When I landed in Vancouver as a bright-eyed 18-year-old, I secured a role working as a sales coordinator in a busy condominium sales centre. I loved it, but sadly my visa expired and it resulted in resigning as I needed to temporarily leave Canada. When I left my job, the two sales managers -- who were both very dear to me -- wrote a glowing character reference in which they kindly referred to me as having a "sunny disposition."
It was the first time I heard someone say this about me. Over the years, I went on to hear variations of this character assessment -- enthusiastic, bubbly, expressive. And I'm not going to lie, I loved hearing it! Additionally, I started to realize I naturally look on the bright side of any situation. It can, incidentally, be incredibly irritating for those who are pessimists -- you know, the type of person who would rather have a tooth pulled than hear "Happy" by Pharrell -- but that's another discussion for another time.
Despite a natural inclination towards the sunny side, I have learned some things threaten to sabotage my happiness. Here are five of those things:
It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." And it truly is. Since Roosevelt made his observation, comparison has become rife today through social media. It seems so easy to compare ourselves when there is a plethora of information coming at us from others -- whether it is photos of your friend's tropical vacation, their relationship or seemingly perfect life. This can lead to envying the person without truly knowing their situation. For example, research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found people feeling anxious or insecure in a relationship showed increased "relationship visibility" (i.e. posting more often on Facebook). So if comparing ourselves to others steals our joy, and if the images we envy may not be an accurate portrayal of reality, what is the alternative? Simple. It's feeling grateful.
Entitlement vs. Gratitude
Believing the world owes you something is a recipe for discontent. If you choose this outlook, you will always feel as though something is missing and, moreover, you will feel you are entitled to have this missing thing handed to you. Several years ago I attended a training session which changed my perspective completely. At the time, I was in a bad place. I felt I had been dealt a bad hand and treated unfairly. I had a poor me, poor me mentality. During the training session, we performed an exercise where we were asked to close our eyes and think of all the things in our lives we could feel grateful for. The timer ticked for three minutes. During this time I thought about how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in the fridge. I was absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude. When we were asked to open our eyes, I felt self-conscious when I realized I had tears staining my cheeks. Since that day, I have practiced this very same daily gratitude exercise. You can start making it a habit by tying it to a daily activity -- for example, do it just before you have breakfast or as you're walking to the bus stop or to your car in the morning. I promise you, when you start your morning feeling grateful for having a safe place to live, it is almost impossible to have a bad day.
Studies by neuroscientist Robb Rutledge concluded happiness doesn't depend on how well things go for you. Happiness depends on whether things are going better or worse than you expected, Rutledge theorizes. Expectation is a major buzzkill. Now, this is not to say we should go around expecting bad things to happen -- this sets our mind to hard-wire itself to look for the negative -- but instead, evaluate what the expectation looks like and identify what purpose it serves. Then imagine an alternative. For example, I've known people who expect their wedding day to be flawless because of how they want their family and friends to view them. On the other hand, I've attended incredible weddings where the happy couple focused on just being with the people we care about and having a good time. I'll leave it you to guess who made the happiest memories on their big day.
Connected to comparison and expectation, perfectionism is another happiness burglar. It's something I have personally experienced and I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, says, "Perfectionism is just fear in really good shoes." It's a shinier version of fear - but it is still fear. It could be fear of judgement, fear of what people will think of you or fear of failure. When we choose not to move forward until things are "perfect," we keep ourselves stuck. And because perfection is something which doesn't exist, we are chasing a dangling carrot and it means we will never make headway because we are aiming for something we can never reach. Instead, strive for excellence and work to be the best possible version of yourself. It may seem like a subtle difference but it is a profoundly wiser choice. For me, it has resulted in a greater sense of accomplishment and -- you guessed it -- increased happiness.
Oh, I should go to that thing I was invited to. Urgh it's going to be awful. I totally don't want to go. Sound familiar? This one is about people pleasing and the truth is living in a constant state of "should" is a sure fire way to leach happiness from your life. In its place you will feel a sense of obligation which in turn leads to bitterness, exhaustion and moodiness -- none of which are included in the recipe for a happy, contented life. I used to find it very hard to say no when asked to commit my time. As a result I became totally stressed, burned out and full of resentment. Today I am confident enough to politely say no to any activity threatening to drain my time, energy and vitality. And I'm happier for it.
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