The Conditional Trap
Like anything in life, putting a condition on your happiness will never make you happy. What I mean by this is that if you think there’s some thing, some place, some amount of time, or some one that will change the state of your happiness, you’re gravely mistaken. They might add to your happiness, but they don’t create it. We often get caught up in thinking about things that we don’t have… like an amazing relationship, more money, reaching your goal weight, having a great job, maybe even having a nice house. Have you ever said something like “man, I have NO clothes to wear out tonight!” Or “man, if I just had a million dollars I’d be happy”. We’ve all been there. Society tells us, especially in the media, that if we have these things, we’ll be happier people.
The thing is, dreaming of all the things you don’t have invalidates your current experience, those sources of happiness that you can tap into right now. By focusing on all the things you don’t have, you create this sense of feeling lost, of striving for something that will change you from one state of being saddened, anxious, or stressed, to complete contentment. Have you ever stopped to think about how you would feel if you actually had those things? Would having those things actually make you a happier person? What does having those things actually “fix” about your current experience?
You Already Have It All
Oprah once said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough”. In other words, focusing on the gifts you already have will make you appreciate the bigger things so much more later on. Now, it’s not 100% our faults that we think this way; Author Matt Haig explains that happiness isn’t very good for the economy, because our economy thrives off of highlighting our flaws. I mean, how else would weight-loss (or gain) supplement companies make money, if they didn’t make us feel like it’s worrisome to not be at the “perfect” weight?
The world does a pretty impressive world trying to convince us that we have to change ourselves in order to be happy. But it *is* up to us to recognize the total BS in all of that. We also so often take for granted all of the things we have today; clean water running out of a sink, access to food every day, a roof over our heads, windows, clothes… And I myself have been a victim of not seeing the value of what I have today.
There was a time in my life where I fell into the conditional trap. For example when I first started my fitness journey back in 2014, I thought that losing weight would make me a happier person. But once I actually lost weight for the first time in my life, I realized I was still unhappy. Not only that, but I eventually developed unhealthy coping mechanisms through food that made me gain all of that weight back. So while I did learn that working out made me feel good, what I didn’t realize is that I was still dealing with inner pain that hadn’t healed from my childhood. I couldn’t even think about being grateful for how my body had carried me through so much, without it losing weight.
Viscous Cycle of Instant Gratification
We live in a world of instant gratification. Post a picture or status, get a like, and you feel pretty good about yourself. But as I’ve already demonstrated, happiness comes from feeling gratitude for the things we have today, not from the things we’re waiting for. For me, my body resorted to food for instant gratification. I got into the vicious cycle of emotional eating, that I’m sure some of y’all are familiar with: Something stresses me out, I’d start to feel sad or anxious, grab food even if I was not hungry, eat it, feel happy for 1.5 seconds, then feel guilty and/or sick for eating something I didn’t really want. Then I’d eat more because I’d feel even WORSE than I had in the first place!
It’s a terrible feeling, and these cycles can happen with more than just food; buying new clothes (aka “retail therapy”), lashing out on a loved one, or even by reaching out to someone who you know is not good for you in hopes for some positive attention (have y’all ever redownloaded dating apps just to get messages from people who thought you looked good? I DEFINITELY used to do that!). If you relate to these things, don’t feel bad. Our brains are wired to protect ourselves against threats, and stress is a threat, biologically speaking! We hope for a quick fix to solve all our problems, but it’s just not realistic.
A Therapy Session That Changed It All
One of the most powerful therapy sessions I’ve ever had was one that also felt extremely ridiculous. I was telling my therapist about an argument I’d gotten in with my boyfriend, how it seemed so silly but I wanted him to voice more positive affirmations to me. My boyfriend is a big actions speak louder than words guy, which I absolutely love about him, but I personally wanted to hear more words from him. After a few minutes of this story, my therapist said “huh, let’s talk about gratitude for a second.” I kind of shrugged inside, thinking he was about to get all *woo woo* on me and tell me that the cure to my frustration is all about opening up my heart and filling it with sunshine and rainbows or some crap.
He went on to tell me a few crazy stories about how he had tricked his brain into LOVING Pez. Yes, that candy we never see anymore but has a variety of fun little dispensers. He said he’d never thought anything of it, but repeated his love for Pez in his head over and over again. He DRILLED the concept into his head every day. A couple months later, he saw a table of Pez dispensers at a table in a gas station. He said he ran to them with pure joy and bought ten of them. His friend was like “what is your deal with Pez, man?” And he replied. “I mean, it’s PEZ, how great are they!”
A Test of Happiness
It was at that point that he realized he’d done it. He’d taught himself to love and appreciate something he would’ve never thought twice about before. So his inner scientist said if I can do this to myself, then it should then be replicable and testable. After some other trials, his final test was to see if he could make his friends love the band Journey. Mind you, he has mostly musician friends that like heavy metal and rap, not big Journey fans. Every time he was in the car with his friends, he played a Journey song.
