So many of us live our lives waiting to be happy, often without even realising it. I often hear variations on, ‘I’ll be happy when…’
- I get married/divorced
- I get a new job
- I get a new partner
- My kids go to university
- I have a child/I have another child
- This project is over, and I can finally move on
- I can retire
- I can go on holiday
- I get a new car/house/kitchen/bathroom/handbag (that might just be me!)/holiday, etc.
Does this sound familiar? I think we’ve all done it at some time or another.
However, when you finally get the ‘thing’ you’ve been craving, the feelings of excitement or happiness typically don’t last long before you forget all about the shiny new thing and move on to the next. Incidentally, that ‘high’ you experience comes from the dopamine hit automatically released when you get something you’ve been working towards. But, it doesn’t last long, hence the ‘craving’ for something new; you’re actually chasing the dopamine high!
The problem is that when you keep delaying being happy until some future event occurs, you condition your nervous system to believe that happiness will always be in the future. So, over time, you may find that your ability to feel happy, especially for no reason, becomes more difficult.
Not only that, but it’s important to remember that today is all we have! Yesterday has gone, and tomorrow hasn’t arrived, yet many of us spend precious time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. (Incidentally, when you experience anxiety, you’re typically focusing on what could go wrong in the future; if you’re feeling depressed, you’re concentrating on what happened in the past.)
So, if you’re guilty (as most of us are) of saying, ‘I’ll be happy when..’, take this as a sign to STOP, slow down and take a closer look at what’s going on in your life.
Long-lasting happiness does not come from external things; it’s an internal emotion that we can evoke with no or just a tiny amount of effort. Of course, I’m not diminishing the fact that many of us have significant stress in our lives, nor am I naïve enough to think that having and achieving the things we want doesn’t make us feel good; of course, it does, but we don’t need ‘huge’ materialistic things or massive life changes to make us happy. You could be happy right now if you chose to be.
To be clear, because I know that someone will say, ‘but isn’t it important to plan for your future?’ Yes, of course, it is! In fact, it’s critical for our wellbeing to have things to look forward to and work towards. However, believing that you will only be happy when you do, be or have something way off in the future is, in the long-term, detrimental to your wellbeing.
10-minute happiness challenge
If you’re one of the 4,000+ people who’ve attended one of my resilience/wellbeing webinars since the beginning of the pandemic, you might already be familiar with this exercise. The 10-minute happiness challenge is a way of priming your nervous system to be happy NOW, not at some point in the dim and distant future. It’s easy to do, it doesn’t cost anything, and absolutely everyone can do it.
Here’s how you do it:
- Every day, take 10-minutes to do something just for you – it can be anything, as long as you enjoy it and it makes you happy, e.g.
- Reading a chapter of your favourite book
- A walk in the countryside
- A soak in the bath
- Hobbies, painting, drawing, gardening
- Chatting with a friend
- Writing a page of your new book
2. Make sure it’s constructive and conducive to your overall physical or mental health.
3. Put the 10 minutes in the diary as you would any other important meeting. Make it immovable.
4. Do it EVERY day. I don’t care who you are, what you do, or your circumstances; EVERYONE can find 10-minutes! In fact, the busier you are, the more crucial it is to do it.
If the thought of doing this challenge provokes an adverse reaction in you, for example, if it makes you feel anxious or guilty for taking time just for you, remember:
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-care is not selfish
If you’re running on empty, you can’t possibly look after everyone else (including children, partners, relatives, colleagues, boss, etc.). Neither can you perform, in any area of your life, at optimal levels. You have to put your own mask on first.
In summary, weaving an activity into your daily routine that makes you feel happy (even if it’s just for 10-minutes a day) will help you retrain your nervous system for happiness NOW. It will also support you in feeling calmer and more in control during uncertain times.
However, consistency is key. In my post Creating Habits that Stick, I talk about how it takes between 21 and 254 days to embed a behaviour so that it becomes automatic. Therefore, building happiness activities into your daily routine will help you build a ‘happiness habit’.
If you’re interested in learning more about avoiding burnout and taking control of your life, I’m running a FREE 45-minute lunchtime webinar on Friday, 29 April, at 1.00 pm (UK) time. Places are limited, so click here to claim yours NOW