Advice, Gratitude, Happiness, Life, Living, Love, Quality of Life

How to be Happy Even During Tough Times

SUMMARY: Three things that can help us be happy even through moderate tough times.

(About a 4 minute read) 

I have yet to figure out why anyone would gamble.  It seems to me life itself is so much of a gamble why pick an entertainment that isn’t much different from it?  Might as well choose to paint houses in order to distract yourself from the paint fumes.

Of course, one of the biggest gambles in life is the pursuit of happiness.  Even Thomas Jefferson believed our only right was to pursue it — there being no right or guarantee to attaining it.  And — either I’ve been reading the wrong self-help literature — or just about everyone, even the people who map out strategies for other folks to be happy, is pretty sure that there are times when life is simply too tough to be happy.

Of course, I believe that myself.  In my experience, there are indeed times so tough that it’s impossible to lay your hands on the means to happiness.  For instance, you could be out in your car on prom night when your braces mysteriously and inexplicably get hopelessly entangled in your girlfriend’s public hair and so neither one of you can drive home.  “I don’t know how it happened, Mrs. Sunstone, but can you come get us?  No, Paul can’t talk right now, he’s….ouch!…he’s kind of muzzled at the moment.  What do you mean I should be happy he finally can’t say anything?”

However, I have noticed that there are a few things that can carry you happily through many less than dire times.  They might not work for major crises that only a skilled dentist can solve, but they do work for many tough times.

I think the easiest one of them is to fall into the habit of reminding ourselves of the things we should be grateful for.  Naturally, this can require some effort during tough times, but I have noticed that when it’s doable, feeling genuine gratitude — even for little things — tends to buoy up the spirits.

True story.  I once had some unusual expenses and was forced to eat nothing much more than potatoes for a few weeks.  As I was crossing a street one evening, I got to thinking of all the ways I still had available to me that could prepare potatoes.  Suddenly I realized I was feeling honest gratitude for the potatoes I had in the house — and soon enough thereafter, I became downright cheerful.

A much more powerful antidote to troubled times is love.  Here I am not so much talking about loving someone in particular — although that can certainly work — but loving ourselves and our lives.  It might sound as strange as trying to mow a lawn with a rose bush to suggest that we love ourself and our life during trouble times, but I have noticed it can be done.

Part of the trick is not to internalize our troubles.  It’s one thing to have troubles, it’s quite another to see oneself as trouble-ridden.  That almost inevitably leads to self-pity, which is one of the most lethal things imaginable when it comes to happiness — to say nothing of how it makes us appear to be a bore to everyone but ourselves.

A third thing — and in my opinion, this is the biggie — is to have a sustaining sense of purpose.  By “sustaining”, I mean a sense of purpose so important to you (even if important to no one but you) that you will hold to it even when temporarily thwarted from advancing it.

For instance, a traumatic early in life experience may have convinced you to become a 24 hour available, emergency dentist in order to help teenagers who quite inexplicably find their braces entangled with…um..foreign objects.  Although the sense of purpose that gives you might not mean much to most people, any firmly held sense of purpose can sustain a person through at least some tough times.

There is one thing that — much to the surprise of some folks — does very little or nothing to help us stay happy through tough times.  That is, directly pursuing happiness itself.

I have no idea why, but it seems to me to almost be a law of nature that happiness cannot be successfully pursued head-on.  You’ve got to come at it from the sides, obliquely, like a conscientious dentist with a blowtorch would pursue a mouthful of entangled braces.  That is, you must at least nominally shoot for something else.  Something, however, that has a good chance of leading to happiness.

So, whether one seeks happiness through gratitude, love, or a mission in life, one can do a bit to stay happy even through moderately tough times — or even in some cases, more than moderately tough times.

Questions?  Comments?  Ridiculous allegations I once had a certain mishap during the course of my senior prom night while on a date with Terri that I’ve been obsessed about ever since?

19 thoughts on “How to be Happy Even During Tough Times”

  1. I once read about a study on happiness.
    They examined two groups: one group of people who had lost a limb, one group of people who had won the lottery. Although they both had the expected and understandable reactions to these huge life changes, both groups had restabilized back to their original happiness baseline after three months. Three months, that’s it.
    I’m just working on getting my happiness baseline up. Like my resting heart rate… practice is key 😛

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  2. Okay, can we just talk about this for a second. While your advice is solid and could help, but it can’t always bring happiness upon those who have seemed to have lost it. It could certainly help, but what happens when it doesn’t? What then? Also, your comparisons provide humor that happens to strike my preferences on what is considered funny (aka I thought it was funny), and fit oddly well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was wondering precisely that! What if one has lost any reason to be happy? Agreed one has to look, seek it out but what if it remains elusive and you are too muddled, messed up, tangled in thoughts that happiness never shines forth?

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    2. You are of course right that there are times when happiness is impossible. That’s more of a subject for another blog post, though, since this one is merely about things that help us to be happy during moderate tough times, when happiness is still possible.

      However, I don’t want to risk blowing you off because your questions are important ones. So the first thing I would note was mentioned above by Fresh Hell (Sarah) when she pointed to a study that people tend to rebound within three months from certain kinds of things that bring them unhappiness.

      Of course, sometimes we are not as resilient as that. And that could be for either of two reasons. First, it might be that the situation causing us unhappiness is ongoing. Such as we might be in prison. In which case, Marysa, about the only thing you can really do — besides trying to make the best of it — is to try to escape it, or bring it to an end.

      The second reason we might not rebound quickly from an unhappy event or situation is because we’re suffering from depression. That usually means we need medical attention. Depression, if it’s serious enough, almost always needs medical attention to overcome it.

      Does any of that help?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Unfortunately, that happens sometimes — and it can happen to anyone. There is little you can do about such situations other than try to make the best of them.

        For instance, suppose you became homeless without much prospect of finding a home anytime soon. There’s actually quite a bit you can do to make the best of that situation (I was three times homeless myself for relatively brief periods, such as half a year). But you will probably not be as happy in your circumstances as you would be in other circumstances.

        There is no general agreement among people who study these things as to exactly what percentage of a person’s happiness is determined by their circumstances, but it ranges up to about half of a person’s happiness, depending on which scientist you listen to. I’d put it down to being about a third, myself.

        Circumstances, genes, and the quality of your relationships with your friends and family are usually what researchers say goes into whether you’re happy or not. Which means that if, say, you have “bad” genes for happiness, you can still be happy if you improve your circumstances and the quality of your relationships — maybe by making new friends.

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      2. I was wondering may be the study of rebounding within three months could be valid if you think of a person coming to terms with his or her situation. (The seven stages of grief). May be it is more of emerging from extreme unhappiness to a state when you have become quite numb. You may smile to the world, but there seems to be a perpetual emptiness that alternately fills and evaporates. Can the situation ever end? I don’t know. Or does one just get used to being numb, stoic rather?

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      3. You can certainly get used to being stoic or numb, but I don’t think it’s a very desirable state, and it can take a long time to get out of it once you’ve gotten into it.

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  3. One of the keys to happiness that I learned along the way was to surround myself with people who believed in me and who needed me. People are for the most part social beings. We need positive contact. We also need to feel that we matter to someone.

    Sometimes this takes work. People are not going to knock on your door. You have to go out and get it.

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    1. I think you’re spot on about that. First off, that rings true to my own life.

      And second off, the research I’ve seen on happiness ranks the quality of the relationships you have with your friends and family as among the top few things that determines what the researchers call your “happiness baseline”. That is, how happy you are on average.

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