This is a post I have wanted to write for a long time. Yet I have held back, because I know it might possibly offend people. Or maybe offend isn’t the right word. Maybe make people think I am judging them or their lifestyle, somehow exerting dominance over them because the mindset that I am going to talk about in this post, I have, whereas they do not. And I will be advocating for said mindset. So before I even get into the topic, I want to have a disclaimer right off the bat: I am not claiming that in any way, shape or form that I am better than anyone else or that I am judging anyone. Because I am not. Do I have some people in mind when writing this post? Yes, I do. But I am writing this because I want to help them, not put them down in any fashion or sense. But because I have been worried about how this could be negatively received, I have put off writing it. And even though I am not claiming that anything below is life-altering or drastically new in theory or thought, I do think it can be eye-opening; a reminder of how much power the mind holds and how much power we hold over the mind.
So, my topic/the problem I want to “solve”: how to make yourself happier; how to be happier.
My solution: you choose to be happier.
Now, let me elaborate. I use to be a very depressed, negative person. I loathed myself and viewed the world though a very negative lens. Yet I didn’t have any reason for it, not really. It was mostly centered around my appearance, as I am curvy in not necessarily all the “right” places. Yet I was blessed, very blessed, as I still am today. I am still working on the whole appearance acceptance thing, but I am doing better. So, in high school, I was “happy”, but only sometimes. But I was definitely depressed. Now, fast forward to college: I’m happy. I am one of the most positive people you will ever meet. Hell, Positivity is my number one strength on StrengthsQuest. I am so positive, my outlook is so bright, I have had people accuse me of being fake. But I promise you, all of it is genuine, absolutely pure to who I am and what I believe. It really is this 180 story, from high school to college, transforming to naturally depressed to naturally happy. Sometimes, people who know my story, they ask me how I did it. And I tell them that I chose it; chose to be happier.
This is where the scoffing comes into play. What, you just chose to be happier and BOOM, suddenly you go from crying your eyes out every night to sprouting unicorns out of your head? No, not exactly. Yes, I made the choice to be happier and yes, now, I am happier. But it took almost two years to make that mindset stick, to make this positive mindset natural. But for a long time, it had to be a conscious choice. I had to constantly tell myself that I wanted to be happier, so I needed to stop viewing things negatively and start viewing them positively. When I started feeling down or started to get angry, I had to stop myself and work, and work hard, to make myself see the positive light in the situation. Because there is one, always. And sometimes, I couldn’t do it. Sometimes, it didn’t work. But I didn’t let myself get down on the fact that I slipped up. I started over the next day and then the next. And I still slip up, sometimes, although now those times are few and far between, especially compared to be daily breakdowns I used to have. Now, though, I automatically think of the most positive thing. I always view the glass as not half full, not have empty, but over-flowing. I always look for the best in people, in situations, in everything. It’s a natural state of mind for me. My work has paid off. And I am happier because of it.
Sure, you say. I’ll buy into it that you worked on it for a while and made the switch. But how did you do it? Well, see, that’s the simple part. You recognize that you can make a choice and then make the one that allows you to be happier. It’s the transition of making that happier choice unconsciously and immediately that is difficult to do. Everything we do in life is made from choices. I am sure you have heard of that before. But I don’t think a lot of people associate the choice of changing their mindset, as well, before going into situations. And that’s the key to a happier life — in my opinion and experience.
Lemme give a few examples to make it clearer. You have a job, okay? You may love your job. It may be your dream job that you cherish and have worked towards for years. Or, you may hate it. You may hate what you’re doing or find it meticulous and boring. It may not be in the field you want or the only reason you are working there is to pay the bills. Either way, it’s a Monday morning. You wake up early. You slug around, dragging your body out of bed, hating the fact that you have to get up. You try on seven different outfits, pissed that you can’t figure out what to wear. You hate that you have to commute and speed all the way there. And as soon as you walk in the door, you are pissed that you have to go to work. And so you spend the entire day waiting until you can go home. And then, once you get home, you spend all night complaining about how bad work was or how much you are dreading going into work the next day.
It doesn’t matter whether it is the job you’ve always wanted or a job you hate. If you wake up in the morning dreading to go to work, you’ve already set yourself up for a negative experience. And I guarantee, no matter what kind of job you have, we’ve all done this. If you dread going to work every day, of course it is going to suck. You’ve mentally chosen, unconsciously, for it to be that way, no matter what kind of job you have. And you may be in the latter category, where your job truly is not exactly the greatest. And you may really hate it. But you are not doing yourself any favors by dreading going to work every day. By doing that, you are mentally creating or supporting a negative environment.
Instead of treating it like a dreaded chore, you could treat it like an opportunity; a chance; a blessing. We all have bills to pay. With this job, you can pay yours, even if you don’t love it. By viewing it as an opportunity denied to many others, you realize how blessed you are. By recognizing that you still have the chance to go to work, you remember that you’re still alive to even complain. But we live short lives. Why waste breath on complaints and negativity when you can experience something so much greater?
I work a second job at a library on campus. All last semester, I honestly dreaded going into work, even though I was only able to work once to week due to cutting back hours. At first, I couldn’t figure out why I dreaded it so much. I got to go to the library — a habitat that I love — and work with ancient books that most people don’t even get to touch, because they aren’t in my position to be allowed to do so. For me, that should have been Heaven; bliss. And for the first year, it was. I loved it. So why was I hating it so much? It took a whole semester to figure it out, but I did: I was pissed that working at the library was taking away time from my homework. Instead of working on four hours of research for my thesis (which, let’s be honest, was my entire semester last semester), I had to go to the library and work. And then I realized I was doing exactly what I described above: before even getting to work, I was dreading the fact of being there and counting down the hours to get back home and back to my studies, to truly maximize my time. Before even stepping foot in the door, I was already putting a negative twist on it. By doing so, I was ruining even the chance of anything great happening, because I had already, subconsciously, decided on how the work day was going to go: shitty.
