Whether you are unhappy with life as a whole or just some corner of it, don’t go out seeking happiness. Don’t follow the sage advice about finding a new job, a new routine, or a new life. Instead, sit and do nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Sit and pay attention to your unhappiness. Learn all you can about it. Attend to its thoughts. Allow in its feelings. Consider its beliefs. Get to know it the way you get to know a good friend—with interest and caring. In doing this, you are already beginning your transformation to a happier you, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
The more you get to know a friend who is suffering, the more you appreciate and care deeply about their pain; and the more you naturally want to make it better. Similarly, as you pay attention to your struggles and gain more inner awareness, self-understanding will increase. And with it will come compassion, which will motivate you to seek a happier life. This might mean making some changes, but it also might mean just taking a new perspective in your current life.
You can develop this compassionate self-awareness in many ways. Below is one approach:
Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Be specific about the emotions you are experiencing.
Ask yourself, “What am I thinking?” Consider your thoughts about yourself, others, and your situation. Rather than just thinking those thoughts, reflect upon them much as you would reflect upon someone else sharing their thoughts with you.
Also, consider how these thoughts affect your emotions. For instance, you might observe these thoughts, “I hate my job. I hate my commute. And I hate my boss.” You might note that such thoughts leave you feeling hopelessly miserable.
Practice empathy. Consider your gut-level reaction to imagining a friend or child having similar thoughts and feelings. Do you feel compassion for them? This way of relating is how you want to practice responding to yourself.
Decide how to proceed. You will naturally make choices that improve your situation once you feel motivated to help yourself nurture a better, happier life—not just run from your current situation or sink helplessly into it. You might choose a different route in some area in your life, or you might just approach your current situation in a new way. For instance, rather than leaving that hated job, you might decide to stick it out longer as you work toward a promotion. And with this new focus, you might feel less oppressed by each workday.
Rather than jumping right into changing something in your search for happiness, give the above process a try. It can help to guide your life in a more fulfilling, meaningful, or just plain happier direction.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness