“Nana, are you happy?” was the question my then 3-year-old grandson asked me one evening (at first I was caught off guard). I told him, “I’m always happy when you’re here, and I’m happy every time I think about you.” “But are you happy?” he asked again. I hugged him real tight and whispered in his ear, “Yes. I am very, very happy.”
That question, “Are you happy?,” popped into my head as I was thinking about that 3-year-old little boy, who will be turning twelve in two weeks. I thought about all the times I based my happiness on completing tasks and goals – rather than making happiness the goal – and how much I missed out on trying to make those things happen. I am extremely task oriented, so my days are usually jam packed with to-do lists, both personal and professional. And even when I manage to check-off every item on those lists, and accomplish the goals I set for myself, I never feel that I’ve really answered the “are you happy?” question.
So when did happiness become a checkbox item on a long list of to-dos?
For far too long, I’ve placed everyone and everything above my own happiness. I don’t consider myself a people-pleaser. However, I’m deeply committed to the people in my life: family, friends, and the newly encountered. As women, we’re wired this way – we’re caregivers by default. It’s easy to forget that living a happy life requires the same intention as completing those lists of tasks and goals. We deserve all the joy and happiness this world has to offer. But we’re never going to get there if we can’t learn to make personal happiness the goal.
Many experts will tell you to start by saying “no” more often. “Saying no is often the easier way out. When you say no, you can safely stay within your comfort zone,” says Happiness Expert Henrik Edberg, “but if you say yes, your life can expand and deepen. The yes allows you to open up your life to more happiness.” Here, Edberg shares ten things he said yes to that have helped him become happier in his life. He suggests you pick the one that most resonates with you and focus on making it a part of your life.
10 Things to Say Yes to Starting Today
1. Being Imperfect
Trying to be perfect is setting the bar too high. It will be impossible to reach. Perfectionism is a mindset that eats at you and your happiness. Saying yes to being imperfect can turn that around.
- Realize the costs of buying into myths of perfection. Movies, magazines, social media, and just taking in what the world is telling you – it’s very easy to be lulled into dreams of perfection. But it clashes with reality and can harm or possibly lead you to end relationships, jobs, projects, etc. because your expectations are out of this world.
- Go for good enough. Realize that there is something called “good enough”, and when you’re there, then you’re finished with whatever you are doing.
2. Being you
Not being able to be yourself, always trying to change for others, or censoring yourself don’t feel good at all. It makes life feel so small and limited. So how can you be yourself? Your environment plays a huge part.
- Supportive people. Spend more time with the people who support your dreams, values and you. Or are at least neutral. And spend less time with people who always criticize you or you simply aren’t a good fit for.
- Supportive influences outside of your everyday life. Find support from people you have never met via books, movies, blogs, forums and music. And spend less time with negative and limiting influences.
3. Things that make you come alive.
It’s important to find some time and energy for the things that make you come alive.
- Mix it up. Try something new, even if it is just something small each week. Eat the vegetarian dish at lunch if you always eat meat. Listen to some music that isn’t your normal cup of tea. Create variation and expand your comfort zone regularly in small ways to live a happier life.
- Reconnect with what you used to love. If you used to paint or play the guitar, and it really made you come alive, then reconnect. Use an hour for it this week and see if it still brings you joy and makes you come alive.
Pessimism can really limit your life and bring it to a standstill. It can create ceilings and walls made out of glass where there really are none. Saying yes is a more optimistic way of thinking and can open up your life.
- Ask yourself optimistic questions. When you’re in what seems like a negative situation, ask yourself questions that promote optimism and help you to find solutions. Questions like: What is one thing that is positive or good about this situation? What is the opportunity within this situation?
- Start your day off on the right foot. As mentioned in tip #2, the influences in your life can make a huge difference. So choose to spend your breakfast time with an optimistic influence, for example a book, a blog or loved one. Or talk to someone early in the day that most often supports and cheers you up like a co-worker or a friend.