After weeks of his friends laughing at his “love for Journey”, they switched from sarcastically listening to Journey with him to legitimately requesting that he play it. After some weeks, he was buying supplies for a Barbecue he was having, and came across free lawn seat tickets to Journey. At the BBQ, he showed everyone the Journey tickets, and you’d have thought they were like Willy Wonka golden tickets. He said he’d never seen his friends so excited for a concert! At the concert, one of his friends was like “wait… you did this, didn’t you?” as he smiled with pride.
“Gratitude is a skill”
He had successfully tested his hypothesis that you can teach people to feel gratitude for something. “These series of tests taught me that gratitude doesn’t always just come to us” he said. “Gratitude is a skill”. He explained to me that it’s not enough to just write things down that you’re grateful for, but you have to really practice thinking about it. The last 25 minutes of our session, he essentially spent time drilling gratitude into my head for the littlest of things. My shoes, glass windows, light bulbs, etc.
I thought this exercise, if I could even call it that, was so ridiculous at first… but then I eventually started pointing out all the random things I was grateful for on my own. Even though I knew exactly what he was doing, I “played along” at first, but realized he’d tricked my brain into pointing out the good in all these small things, just like he had done with his friends. In those 25 or so minutes, he’d convinced me that virtually everything in that room was amazing. At the end of our session he said, “how are you feeling about your boyfriend now?” And I could really only think about the amazing things my boyfriend does for me, and how great of a partner he is #blessed.
Where The Focus Goes, Energy Flows
Wherever your attention goes, your energy follows. If you focus on all of the things you don’t have or on the bad things going on in your life, your entire outlook revolves around negativity. You get “stuck” and feel incomplete. Every time someone asks how you’re doing, your answer is something like “things are fine”. Sure, it’s important to have goals and visions to improve yourself and to manifest where you want to be one day, but what matters in the end is the process and the steps it took to get there.
I urge you to try these three things to combat the negative thoughts or feelings you have related to the past or future. These practices will help you focus on gratitude for the small things, help you have a “glass half full” reaction, and appreciate your present moment. Once you get the ball rolling in thinking better about the gifts you have today, it will in turn have a snowball effect on everything else life has to offer you. With consistency, these gratitude practices will help you find more happiness in all aspects of your life. Be patient with yourself with these, you deserve to reap the full benefits!
3 Gratitude Practices, For Longterm Happiness!
1. Interrupt Negative Feelings with Positive Thoughts
The next time you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or angry about something, interrupt that feeling with grounding gratitude. Literally, try and make it a habit to stop that negative thought right in its track before it turns into self-worthlessness that you get so used to hearing that you actually believe it. For example something like, “I have so much work and not enough time to finish it all… Why didn’t I plan better… I’m worthless!” could be interrupted with, “Wow, I’m so lucky to be in a position to get an education/have a job. Being stressed about this isn’t even an option for some people. I can focus on the things I can do, I’m resourceful and capable… I can figure this out!”
Or it could be as simple as compiling a list of positive memories. For example, laughing with your best friend, being in your happy place (maybe on the beach?), a moment with your partner. Envision that memory for a minute, turn up the sound, the tastes, the smells, the feelings… turn it up some more… smile, and keep going about your day.
2. Retrain The Voice In Your Head
Ask the voice in your head a new question. If you feel negative about yourself, or someone else for that matter, ask yourself “who are these thoughts serving, are these thoughts helpful?” And if not, simply recognize when this thought popped up into your head. Maybe you’ve just experienced a trigger, recognize that, and let it go. This simple practice of recognizing thoughts/reactivity that don’t serve you, not judging them, and letting them go will decrease your anxiety and stress and increase your calmness and happiness in the long run. The key is to stay consistent! Having a mindfulness practice will help this 🙂
3. Practice Gratitude EVERY Day
It’s not enough to just write down what you’re grateful for. I’ve learned this after many failed attempts. You have to literally drill it into your head like my therapist did. For example, water. Isn’t it wild that we can go to our sinks and drink the water straight out of the faucet? It has to go through so many different filtration systems before it gets to us, yet we don’t think twice about turning our water on. It’s not like that everywhere. POOLS? SHOWERS? I mean, how crazy is it that we get to shower every single day, use gallons of water at our leisure, even though water is a LIMITED resource? Isn’t it amazing that we can so blindly use our water, but without it, we’d die in 7 days?
Incredible when you piece it out and think about it right? Going through this entire process is an important every day practice. Try it for 30 days, and notice how you feel afterwards.
Happiness is there within you right now, you just have to grasp it.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” ~Ferris Bueller
Simply Carly Marie
I hope you enjoyed this post! If you like my content, check out my instagram page where I post daily stories and post about my wellness journey. If you want to put a face and voice to the words, check out my first vlog! I’d love to hear your feedback, learn more about you and stay connected 🙂