Finding Happiness in Hard Times

“If you want to be happy, be.” – Leo Tolstoy

A lot is going on in the world today. A global pandemic, floods, massive fires, economic crashes, and wars, to name a few. All of this can easily influence how we feel. So, how do we find happiness in hard times, especially when happiness seems to depend precisely on how we feel?

An integral part of being human is experiencing the difficulties life throws at us. Sometimes we are prepared for them, but most of the time, we are completely blindsided. Although it’s impossible to fully control everything that happens to us in our lives, we can at least control our emotional reactions to whatever challenges we face.

When something terrible happens to us, it is perfectly normal to react with frustration, anger, sadness, or anxiety. In troubling times, these emotions are natural and to be expected. However, the trouble happens when we start dwelling on how bad we feel. While finding happiness in unhappy times may seem far-fetched, it is often what and when we need it the most.

Psychological Flexibility

It might seem funny to you, but difficult times and challenging experiences can actually help you find happiness – when you have a positive mindset. One study from 2010 has found that so-called psychological flexibility is the key to this problem. Psychological flexibility is the ability to be open-minded and adaptable to life’s demands, which can benefit our psychological well-being.

According to another study, those who exhibit such resilience (the ability to endure and adapt to life’s challenges) may also experience greater life satisfaction. The study has shown that those most resilient also report greater life satisfaction and control over their feelings and mindset. Self-esteem and self-regulation are two crucial components for overcoming difficult times and improving quality of life.

So, what can you do if you feel stuck in the loop of unhappy thoughts amidst so many depressing things all around you? The answer is simple, do things that make you feel good. No matter how small the action you want to perform, if it brings you happiness, then it can shorten your time of suffering. In other words, make happiness your responsibility.

Indeed, happiness is a state of mind that fluctuates with our moods, but it is also something we can control. It can be as easy or difficult to find happiness because it is your choice to make every day. However, like anything else worthwhile, happiness takes work and dedication.

Consider the following steps you can take to feel happier when times are rough:

1. Surround yourself with family and friends.

Humans aren’t wired to tackle life’s hardships on their own. We are social creatures, and we crave connection. We also benefit from it, especially when we hit a rough patch. Being with people we love and care about can increase our self-esteem, enhance mental health, promote healthy behavior, and help us handle stress better.

Family and friends should lift us up, spark joy and make our lives better just by being there, and vice versa. Because happiness is not just about feeling good, it is also about the happiness of people around us. You can plan a visit to see your loved ones after weeks of not seeing them, you can write a message to someone who needs extra love and support right now, you can donate to charity or volunteer, or you can be someone’s shoulder to cry on. At the end of the day, human connection is what makes life valuable.

2. Enjoy the simple things in life.

Life’s simplest pleasures require very little of us. We don’t need expensive things or luxurious spa days to bring joy to our lives. The positive thing about being happy when times are tough is that we appreciate simple pleasures more than we did before the negative experience. Hardships make us grateful for the things we already have.

Wake up and enjoy the smell of a strong cup of coffee and sun on your face, take a walk in nature, do some gardening, spend time with loved ones, hug your pets, and practice gratitude.

3. Do Good

Doing good deeds for others is one of the most effective ways to feel happier. Taking the focus off of ourselves and doing something good for others can lift us up, regardless of the challenges we face. It not only spares us from constant worrying but also allows us to experience the happiness that comes with brightening someone else’s day.

You don’t have to make grand gestures solely; even small and simple things can significantly impact others. Make small talk with your older neighbors, pay someone a compliment, or let a friend know how much they mean to you. Such things are instant mood lifters for both sides.

4. Stay present through practicing mindfulness.

When times are tough, we become more anxious about our uncertain future and ruminate over our past, regretting so many things. But happiness exists only in the present, and we have to practice remaining there long enough to experience it. The right tool for that is mindfulness.

Mindfulness can help us improve our emotional well-being since it grounds us in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness helps us become more mindful of our thoughts, allowing us to recognize and neutralize negative thoughts rather than letting them fester inside of us. Mindfulness can particularly be helpful in unhappy times.

5. Don’t set unrealistic expectations of yourself.

When we create unrealistic expectations of ourselves, we set goals that will not lead us to happiness and fulfillment. We are setting ourselves up for burnout. When going through tough times, it is crucial to avoid getting stuck. 

Plan small, attainable goals. Make them as specific as possible. The simpler the plans, the better your chances are of accomplishing them. Once you achieve one goal, no matter how small it might seem, celebrate your success. 

Remember, you can only control so much. Focus on strengthening your body and mind through exercise, mindfulness, meditation, and good nutrition so that you are ready to tackle any challenge that comes your way. Also, when you are sound in both body and mind, you can help others.

6. Have fun!

When people are under stress, everything seems too daunting. Our moods and energy are low. Our burdens can feel so heavy that we may lose motivation to dig ourselves out of the rut. These are the times when the fun is most important. Doing something that positively engages us is an excellent distraction from our worries (and we all need that time off!) and allows us to enjoy our life despite our problems. Also, it makes us feel good, which in turn can put us in a positive frame of mind.

Happiness does not depend on external factors such as money or fame; it comes from within. It is a feeling that we want to cultivate in our lives. No matter how bad things may seem in the world, happiness and joy are always possible. It’s up to every individual on how they cultivate it, and especially how they keep it.

Read part 4 of the Series – Can we create a happy society?

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