Emotional Resilience

Don't Know What Makes You Happy? Here's Where To Start

Aligned Holistics

I recently had a client contact me wanting to attain “sustainable happiness,” a notion that’s been perpetuated by self-help books, crystal-pedaling hippies, and Prozac commercials.  Humans were not intended to be happy all the time.  Or to be sad all the time.  Or to watch more than one season of a show on Netflix at a time.  We are creatures who need contrast. We can’t appreciate the light without the dark, the Oreo without the cream filling.  But since debating the nature of happiness doesn’t make for a good first impression, I asked her, “What brings you joy?”  Silence.  She had no idea.

I could empathize.  I was once in her place, living in sweatpants, eating junk food, and dating crappy men. The point is, I had no idea what made me happy either.  I was so focused on being happy all the time that I barely noticed what made me happy when I was. And that’s exactly why I was unhappy.

The truth is that it’s freakin’ hard to say what makes us happy, but in the moment, when we feel true bliss, we’re able to pinpoint with certainty the exact thing that changed our state. It could be ice cream on a hot day, puppy cuddles after a bad date, or finally feeling the AC when you’re stuck on the subway.

But if you’re a vegan, a cat-lover, or chronically cold, don’t despair! There’s an easy solution to your pleasure puzzle.

Ready for it?

Next time something good happens, stop and actually appreciate it. Sounds ridiculously simple? In theory, yes. In reality, no.

How Savoring Works:

Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12% more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives.
— David Niven

As I’m writing this, I had to turn my wifi off. Why? Because I’ve been conditioned to be a multitasking machine. Among my favorite distracting tasks (including, but not limited to making Spotify playlists, picking at my split-ends, and texting friends), is the incessant checking of Facebook. I don’t enjoy it, I’m like a mosquito drawn to a bug zapper. Even writing outside, an activity that gives me peace and clarity is greatly diminished. Why? Because the less I notice any one thing, the less I am able to enjoy anything.

So what happens when I go off the grid and savor a moment? I notice the nuances: the sights, sounds, and smells that make writing outside feel amazing. Every time we savor, we’re making a deposit into our happiness account. It all adds up. As David Niven notes, "Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12% more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives." The truth is that we see what we look for. Practice savoring and you’ll be conditioned to notice the things that make you happy and not just the crap that brings you down. I

So How Exactly Does One Savor?

1. Slow the F*ck down.

That means turn off the TV while you eat. Don’t watch football online when you’re on a Skype date with your girlfriend (Yes, I’m still pissed about that!) The old adage “stop and smell the roses” is backed up by research in positive psychology.

2. Get grateful.

It’s easy to focus on the negative. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. It helps us to identify a problem and takes steps to solve it. When dialed up too high, this strength becomes a weakness, forcing us to only see what isn’t working in life. Instead, notice what’s going right by writing a gratitude list. Not only will this improve your mood in the moment, you’ll rewire your brain to be happier more often.

3. Celebrate your wins.

It’s easy to ignore both our small victories and big accomplishments. We’re great at supporting others, but bad at rewarding ourselves. Rather than waiting to achieve an outcome, start savoring the steps you’re taking by celebrating the mini-milestones. Don’t feel like you deserve it? How would you respond to a friend who told you she didn't deserve to celebrate her accomplishment? Simply put, take a vacation, book a massage, buy the shoes.

4. Don’t dump on others.

When asked “How was your day?" most of us are tempted to launch into a tirade of “Chad’s” obnoxious behavior, insane traffic, or some other negative experience. There’s a time and place to vent, and it shouldn’t always be on your partner. Sharing positive experiences and accomplishments will increase your happiness and strengthen your relationship.

5. Control the conflict.

Sounds counter-intuitive, but savoring helps you to keep cool during a conflict. If you’ve ever felt angry and thought “I love you, but I can’t stand you right now!” then you know how hard it is to have a productive conversation when pissed. When we’re angry, our focus narrows onto the other person’s perceived failures. Shift yourself back to a more realistic view by thinking and/or sharing something you appreciate about the other person. This simple tool allows both people to let their guard down and focus on fighting to fix rather than fighting to win.


The Takeaway:

Ultimately, your focus determines your happiness. If you’re so concerned with being happy all the time, you’ll ignore the moments when you actually are. Don’t know what makes you happy? That’s fine. Just focus on the feeling when it comes up. Take in the entire sensory experience. Over time, you’ll strengthen your ability to notice the good and ignore the crap, improving both your mood and your relationships. And to me, that’s much better than crystals, Prozac, or Netflix.

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Feels Lonely on Facebook

Isolation is an epidemic.

The other night, after a particularly long social media binge, I felt the sudden onset of a hangover. While it may not have started in wine or ended in a headache, the similar anxious, listless, comfortless quality was palpably present. It was a classic emotional hangover. The irony, of course, was that it came from an outlet designed to foster connection from the comfort of my couch.

The truth is that social media has grown far beyond friendships and is now a tool used to sell teeth-whiteners, compare ourselves to our exes, and fake a fantasy life.  As Facebook continues to exacerbate our need for authentic connection, our social skills continue to degenerate.

Sure, we can interact. But, can we connect?

If you’d rather text than talk, order food online over using a phone, or scroll through Instagram pics rather than seeing friends in person, then this post is for you.

Social connection impacts our emotional and physical health. According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, isolation and loneliness can create chronic stress, similar to factors such as illness, poverty, discrimination, and violence. It’s a growing epidemic: In the 1980s, 20% of adult Americans said they were lonely. Today, the percentage has doubled to 40%.

The good news is that you don’t have to swear off social media to create more connection. Here are:

7 steps to build better relationships:

1) Upgrade your connection.

