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Monday, June 11, 2018

Tips for Finding Happiness


As a therapist, I see clients on a daily basis, who are struggling with anxiety and depression. Sometimes its due to trauma or crises, but often its more existential angst. Its kind of ironic that here in Canada (and in the U.S.) there are so many affluent people living with many privileges that most of the rest of the world does not have (clean drinking water, abundant food, human rights, peace, etc.), struggling so much emotionally. It is, in some regards, 'a first world problem' but that makes it no less serious.

Just last week, two celebrities, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdin, took their own lives, shocking the world. Why would such wealthy, successful people kill themselves?? The answer, of course, is complex and multifaceted. Mental health issues often have a genetic component, and in the case of Bourdin, heavy substance abuse was also involved. But there is a type of misery epidemic that I think is both culturally and historically specific. Never before have we lived in an environment that encourages/requires us to put ourselves on public display. Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, online dating sites, etc., are public platforms we sometimes can't avoid (i.e. may be necessary for professional reasons). Everything about us has become subject to public scrutiny and given us various means of comparisons with others. Reality has become blurred. Like is anything about reality television real? Fake news versus real news, how do we tell one from the other? Social media...is it ever an accurate representation of a person's life? Can we ever trust an image we see, or has it been Photoshopped?

When I say existential angst, I am referring to my clients ranging in age from 20s to 40s, who are plagued with anxiety and depression due to perfectionism, self-doubt, low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. Much of it is rooted in their (mistaken) belief that 'everyone' else is doing better than they are. Everyone else's lives are easier, happier, everyone else has more love, more money and more fun. Believe me, I have struggled with all of this...a lot! But I have managed to kick a lot of it to the curb through both personal growth and exploration, as well as from my experiences as a therapist. One thing I know for sure: no one's life is perfect! I don't think I have ever felt happier, but its not because I won the lottery or woke up one day looking like a supermodel (these are not things that lead to happiness anyways), its because I have changed the way I think.

Here are some things you can do, if you are struggling, to feel happier:

1. Stop aiming for perfection. Perfection is like unicorns, it does not exist!

2. Be flawsome. Since flaws/imperfections are inevitable for anyone and everyone, own yours, acknowledge that you can be flawed and awesome, and flaunt it. By flaunt it, I mean let go shame. We all have flaws, we all have weaknesses, we all fail sometimes, we all make mistakes.

3. Stop comparing yourself with others! OMG, social comparison comes up as a source of angst ALL THE TIME! Nothing good comes from it because few people look below at how much they have to be grateful for, instead, they only look up at who has what they do not....or 'seems' to have what they do not. Remember, you really know little about another person's life, especially if you are judging it based on Instagram images!!

4. Following from #3, Practice gratitude. We tend to fixate on what we do not have often dismissing all the blessings we do have. Force yourself to acknowledge them once in a while!!

5. Learn to accept uncertainty. I am not saying this is easy, but its critical because uncertainty is an inevitable part of life. Science and technology has given us control of many things we did not have control over in the past, but there are still many things we cannot control and cannot anticipate. This is a huge source of anxiety for many people. The more you can accept it, the happier you will be because the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

6. Stop Caring What Other People Think. This is hard for many people too. Ultimately, one of the things most of us worry about most is how we are being evaluated by 'them'. The irony is, everyone is so worried about this, that they are far more critical of themselves than anyone else. In other words, most people are so busy worrying what you are thinking about them, that they are not negatively evaluating you at all. And if they are, who gives a shit anyways?

So to quote Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."