How To Be Happy When You’re Not Happy

A science-backed guide on embracing happiness without feeling guilty for it.

How To Be Happy When You’re Not Happy
Anangsha Alammyan on Instagram

A science-backed guide on embracing happiness without feeling guilty for it.

No matter where you live, what you’ve done, or all the shit going on around you, you deserve happiness.

You deserve to be fiercely happy without the need to justify your good mood.

But amid everything bad that's currently happening in the world, how can you choose to smile when you know there’s barely any reason to do so?

This article discusses the science behind focusing on happiness, even when you don’t feel like being happy. Read on for two steps you can apply right away to embrace a positive attitude and lead a more fulfilling life.

1. Don’t ignore the little rays of sunshine

“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” — Lord Byron

Much of our lives are filled with monotonous tasks. This includes the things we do every day — having breakfast, starting to work, attending meetings we don't really have much of a say in, watching a movie in the evening, talking with family over dinner, etc.

There’s no magic in them. If you’d let it, the monotony would bog you down, making your day feel mindless and thankless — as if your life is forever stuck in a loop.

But then again, isn’t that how every person’s life is?

You start a new habit, get excited about sticking to it, but once you get used to it, you’re already bored. Small achievements lose value over time. Evening walks spent alone with nature lose their sheen if you keep visiting the same route every day.

You’re so caught up in how boring your life is, you stop appreciating the little rays of sunshine. Psychologists have found that boredom resulting from a dull job or work environment can cause a person to start feeling depressive symptoms, like a feeling of worthlessness, fatigue, guilt over not doing something more with their lives, difficulty concentrating, and diminishment of pleasure in activities. The boredom arising out of monotony has also been linked to dissatisfaction, hopelessness, and stress.

Not appreciating the little things in life will make you sad more often. And as research has found, happy people tend to be more successful.

The trick here is to embrace the monotony and learn to be happy with it, not in spite of it.

“Small, repeated pleasures are the bread and butter of human happiness. Things like dinners out with friends, parties, enjoying a nice cup of coffee — all of these things are a key component of happiness, and they make us happy over and over again.” — Laura Vanderkam, Forbes

How to get rid of this habit

The secret is simple: embrace joy in whatever form it comes to you. As Emily Wilcox writes, “Romanticise your own life. Every little aspect of it. Every small, routine habit. Every tiny fragment, even the ones that typically go by unnoticed.”

London-based Psychiatrist Dr. Raj Persaud shares 4 ways in which you can embrace happiness and live a more fulfilled life.

  1. Be serious about happiness and practice self-care. It isn’t just about enjoying life but about living well and taking your wellbeing seriously.
  2. There is more than one kind of happiness — the right balance of the different types is essential. Beware the pursuit of just one kind of happiness.
  3. Don’t seek “intense” happiness. Rather, pursue ‘mild contentment,’ Go for stability rather than intensity.
  4. Take responsibility for your own happiness. Don’t blame the world for your misery. Instead, control what you can and abandon trying to control what you can’t.
Happiness isn’t just about enjoying life. It’s about living well and taking your wellbeing seriously.

2. Consider the “scale” of happiness

“You need a reason to be sad. You don’t need a reason to be happy.” — Louis Sachar

In the troubled times we’re currently living in, it’s hard to follow the news and not feel bogged down by the tremendous negativity we see around us. This can lead to a condition called compassion fatigue or second-hand stress syndrome in which you start feeling sad just because you see others in pain.

As per psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., the signs of compassion fatigue include, among others:

  • Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
  • Unable to be happy because someone else is unhappy
  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Frequent complaining about your work or your life.

If left untreated, compassion fatigue can lead to severe physical and emotional exhaustion, making you feel as if no matter how hard you try, it will never be good enough; that you’ll never succeed.

How to get rid of this habit

If you ever start denying yourself happiness just because other people in the world are unhappy, try reminding yourself of this concept I call “the scales of happiness.”

Imagine if you could weigh happiness on a scale. The joy you get out of treating yourself to a chocolate ice cream must weigh less than the happiness of a country of one billion people being cured of the coronavirus, right?

And so, going by your logic, if the country of a billion people isn’t cured of the virus, you don’t deserve the ice cream.

But you’re forgetting the key element here: your happiness belongs to you. Even if it gets outweighed by the sadness of the world, your adding to it will not make the sadness of the world any lesser. By being sad, you’re not doing a favor to the people in pain.

According to research done by John-Henry Pfifferling, Ph.D., and Kay Gilley, MS, here are some ways to get rid of compassion fatigue:

  • Develop your own self-care plan by spending plenty of quiet time alone, recharging your batteries daily, and holding one focused, connected, and meaningful conversation each day.
  • Don’t spend your energy complaining. It’s easy to fall into the habit of complaining when you’re consumed by compassion fatigue. But that will only make you feel worse. There are other, more constructive environments to share your feelings. Journal it down, talk to a friend, or if things seem to get out of hand, get professional help.
  • Don’t make any major life decisions until you have fully recovered physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
By being sad, you aren’t doing a favor to the people in pain.

Final words

“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” — Gerard Way

Yes, there are a lot of things currently wrong with the world. But, truth be told, there will always be a lot of things wrong with the world, no matter what you do.

There’s no point in begrudging yourself some joy just because not everything is perfect.

You can choose to be happy when the world is going up in flames. You can choose to be happy when no one around you is smiling.

You’re resilient. Things might be bad now, but with mindfulness and deliberate practice, you can embrace a more positive outlook on life.

All it takes is some trying and a few days of mindful effort. Are you prepared to give your best to choosing happiness when there’s absolutely no reason to be happy?

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I create content in many different forms related to self-improvement, body positivity, and feminism on YouTube and Instagram. Join my email list to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new.