Being happy with what you have (or how to change it!)
Happiness is self-contentedness. Aristotle
Being happy with what you have is the fastest way to be truly happy every day. Unfortunately, you may have experienced losing something or someone that was making you happy, simply by taking it for granted. Many people don’t learn from this mistake – mostly because they don’t know how and they’re not open to changing their ways.
In 1965 at President Johnson’s second inauguration, Rabbi Hyman Schachtel said: “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Appreciating what you have makes us happy because it gives us the opportunity to step back from the detail and have a look at the overall picture. Honestly appreciating the people in your life and making time to show them your gratitude (by spending time with them or doing small things for them, even just letting them know) will make you a happier person because it gives you presence and helps you to honour your life as it is. Being thankful for these small but significant blessings is a choice, and a simple positive decision can open you to positive feedback.
In fact, research has shown that gratitude enhances your quality of life. A studied by two psychologists (Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis) showed that daily gratitude resulted in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. It also showed less cases of depression and stress, the subjects were more likely to help others, appreciated regular exercise and made greater progress towards achieving goals.
How to appreciate what you have
There is no specific method in learning to appreciate what you have – but there are some exercises you can do to start practising.
1. A gratitude journal. Write down three to ten things you appreciate each day before bed
2. A gratitude letter. Write a letter to someone who has exerted a positive influence in your life but who you haven’t had a chance to properly thank
3. A 21-day challenge. Avoid complaining, criticising or gossiping for 21 days. Experts suggest wearing a coloured wristband throughout your time to keep you constantly aware of the challenge
4. A gratitude charm bracelet. Make and wear a symbol of your gratitude every day to remind you to appreciate the things that you DO have in life
5. Enjoy the moment. The ability to appreciate what’s in front of you has nothing to do with what you actually have. It’s more about how you measure the good things in your life at any given time
6. See every day as an opportunity. Set attainable goals and look at each day as an opportunity to improve on yesterday, rather than focusing on imperfections. By focusing on improvements, you’ll naturally move toward your larger dreams and will respect the way you’re doing things
7. Take action. If something is negative, be positive. If something isn’t right, change it so it is. Be the change you seek and set an example for those around you
8. Be responsible. Be who you want to be and act accordingly. If you don’t like something about yourself, have the courage to start looking at what it is and changing it
9. Want the things you already have. Be mindful of the achievements (and even material possessions) you have obtained in life and use them to your full advantage. Make a list of your achievements and accomplishments. Take time to reflect on how far you have come to appreciate where you are now
10. Understand what makes you happy. Learn to appreciate your individuality – no one is perfect, but you can be the perfect form of yourself
11. Meditate each day on the things that make you happy. Really take the time to focus on these positive things and give thanks
12. Treat yourself regularly. You can only appreciate the people and things around you when you appreciate yourself. Remember to reward yourself (a positive action) when you reach gratitude goals
13. Be grateful for your health. Ensure you maintain peak condition by eating the right foods and participating in regular exercise.
14. Practise seeing what you have. Avoid waiting until you lose something to appreciate it! Start a list of the things you’re grateful for – it may include: family, friends, lovers, health, your environment, your senses, electricity, music, recycling, air conditioning, your happiness etc
15. Volunteer for the less fortunate. Spending time working with the homeless, sick or another disadvantaged group is a great way to put the things you do have into perspective
16. Make a scrapbook of the good things in your life. This will be a visual reminder with pictures or symbolic representations of the things you’re most grateful for
17. Watch a powerful movie such as “The Pursuit of Happyness” or “Pay it Forward” to motivate you to continue taking steps to show your appreciation of life.
Appreciating people in our life
Unfortunately, it’s often people we lose more than material things when we’re taking something for granted. And it isn’t until they’re gone that we realise our behaviour. How can you avoid this?
1. Remember the reasons that person is close to you. What qualities attracted you to them in the first place? How often do you appreciate these qualities? Remember why they’re a part of your life
2. Tell the people in your life you love them and why you think they’re special. Verbalising you’re positive feelings will reinforce them in your heart
3. Recognise the person’s current expressions of the same qualities that attracted you in the beginning. Living in the moment helps us to really see how valuable others are to us
4. Take time to respond when someone you care about is doing something that you appreciate. Send a clear message of appreciation – a smile, a comment, a helping hand, a gift, positive feedback… it can be anything
5. Spend time each day appreciating these special people in your life and listing the reasons why. This will affect your attitude towards the special people in your life – making it positive!
How to change things when you don’t appreciate them
Having the courage to change things when you’re not happy with them can take a lot of courage. Sometimes we are too comfortable with things to change them, sometimes we have good excuses for why we should stick with the way things are (often holding onto hot coals for far too long), and sometimes it’s just laziness.
1. Figure out what you need to change and be clear with yourself why it needs to change
2. Set yourself a goal to break the habit or change the situation – including a deadline
3. Make the change happen. Reward yourself when you complete the change and build a new, positive habit (or situation) in its place.
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