5. Turning negative self-talk around.
Your inner critic may be one of the biggest obstacles standing in your way. If you make a mistake or fail, if someone criticizes you, or if you’re getting tired, then that small inner voice can become louder and louder and drag and keep you down. Being able to turn your inner critic around or shut it up as soon as it pops up is a very helpful skill.
- Say stop. Simply create a stop word or stop-phrase that you say or shout in your mind whenever your critic pipes up with a distorted and self-esteem hurting thought. Say: Stop! Or: No, no, no, we are not going there again!
- Explain to yourself what this will lead to over the next year or more. Reminding yourself of the cost of buying into myths of perfection is a powerful way to replace those thought habits. This works very well for other self-esteem hurting thought patterns too. Remind yourself of how your inner critic has shaped your life so far. And in your mind, see the cost of letting it roam free for another year or five.
6. Saying no when you’re not feeling it.
To have the time and energy to say yes to the most important things, you have to say no to some things.
- What do I truly want to focus my time and energy on? When you get an offer, or an opportunity arises, ask yourself this question. When you look over your schedule, ask yourself this question.
- Disarm and then state your need. It becomes easier for people to accept your no if you disarm them first. You could do that by saying that you are flattered or that you appreciate the kind offer. Then add that you don’t have the time for accepting or doing what they want. Or say that you do not feel that the offer is a good fit for your life right now.
Not clinging to the past and the hurt that is there. Letting go, and looking to the now and the future is essential to finding more happiness in your life. Forgiving is not always easy, and can take time, but there are some things that can do to make it a little easier:
- Forgive for your own benefit. As long as you don’t forgive someone, you are linked to that person. Your thoughts will return to the person who wronged you – and what was done – over and over again. The emotional link between the two of you is so strong and inflicts much suffering in you and – as a result of your inner turmoil – most often, in other people around you too. When you forgive, you do not only release the other person, you set yourself free from all of that agony.
- Make a habit of forgiving yourself. Don’t just forgive others, forgive yourself. By forgiving yourself – instead of resenting yourself for something you did a week or 10 years ago – you make the habit of forgiveness more and more of a natural part of you. So forgiving others becomes easier too.
8. Make someone else happy.
Making someone else happier has many benefits. The happiness spreads back to you as you see his or her face light up knowing you did the right thing. And it spreads out into the world because that now-happier person may spread his or her happiness to other people.
- Help out. Lend someone a hand when they are moving. Or give them a ride in your car. Or if they need information, try to find a solution by asking the people you know or via Google.
- Just listen. Sometime a friend or someone close to you may just want to vent or need someone to listen as he or she figures things out. So be there fully – don’t sit there thinking about something else – and listen.
9. Openness and growth.
Saying yes to being open to the good things in life and growing as a person plays a big role when it comes to happiness.
- Change one thing at a time. Changing many things – or your whole life at once – sure sounds good. But willpower is something we often overestimate and everyday life tends to get in the way. So to make sure you have a much better chance of changing a habit or area of your life, change just one thing at a time.
- Start small. Just say no to one small thing you don’t want to do this week. Or forgive one person for one thing. Or help and make someone happy in some small way. Take just one small step outside of your comfort zone.
10. Living your life fully, despite setbacks.
When things are at a stand still, or you hit a bump in the road, it’s easy to back down. To shrink. To give in or give up. A better way to say yes to happiness in those situations is to say yes to living your life fully.
- Keep going. When you fail or make a mistake, don’t give up. Find inspiration from books and blogs and the people around you. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, nudge yourself to get back on track.
- Remember, it’s not too late to change your life. I didn’t really try to improve my life very much until I was 25. And many throughout the world and history have made positive changes far later in life than that. So if you want to make a change, start today. Work with what you have, where you are right now. Start small and take the first step towards something new.
Henrik Edberg lives on the west coast of Sweden. He’s the author of the Positivity Blog and has written articles and newsletters about simplifying life, social skills, self-esteem, reducing stress and becoming happier. Click here to learn more about them.