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Happiness Is Hard Work

Over the summer, after watching a wonderful PBS program on happiness, a comment made by an interviewee stayed with me. The woman, a cancer survivor, remarked that being happy took a lot more energy and hard work than being unhappy. An interesting observation which might apply equally to recovering from eating problems.

What do you think: Does being happy require more energy and involve more effort than it does to be unhappy? Is that what prevents you from making yourself happier? Granted, we each come into this world with a genetic predisposition for joy. Some babies are happy-go-lucky, while others are fussy from the get go. Add to that being raised by glass-half-full or half-empty parents, and we don’t have a whole lot of say as children about choosing happiness or not. But as adults, we’re in the driver’s seat to decide whether we want to be optimistic or pessimistic, complainers or problem solvers, failures or successes. We have the ability to turn around unhealthy mindsets and habits which are holding us back and are the main cause of our inability to recover.

For instance, saying “I can’t.” Banish the word from your vocabulary. Sure, maybe it’s true that you can’t. So say the words after you’ve failed, not as you’re trying. Break up with victimhood. It saps your energy and keeps you stuck. You might want others to feel compassion or sympathy for you but, instead, they’ll end up pitying you because you pity yourself. Is that what you really want? Stop blaming your childhood for your current misery. Sure, acknowledge how bad things were way back when, then throw your energy into making up for it now. Refuse to be a perpetuator of your own unhappiness.

Instead of looking at the negatives, look at the positives in your life. I know how clichéd this advice is. The reason experts repeat this wisdom, however, is because it works. If you’re a doom-and-gloomer, follow these guidelines. Make every effort to put a positive spin on negative aspects of your life. Start the day with three positive thoughts about your life and end on the same note. Smile for the duration of every red traffic light. Ask intimates to (gently) remind you when you’re complaining, then stop, even in mid-sentence. Pretend you’re an optimist and you’ll become one.

On a biochemical level, your brain is used to viewing life negatively, which generates unhappiness. So change your brain by practicing new behavior, and slowly your default setting will rise from downbeat to more upbeat. Even if you only get halfway there, you’ll be happier. But, again, you have to do the hard work to reap the benefits.