chat with a friend, a visit to the park. Music, books, and films can provide both escape and contentment. Remind yourself that it’s OK to have fun, even though part of your life may be falling apart.
- Hold tightly to your self-care program.Or start one if you don’t already have one. Exercise, eat right, connect with friends and get plenty of sleep. Resist the “false friends” of over-drinking, over-eating, and the couch-potato life.
- Seek out creative and meaningful activities. Pour your feelings into a hobby or a creative activity. Writing in your journal can help you focus and may even be therapeutic, according to studies by James Pennebaker and others.
- Priorities your schedules.
If the source of your unhappiness is work, put your work struggles in the “work compartment” of your brain. Leave them there when you’re at home so you can enjoy your home life. When you get back to work, take those work issues out again, and deal with them as best you can. Taking a mental break from your troubles may even help you envision new solutions.
- Realize that everything changes.
Events change, feelings change. However you may feel now, you are likely to feel differently in the future – perhaps even in the next moment. Let “this too shall pass” become your motto and you shall it really passed you in a matter of time.
- Change one small aspect of your situation. Is there a way to make even a tiny change that will improve your life?
“Do one thing differently,” as therapist Bill O’Hanlon wrote in his book of the same name. Then take another action that will help you. Add another again and again and you shall see increases in positive changes.
- Ask for help when you keen one.
You may think you are admitting defeat by asking for help. Reframe from destructive idea. Instead, think of yourself as the CEO of your own life (because you are), and delegate some responsibilities to others. Use the time you gain for self-care, fun, and meaningful activities. Find a therapist who can be your ally and sounding board.
- Help others when you can.
While it may sound odd to suggest to help others when you yourself need help, research shows that helping others will make you happier, among otherhealth benefits.
You may also realize that your situation could always be worse — because it could. (If you are already a full-time caregiver, this tactic may not be the best one for you.)
- Be grateful for what you can.
Gratitude is the cousin of happiness.