Happiness in all walks of life is often more about stopping than starting. More about subtracting than adding. More about letting go than holding on.
Consider, for example, what happens when you stop, subtract or let go of…
1. Criticizing everyone and everything.
Life isn’t perfect. People make mistakes. Let go of unfair expectations. Stop criticizing yourself and others for being human. If you feel like everyone is judging you all the time, realize that human beings often feel this way when they are too busy judging themselves.
It’s far easier to be critical than correct, just as it’s easier to see why something is lacking rather than why it is good. If you meet someone for the first time and you decide, “This is a person I don’t like,” you can basically take every one of their characteristics and find the obvious flaw. What’s hard to do is describe what you like about them, despite their incompatibility with your ideals.
Everyone is unique: not better, not worse, just unique in their own way. Appreciate the differences instead of criticizing the shortcomings and you’ll see people – and yourself – in a far better light. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the Happiness and Relationships chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
2. Believing that you have all the answers.
Criticizing has a big brother: the know-it-all-syndrome. The older you grow, the higher you rise in your chosen field, and the more you achieve, the more likely you are to think you know it all. When you catch yourself thinking and speaking with intense finality and little tolerance for new ideas, stop yourself and take a deep breath. If you do not, you will alienate the world around you and become more and more disconnected from reality with each passing day. Few things are sadder and leave a person unhappier.
Remember, it isn’t someone who proves you wrong that hurts you; it is choosing to continue your self-deception and ignorance that eventually conquers you entirely.
The measure of your intelligence and success in life will be in direct proportion to your ability to change your mind and let it expand. If someone is able to show you that what you think or do is not right, thank them and happily adjust. Seek the truth. Never stop learning.
3. Trying to control everything.
Craving control leads to anger and unhappiness. Life is to be lived, not controlled. Powerful, positive change will occur in your life when you decide to take control of yourself instead of craving control over everyone and everything else.
Imagine that you’re driving in your car and you get stuck in rush hour traffic. The traffic situation is out of your control and simply requires your patience. However, this doesn’t stop you from switching lanes, trying to cut in front of other cars, or even leaving the road you’re on to try alternate routes – all desperate efforts to gain control. Sadly, these efforts just lead to further stress and unhappiness when they are unsuccessful – when control is again obstructed.
Quite simply, the reason you are often miserable and stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to certain things you have no control over. So let go. Release the tension and stress. Realize you haven’t lost anything; you were never in control of the uncontrollable to begin with. (Read The Power of Now.)
4. Dwelling on what used to be.
When something negative happens, view this circumstance as a chance to learn something you didn’t know. Don’t wish it never happened. Don’t try to step back in time. Take the lessons learned and step forward. You have to tell yourself, “It’s OK. You’re doing OK.” You need to know that it’s better to cross new lines and suffer the consequences of a lesson learned from time to time, than to just stare at the lines for the rest of your life and always wonder.
The past is valuable. It provides a solid foundation for everything you’re doing now. Learn from it – the mistakes and the successes – and then let it go. This process might seem easier said than done, but it depends on your focus. The past is just training; it doesn’t define you in this moment. Think about what went wrong, but only in terms of how you will help you make things right.
The bottom line is that if nothing ever changed – if no chances were ever taken and no mistakes were ever made – there would be no sunrise the next morning. Most of us are comfortable where we are even though the whole universe is constantly changing around us. Learning to accept this change is vital to our happiness and general self-improvement. Because only when we let go of what used to be, do we grow and begin to see a world we never knew was possible.
5. Wanting everything you don’t have.
Life is NOT short if you spend every waking moment appreciating it. It’s just that by the time most of us catch up to appreciating what we have, we’ve already squandered our time and left life at least halfway behind us.
The key is being thankful for what you have NOW.
No, not all the puzzle pieces of life will seem to fit together at first, but in time you’ll realize they do, perfectly. So thank the situations that didn’t work out for you, because they just made room for the situations that will. And thank the people who walked away from you, because they just made room for the ones who won’t.
No matter how good or bad you think you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life. Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs. Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, think about what you have that everyone else is missing. Think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive in your own shoes – to breathe a fresh breath, to think another thought, to enjoy a new moment, to have options – then go out and make the day count.
6. Whining and doing nothing about it.
Complaining does not work as a strategy. Those who complain the most, accomplish the least positive results. When you spend time fretting and complaining, you’re simply using your imagination to create things you don’t want.
Don’t talk about what’s wrong. Harping on your problems makes you feel worse, not better. Unless you want to complain about it forever, eventually you’ll have to DO something. If you took a fraction of the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving your problem, you’d likely be stunned by how well things can work out. Start talking about how you’ll improve things, even if the conversation is only with yourself, and then focus on the next positive step. Refocus your energy into making your situation better. (Read The Power of Habit.)
7. Fearing everything for any reason at all.
Sometimes we’re afraid we’ll fail. Sometimes we’re subconsciously afraid we’ll succeed, because then we’d have to deal with all the disruption (growth) and change that follows success. And other times it’s our fear of rejection or simply our fear of looking like a fool. So it’s easier to hesitate, to wait for the perfect moment, to decide we need to think a bit longer or do some more research or explore a few more unnecessary alternatives.
Meanwhile days, weeks, months, and even years of our precious lives pass us by. And so do our dreams.
The best way I’ve found to let go of fear is to stare it down. Connect to your fear, feel it in your body, realize it and steadily address it. Greet it by name if you have to: “Welcome, fear.” And then take action! Whatever you’ve been planning, whatever you’ve imagined, whatever you’ve dreamed of, don’t wait another minute. Get started! Take the first step. Do something. Do anything. Learn as you go and watch as your fears slowly subside.
8. Spending time with people who drain you.
It’s not always where you are in life, but who you have by your side that matters most. Some people drain you and others provide soul food. Don’t jeopardize your dignity and self-respect by trying to make someone accept, love and appreciate you when they have proven that they are incapable of doing so.
When you leave the wrong people behind, the right things start happening. What would happen if you surrounded yourself with people who made you better? What would happen if you started spending time with the RIGHT people?
Think about it.
What could you stop, subtract, or let go in life that would make you feel happier and more at ease? Please leave us a comment below and let us know.
Photo by: Pierre Pouliquin