No, I’m not talking about your internet speed. Instead of texting, talk on the phone. Meet friends and colleagues in person. Even Facetime and Skype can build better bonds. Feeling short on time? Remember, just because something is efficient, doesn’t make it better. Communication on each medium varies. So, avoid the misunderstandings and deepen your relationships by upgrading how you communicate.

2) Accept the friend request.

Often, we place people in categories without giving them a real chance. Deepen your current connections by:

  • Trying something new (e.g. going for a hike instead of a drink)
  • Sharing how you feel (e.g. being vulnerable and honest)
  • Working on it rather than dismissing it (e.g. being courageous enough to troubleshoot problems rather than ghosting) 

3) Who dis?

Define what you want in a friend down to every last detail. Want a bestie who does yoga, yoda impressions, and yodels with her yorkie? Weird, but cool. You have to know what you want to know if you have it and where to find it.

4) Expand your circle with friends, not followers.

The best way to meet people with similar interests is by exploring your own. Upgrade your activities by rekindling an old hobby or starting a new one. If you want to meet the right people, you need to be your best self. That means less time doing what isn’t working and more time doing things that speak to your passions and values.

5) Disconnect.

I can’t tell you how many times I go to a restaurant and see people ignoring each other and staring at their phones (even when they're on a date!) Unless there’s a life-threatening emergency, let the other person know you actually want to be there by silencing your phone and putting it away.

6) Can you hear me now?

So often we listen to respond rather than to hear. Instead of secretly planning your response, let their words sink in. Your undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give someone and the key to understanding and empathy.

    7) Still loading.

    Loneliness is normal. Even with strong relationships, this natural human emotion is bound to surface. Our feelings of isolation took time to develop, so don’t expect overnight results. Be patient with yourself and others, focusing on the steps you’re taking instead of how far you have to go.

    The Takeaway:

    Whether you’re surrounded by people or alone on your couch, isolation is a growing issue. Don’t let the number of Facebook friends or followers define you, your relationships, or your time. In any moment, you can take simple steps to feel less lonely and create more connection.

    Self-Control Not Solving It? Try This Instead.

    Change sucks.

    It’s the reason we stay in bad relationships, eat the same foods, and overplay songs until we’re sick of them. We tend to like comfort, even when that comfort is uncomfortable.

    Simply put, we’re creatures of habit. And when we decide to break a habit, we rarely have an immediate epiphany or feeling of freedom (no matter what those inspirational Instagram seem to say.) More often than not, change temporarily causes everything from anxiety, to depression, to a Ben & Jerry’s binge.

    For example, I spent nine years in a relationship when I should have left after five. Why? Because making a change, even a necessary change, pushes you out of your comfort zone and into that awkward place that nobody likes called “growth.”

    But, much like growing out a bad haircut, change doesn’t happen overnight.

    Sure, we have growth spurts brought on by moments of clarity, loss, or motivation. But for the most part, humans don’t change until their discomfort in their current situation becomes greater than their fear of change. Growth is rarely linear and often requires a tipping point.

    This wave-like cycle of upheaval and clarity is known as evolutionary catharsis. And, just like cleaning your closet, it gets a lot messier before it get better. The end result is that kick-ass “aha” moment when our brain is reorganized into a new state of greater awareness, functioning, and simplicity. We feel more connected to ourselves and are ready to take the necessary steps to get where we want in life.

    So how does this work?

    Right before we have a growth spurt, many of us have a temporary feeling of discomfort. This manifests as self-defeating behaviors. Learned in childhood as coping mechanisms,

    These behaviors fall into three categories:

    1. Those that try to reduce the amount of overwhelm by pushing energy out, such as:

    • yelling
    • compulsive behaviors
    • sickness

    2. Those that block additional energy from entering the system, such as:

    • depression
    • withdrawal
    • loss of appetite

    3. Those aimed at distracting from the growing chaos inside them, such as:

    • any form of addiction
    • a ton of television-time
    • overworking

    These three types of coping mechanisms are our system’s final, desperate attempts to preserve our status quo. After all, it’s scary and stressful to step into a new way of being. I’ve heard coaches call this “de-evolution,” but that's a misnomer as it’s a natural part of the evolutionary process. Whether we reach for the bottle, an ex, or the remote control, it’s all part of the process. Our goal is not to judge these attempts, but to notice them with genuine curiosity. (Full disclosure: writing that last sentence made me gag a little, but it’s true. Judging ourselves for our coping mechanisms doesn’t make them any easier to change.)

    Our belief around what growth “should” look like is nothing more than our inner-critic shouting louder than our inner-nurturer. As we release old beliefs, our brains have a hard time balancing the volume of these voices. Eventually, it levels out and new, truthful ideas emerge.

    The Solution

    While these self-defeating behaviors may temporarily release the pressure of growth, the end result is keeping our system stagnant. Learning to tolerate the discomfort rather than running away from it allows us to take that quantum leap into the next state of awareness, tolerance, and resilience.

    Ironically, our fight to indulge in these sabotaging behaviors is what keeps us playing small, making the process longer and more painful. The solution comes down to self-surrender. We must be willing to surrender the person we are now to foster the person we can become.

    Whatever your brand of self-defeating behavior, it’s time to tune in to the parts of yourself these behaviors are trying drown out. Notice the voice that shouts the loudest and the voice that suddenly became silent.

    • What are they saying?
    • What do these parts of you want?
    • How can you be more compassionate toward them?

    Sure, it’s easier said than done. And I’m certainly not perfect. Like all of us, my relationship with myself is constantly evolving. I’ve found that self-control has only led to quick changes that are hard to sustain. The lasting life-changes all resulted from listening to and embracing the parts of myself these actions tried to mute.

    It’s not always fun. In fact, it rarely is. But you know what’s worse? Staying stuck.