THE BLOG
10/25/2011 02:42 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2011

Don't Let Your 'Past Life' Influence Your Present Happiness

Most of us know that having had a sad childhood can affect our adult lives. Depending on the severity of childhood misery, and the amount of therapy -- self and/or professional chosen -- who you are as an adult can be based on what you knew as a child.

We all know people who act a certain way because of the unhappiness of their formative years. The child who had to deal with an alcoholic parent, one who suffered violence and abuse at the hands of family members, children who were exposed to the horrifying aspects of depression -- anyone who has had what is commonly referred to as "dysfunctional family dynamics."

Then, too, there are adults who have been hurt and influenced by "bad-luck relationships." The woman or man who has suffered from the acts of an unfaithful partner or been emotionally and physically abused certainly has been scarred. It is difficult for them to see that not everyone is cruel or out to destroy their self-esteem.

So what do we do? Does past unhappiness have to make your present unhappy as well? Not at all. With some personal, deep soul-searching, you can overcome what was and change your present and future life to include stability and happiness. There are various techniques that can help you become a happier, spirit-healthy adult.

Practice "self-talk."

Give yourself permission to place the pain and hurt where it belongs -- in the past. "I have made a positive decision to place these experiences back into the past. I will not allow myself to be obsessed with it or to let the past rule the life I am now creating. I'm no longer that person who suffered. I'm stronger and better, and I deserve happiness. I realize that I am the only one who can create happiness for me."

Overwrite your past.

If you've ever tried to save a new file on your computer with the same name as an older file you were warned that if you continue, the new file will overwrite the old one. The new file will replace the old one, and the "past" file will be erased from the computer's memory. Your brain is a human "computer" and your memories are the files. You need to overwrite the old file and replace it with the new.

Now of course, what happened in the past has happened; there's no getting away from that fact. But you can overwrite a bad memory with a good one. Instead of dwelling on a terrible memory, think of something that happened in your past that made you smile. It might simply be having seen a flower, a baby, or a sunset -- anything that has a hint of pleasantness. A friend of mine had an unbearable childhood. Truthfully I do not know how she survived all the cruelties of that time. Yet she told me that the one memory of those horrible years that she allows herself to see is eating tomato soup after a day at the beach. It made her momentarily happy.

"That's the only thing I permit myself to remember whenever a momentarily intrusive thought of my childhood comes into my mind. I refuse to allow myself to think of anything else."

A woman who'd had an abusive relationship with a drug addict said that the one thing she chooses to remember is watching the sun rise one morning and seeing hope in that moment.

"I discard all bad memories and replace it with that beautiful sunrise."

Create an environment of beauty, peace and order.

As an adult you have the power to create how you live your life. An environment of peace and order brings beauty to our souls. Having a safe haven for yourself is a necessity to giving yourself the chance to be happy.

"In order to feel good, comfortable and at peace, it is imperative to create a space that radiates positivity, organization and supports your goals." -- Allura Joy

Chaos blocks happiness. Just as your body needs nourishment, your spirit needs order and peacefulness to thrive.

Live mindfully.

This is not new age fluff, nor is it the latest craze on the path to happiness. Living mindfully has been practiced for centuries. The simple idea behind this concept is to be conscious of "you" at all times. In other words, be conscious of your life by paying attention to your thoughts and actions. How are you hurting yourself by permitting pain from the past to possess you? What can you do to change? Make a commitment and reap the rewards of being conscious of your existence. You have enormous power when you are aware of what you are doing at any given moment. This is positive psychology at its best.

Come out of the darkness.

"In order to cause a shadow to disappear, you must shine light on it."
-- Shakti Gawain

When you live daily in a painful past you are living in darkness. The only who can take you out of your darkness is you. Work on your relationship with yourself and decide who you are aside from the pain. Take an inventory of your life and decide what you no longer need. Your past does not define you and your future. You are an adult, you are responsible for your well-being and that includes being happy, and you do get to choose how you will let happiness into your life.

© 2011 Kristen Houghton

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at KristenHoughton.com
You may email her at kch@kristenhoughton.com. Read the book critics call "sane and savvy advice for all a must-read," ranked in the top-selling 100 books of 2011 by Tower.com "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First."

Her new book, "No Woman Diets Alone - There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut" is due to be released December 1, 2011.