The How of Happiness

01/16/2017 01:54 pm ET
Learn to let go of the “Monkey Bar Syndrome” and reach for new friends and experiences.

The 'Om' of Happiness is often portrayed as a simple exercise in focusing on expectations, abundance or joy.  But the real 'How' of Happiness requires cleaning out your emotional closets first! 

If you've been involved in a negative-spiraling relationship for a while, you may have acquired some emotional debris.  Some of this may have been generated by your ex, but if you're starting over again after a breakup, you might as well look closely at all your relationships and evaluate them carefully. 

  1. Do your friends make you smile and laugh?  Do they bring joy into your life?  Can you call them when you have a crisis or want advice?  Do you have fun together and care about each other's successes?
  1. Are your friends toxic?  I used to think that everyone who was 'nice' to me was a potential friend, especially since the lines between business associates and true friends became blurred.  But some people were just adding baggage to my life.  Litany of bad news every time I see them?  Gone.  Want to talk about my ex?  Gone.  The funny thing is, Facebook has actually made it easier for me to cut ties in real life.  The concept of blocking annoying assholes or quietly 'unfriending' someone without letting them know got me used to the idea. 
  1. Don't ruminate on past hurts and disappointment.  We have a happiness 'set point' and when that point has been thrown out of whack by things like heartbreak or accidents, it takes about a year to eighteen months for us to return to our former happiness equilibrium.  I experienced that after my break up, and friends who have been widowed report the same effect.  Don't wait for it to happen magically, though.  It still takes work.   Whenever you're feeling down or your self-esteem is in the crapper, you want to remember that carrying those feelings around is like dragging a bag of rocks behind you all day. 
  1. Avoid social expectations.  When we're made to feel that we're not 'good enough' it's hurtful, and it makes us long for approval.  Sometimes this can be healthy, like when we're striving to achieve a self-improvement goal.  But be realistic.  Is the person judging you really an expert?  Sometimes the person judging you is just a snob, and there are many types of snobs.  Body type, 'party potential', intellectual, social status  . . . their rejection simply means that your 'shape' doesn't fit their personal expectations. 
  1. Don't mistake obligation for a relationship.  If you have a responsibility for family members, remember that you can still love and care for them without accepting their negativity as part of your 'relationship'. 
  1. Another potential sea anchor is the long-term friendship that degrades into co-dependency.  Your friend appears to offer you everything you desire in a healthy relationship, like laughter and support, while spiraling downward into drug dependency, spousal abuse, self-pity or other self-destructive behaviors.   The pH test for these relationships is:  after a day with your friend, do you still smile hours later?  Or does the joy in time spent together dissipate into worry an hour after you get home?
  1. We all suffer from what I call the "Monkey Bars Syndrome".  We get so accustomed to a friendship or relationship that we can't let go because there is nothing else to grasp onto and we are afraid of the void.  We are afraid of being alone, friendless, ostracized or hurt.  And so we tend to hang on to unhealthy relationships far longer than we should.
  1. I think a lot of us, women especially, have a fear of being perceived as "selfish".   Change that to "self-protection" however, and the game changes. 
  1. Which brings us to this point:  let go of your own self-limiting thoughts.  You cannot love yourself and experience joy in your everyday life if you are constantly criticizing yourself for not living up to the social expectations of others.  Just think of all the "incomplete" people you know that you love to be with!  They may be overweight, nerdy, geeky, dorky, or completely consumed by their kids' soccer schedules but if they bring unconditional joy and love into your life and you love to be with them, then why worry about how other people think you measure up?  Anyone who makes you feel insignificant is putting a songbird in a cage.
  1. Take care of yourself.  Cherish your inner spirit and your inner health.  The glow you feel inside is just as important as the glow of health you can achieve outside.  Be healthy, be happy, and you will never thirst for love.

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