I have started no fewer than 6 blog posts since my last entry, and I have finished none of them. Everything I write sounds self-righteous to my mind — as if I have everything figured out and if you just listen to my advice, you will figure it all out, too. Of course, this isn’t true, and probably I should stop listening to the negative voice in my head. Let’s try that together, shall we?
It seems that we humans have gotten the idea that being happy is a moral imperative, and if we’re unhappy we’re doing life wrong. A lot of people seem to have no tolerance for their own mistakes, their own faults, their own humanity. Since we can’t give away what we don’t have ourselves, this makes people less able to tolerate others’ faults and humanity, as well.
My purpose in writing this blog is always to encourage you to accept yourself (that’s why I called that, duh!). More and more evidence shows that self-compassion is the key to lasting happiness. Not money or love or being The Best At Everything. I also happen to believe that the old saying that charity begins at home means, literally, inside you. Be kind to yourself, and this allows you to offer more kindness to others. I want to live in a kind world, man.
So today I’m just going to offer some things I believe, based on my own experience and on the experiences of hundreds of clients, friends and loved ones. Maybe it will be helpful.
Shame is not a useful tool
You can’t shame yourself into behaving better. You can’t shame anyone else into behaving better. Shame is the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with you. Stop kicking yourself for your mistakes. We all make them, and we can always learn from them and do better tomorrow.
Don’t cultivate anger over minor* things
When someone cuts you off in traffic or is rude to the cashier in front of you or does some other –Thing People Shouldn’t Do– it’s easy to get self-righteous. Anger like that makes us feel like the good guy or girl in the story. Be careful how you tell this story to yourself. Whatever that person did, it made sense to them at the time. Someone out there has been mad at you for something like this at some point, too. Don’t call people names, even inside your head. Angry people aren’t happy. Do you want to be happy?
*Obviously I’m not saying don’t be mad at someone who abused you. Some anger is warranted and healthy.
What you focus on gets magnified
The human brain has a massively complex job. Every second of the day, your brain is taking in multiple streams of information from all five senses simultaneously, plus lots of internal senses you don’t even know about. The only way the brain can do this is by filtering most of what it’s sensing so that you are only noticing a manageable part of it. Your attention is the main tool it uses for this.
If I sent you outside and asked you to count cigarette butts on the sidewalk, when you came back you would not be able to tell me how many candy wrappers you saw. But you might be convinced that everyone in the world smokes and throws their butts on the ground. In short, what you are looking for is what you will find. Look for good people doing loving things. They’re out there. Clean that filter you’re looking through.
Happy all the time isn’t possible
There is no perfect formula of things that will make you happy every day. Life has ups and downs. Learn to surf them. Being unhappy in this moment isn’t a failing; it might, in fact, be reasonable. Death, divorce, job loss, fights with your kid, all suck. You’re supposed to feel bad sometimes. This, too, shall pass.
Fill your cup every day, or at least regularly
Good self-care is underrated. Drink water. Get sunshine. Move your body. Have quiet time with your thoughts. Do something you enjoy every day. Pursue a hobby. As I said above, you can’t give away what you don’t have. Cultivate yourself.
Go easy on yourself
Wherever you are in your life, that’s where you are. You cannot be anywhere else at this time, so stop dwelling on the perceived mistakes that got you here. You are exactly where you need to be. Be kind to yourself. Show yourself some grace. See what happens when you do.
Be well, friends.