“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” – Henri Nouwen
My little cousin Elijah is three years old and, like any toddler, is very clear about what does and does not make him happy. If you suggest doing something he isn’t interested in, he breaks into a pout and states firmly, “I don’t WANT to.” As kids, most of us probably had a similar attitude. But as adults, it can feel impossible to get back to that time when we focused on our own happiness instead of trying to make everyone else happy. Yet, we have to remember that happiness is not something that just occurs automatically. The truth is, we have to constantly choose to be happy and make space for what we really want. Otherwise, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut after a while, focusing on all the things we dislike about our lives.
If you’ve been pouting like my little cousin Elijah lately, here are a few strategies you can use to start making room for more happiness in your life.
1. Make a list of all the things that make you happy.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in work and taking care of day to day “life” issues that we forget what we’re even living for. That’s why one of my favorite exercises from my 31 Days to Reset Your Life program is the assignment to make a list of 100 things that make you happy. It’s a great way to remind yourself of what you really enjoy doing, especially if you’ve been living under someone else’s agenda for so long that you feel like you’ve forgotten. What truly makes YOU happy? What kinds of things, people, activities, music, memories, places, foods, smells, make you feel alive? By verbalizing what you want to see more of in your life, you will consciously (or subconsciously) seek it out more often.
2. Carve out a few hours of “me time” every week.
I call this “taking yourself out on a date.” Every week, mark off a few hours on your calendar to spend all by yourself – no work, no kids, no chores, no girlfriends, no Facebook. Use that time to do something that makes YOU happy, regardless of what other people might think. For instance, if you love art museums or foreign films or long walks in the park listening to the birds, go out there and have fun doing it! Stop waiting for “someone to go with” because you’re afraid to go to the movies or to dinner at that new restaurant by yourself. Or, just run a bubble bath or take a long drive into the country to have some peaceful time alone to think.
3. Say “no” to activities you no longer enjoy.
Are you overwhelmed with responsibilities at home, at work, or in your personal relationships? Maybe you find it hard to say “no” when people ask you for favors, even if you barely have enough time for yourself as it is. A great way to change this pattern is to start saying “I would love to help if I could, but I can’t” to things you really and truly don’t want to do. Stop working late. Delegate more. Get rid of all current commitments that no longer bring you joy and start limiting any new commitments to people other than yourself. When you do this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much happier you’ll be with the commitments in your life that you actually DO care about.
4. Let go of unfulfilling relationships.
Maybe there’s a romantic relationship that you’ve allowed yourself to stay in, only out of fear that you won’t find anyone else. Perhaps you’ve grown far apart from your best friend from high school but you feel guilty about not wanting to hang out with her anymore. Or it could be that it’s time to ditch your Negative Nellie co-worker who’s always bringing you down with her constant problems. Even though it can be tough to let go of these kinds of relationships, it’s better for both parties in the long run. Release unfulfilling relationships with truth and love. Because once you get rid of that baggage, you will have more mental and emotional space to cultivate better relationships in the future.
How can you make room for more happiness in your life? What do you need to let go of so you can have more time to devote to the life you really want?