“If only there was a cure for unhappiness.”
The other day someone spoke those words to me accompanied by a heartfelt sigh. Unhappiness is a burden we carry at times and it can be debilitating. Is there a cure? It is easier to contemplate the idea that we cause much of our unhappiness by attaching so much energy and attention to the cause—loss, unwelcome change, illness, our own or that of someone we are close to, disappointment and so on—than to change our state of mind about the situation. Yet change our attitude is exactly what we need to do. As Hamlet in the famous Shakespeare play of the same name says, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Here are some proven “cures.”
- Be content that 100% of your effort in whatever you undertake is perfect enough. Don’t obsess about how you can achieve 110%. Between you and me, as you grow older and wiser, you learn that 90% will do very well, too.
- Be content in the knowledge that not everyone you desire to help and accommodate to wants or needs your help or accommodation. Some people find your constant attention annoying. Offer yourself and then wait for the other person to step toward you. Don’t feel rejected and unhappy if they don’t, there are many reasons why they are not open to you at that moment, and they almost certainly have nothing to do with you.
- Be content not to always be “doing”: performing, achieving, always being “on” can become burdensome. Be assured that you are also living life if sometimes you can just “be.” In other words be content to be a human being and not a human “doing”.
- Be content with what you have and try not to struggle with envy of what others have or what you can’t have. For instance, if your finances do not allow it, don’t page through high-end glossy catalogs and desire what you see there; those material goods that you never knew you wanted until you opened the pages. If this is a cause of unhappiness, don’t look at those offerings, don’t read the catalog, no one is forcing you to be envious or focus on what is missing in your life.
- Be content with the knowledge you can gather about a topic and relax into the idea of being reasonably knowledgeable. You can’t be an expert on everything. In our information age there is no end to resources and sources of more information. Pursuing this shifting goal obsessively can cause great mental anguish.
- Be content to be present in the moment and drop the “over thinking” habit. Like a drug habit we can become caught up in our stories, memories and judgments and once obsessive thinking kicks in we lose touch with the present and move into doubts, fears, questions of the future and past. We replay scenarios and double-guess ourselves over what we regret or anticipate what is to come. Usually these thoughts can dominate our desire to be balanced and present.
- Be content with your current environment whether at home, work or recreation. You know if you have a short attention span, so practice not losing focus. Don’t let your attention be drawn away by a fly buzzing, or another noise, or an itch. Be especially vigilant with mental activities such as thinking about future plans and options take over. If you find you are somewhere else in your mind than where you are supposed to be, break the chain of mental activity and refocus.
- Be content that the world will continue to spin whether you are there or not to control the axis. In other words take responsibility for what you can control and let go of trying to control what you know is beyond your ambit. This is especially relevant in relationships. Learn how to control yourself so you don’t scare people away with your inner power and desire for control, and let them take care of themselves. Otherwise you make yourself and those around you unhappy.
- Be content with your placidity and ability to feel compassion and empathy for others. People like a non-confrontational presence and energy, and you can help by listening and using your empathy to see their problem as they see it. This is a gift. It is important to feel compassion for yourself as well.
These “cures” all lead back to how we process our life’s experiences. We can choose unhappiness or be content knowing we are coping as best we can. We can never find permanent happiness and contentment in outer objects and activities. We need to recognize that we can choose the peace of mind that is present naturally for us. We simply have to become conscious of its existence.