After realizing that, I took a step back and realized what the library gave me in return for my efforts: a definite boost on my resume; extra cash that I desperately need, now that I have a car payment that takes up my entire paycheck from my other job; I’ve made a ton of friends and networked so much through working there; I rediscovered an author I loved as a kid; it has definitely helped me out with my schoolwork; and even though it was bothering me then, it gives me break from school and lets me help others, whether it is training new employees, helping students on their own research, helping the librarians with projects, what-have-you. I gain a lot from a job that I only get to work four hours a week at. And after looking at everything — looking at why I was dreading work, what I gained from it and everything in-between, I realized that I truly do love this job. And if I go into each shift realizing all the benefits and how lucky I am to still have that job after a year and a half, I give myself the opportunity to enjoy it ten times more than if I go in dreading work each day. This semester, I have worked to switch that mindset back. And although I have only worked a couple shifts, I have already enjoyed these shifts ten times better than any shift I had last semester (even the day that I had to shift maps, which lemme tell you, is really not easy), all because I gave myself the chance to enjoy it.
Now, I am not saying that if you truly loathe a job, if you start going into it each day with a positive attitude, you are going to instantly start loving it. The shitty boss will still be there. The filing that drives you nuts will still be yours to complete. But honestly, what do you have to lose from going into work with a smile as opposed to hating every moment from when you wake up until you go back to sleep? You have the choice to look at it in a positive way and you lose nothing by making this choice. Instead, you have everything to gain.
You see, making the choice of mentally trying to choose a more positive mindset, is all about the power of perception. If you go into anything with a negative mindset, you are lessening your chances of enjoying what you’re doing or what is going on around you. If you go in thinking negatively about yourself, you are choosing for external, outside forces to have to come in and change your mindset for you, instead of actively making that choice yourself, e.g., on a rainy day, you decide that it has to be a shit day because it is raining. Because of that negative mindset, you are forcing your happiness to be dependent on something that is completely out of your control: the sun. By choosing the negative mindset, you are losing agency and the power of control. But by picking the positive mindset, keeping up the positive outlook, you are giving the power back to yourself.
Perception is a truly powerful thing. And perception of the self is an underrated power. We have the power to decide how we feel about what is going on around us and how we feel about ourselves. For example, like I said earlier, I really struggle with how I look and my weight. I started working out two weeks ago. Two weeks in not near enough time to completely transform a body I have been creating and shaping for the past 22 years; two years is a more accurate timeline for noticeable, realistic change. However, because I have been working out, I feel so much better about myself. I don’t think about what my body looks like as much, oddly enough. I have more confidence because even though my body hasn’t changed much yet, I feel skinnier, even if it isn’t true (yet). I can feel my body changing, slowly but surely. And because I am working towards it, my mind is starting to believe that my goal is within reach. That voice in the back of my head, constantly whispering, You’re ugly, you’re fat, that muffin top is real attractive…not, is slowly fading away, flickering out like a dying flame. Instead, I am viewing myself as a constant improvement, always working on being better. My perception of myself as changed, because I have decided to stop letting my mind convince me of all the reasons I can’t work out, and instead show myself all the reasons why I can.
Obviously, perception is a big deal. And you are constantly bombarded with the perceptions of others, even when they don’t say anything to you. Wanna know how? By comparing yourself to the rest of the world. Walking around the Mall, if I look at a size ten girl and then suddenly look back at size 16 me, and consider myself less than her because I am bigger, then I am automatically assuming that she perceives me as fat or overweight. I put her perception of me on the forefront of my mind — a perception that might not even be true! Instead, I can challenge myself to keep up the mindset that I love myself, regardless of how other people view me. I can create my own perception and focus on only that, instead of constantly bringing in others. And when others offer their opinions and criticisms, I can listen to them and learn from them, of course. Some will be beneficial and others will be pointless. But at the end of the day, the power is in my hands: self-love, self-esteem, self-confidence…they all contain the same element; the most important element: the self. Me.
Happiness, and achieving happiness, is the same way. Everyone’s life is different. There will always be someone “better off” than you. Likewise, there will always be someone “worse off” than you. So why is it that we always focus on the former, always comparing ourselves to those who have it “better”? Why is it that we let our minds control our emotions, setting ourselves up for negativity, depression, anxiety and stress? Why not, instead, control your own mind and decide what you want in life: how you want to feel, what you want to do, where you want to go. It’s not easy. It doesn’t come natural. It takes work. But it is worth it. Oh goodness, is it worth it. Take control. Push the negativity aside, remember that you’re blessed and choose the positive mindset. You lose nothing by doing so. And you have the world to gain.
PS: I would like to point out, though, that this is nowhere near the “cure” for depression. I think, for certain types of depression, this can change a person’s life and actually help them stop being depressed. But not all depression is just a trick or poisoning of the mind, like mine was. Sometimes, depression is so hard-wired in a person, it is born through a change in the chemical make-up within them. They have no control over that. If you have that type of depression, seeing someone — a psychiatrist, a therapist, a doctor — a professional, is the way to help you. Therapy, medicine or other treatments may be needed. And that’s totally okay. But I also think that trying to work on changing your own mindset, can’t hurt, either.
PPS: Also, if you need help or a reminder of how blessed and how great you truly have it, take this quiz; talk about perspective and perception: