A recent Harris poll
revealed that only 33 percent of Americans are very happy. If happiness
is a natural state
of being, why is this number so low? What is keeping us from being happy? Below are four “happiness roadblocks” that might be inhibiting your bliss.
1. Unfulfilled Expectations
Whether we realize it or not, we all have an underlying set of expectations for life. We have expectations for ourselves: how we should act, how successful we should be. We have expectations for others: how they should act, how they should treat us. We also have expectations for life and how our days should unfold. Some of these expectations are fulfilled, and others are not. That’s life, plain and simple.
Having expectations is an important part of life that helps direct the course of our lives and relationships. If we didn’t expect ourselves to get up each morning and fulfill our responsibilities, there would likely be an increase of pizza deliveries and online movie streaming! Having expectations for how others should behave and treat us allows us to set boundaries and maintain healthy relationships.
Often, however, these beliefs about how ourselves, others, and life are supposed to be are so ingrained in us that the possibility of failing to meet said expectations is too much to bear. The problem lies in us attaching our personal happiness to the fulfillment of these expectations that are often out of our control, and the difficulty some of us have in accepting unfulfilled expectations. Releasing our tight grip on how we expect people to act and how life should unfold gives us the space to experience life as a journey. Loosening our expectations and control allows us to maintain equilibrium and happiness when things don’t go according to our plans.
2. Keeping Score
Actions speak louder than words, and your action of holding on to a grudge or a memory trumps any words you frame as forgiveness that you do not mean. This is not to suggest you are intentionally misleading someone into believing you have forgiven him or her. It means only that sometimes the expectation of forgiveness is so overwhelming that you do not give your underlying feelings the validations they need and deserve. As a result, the forgiveness you may want to give is held hostage by thoughts that won’t go away, and your actions may reflect your subconscious upset.
So how do you release yourself from the grip of thoughts tying you to a grudge? It can be a simple as observing the underlying thoughts and emotions, then choosing new thoughts that reinforce a happier, healthier state of mind. Here are a few examples of replacement thoughts:
- This person’s actions toward me were not personal. They were simply acting out of their own insecurities and wounds.
- Everyone is doing the best they can for where they are in their lives.
- It is not worth the pain to keep thinking about it and dwelling on it.
- Instead of focusing on their flaws, shortcomings and mistakes, what about this person do I admire and am grateful for?
Granted, these new thoughts may feel foreign to the language of self-talk you have become accustomed to expressing about this person. Thus, mindful attention is key—to what you’re thinking and what you want to think in the practical pursuit of genuine forgiveness.
We often perceive that any pressure to perform in our daily lives is generated from an external source. At home and at work, you are constantly being held responsible for meeting the expectations of others—physically and emotionally. However, oftentimes, the stress we feel is a result of the expectations we place on ourselves. In either case, learning to manage the stress in our lives is important to both our emotional and physical health. Here are a few proven ways to reduce the amount of stress for yourself:
- Meditation. Spending a few minutes or even seconds each day focusing on your breath, being aware of your body, and entering a state of mental calmness has been linked to a wide variety of physical benefits.
- Exercise. 30 minutes of exercise, cardio, or yoga releases a surge of endorphins through your body, thus improving your mood and decreasing your stress levels.
- Spend time outside. Nature is a proven stress relief. Taking a stroll through a nature-rich environment can quickly lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
4. Unresolved Relationships
Any one of the areas referenced above could, and probably does, include an unresolved relationship. Anger associated with someone you know could be inhibiting your happiness. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who taught you the falsehoods at the root of your unfulfilled expectations?
- Whose wrongs are you keeping score of, or who is keeping score of yours?
- Who guilted you into doing things you do not want to do?
- Who hurt you in the past, a pain and may be imposing on new relationships?
Whether you are aware of it or not, you probably have an underlying desire to resolve your relationships with these people. In some cases, this may mean a face-to-face encounter is in order. In other cases, it may mean simply “doing the work” on your own, recognizing the equal rolls you both played in the relationship and choosing to move on from there.
Take time to examine your expectations, grudges, stresses and unresolved relationships in your life. Consciously evaluating these four aspects in your life and making small steps to equalize your imbalances can greatly augment your overall happiness.
Gregory L. Jantz, PhD is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and an internationally recognized best selling author of 28 books related to mental wellness and holistic recovery treatment.