You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd

3. But you can be happy if you put your mind to it.

This one is hard to believe until you’ve done it. As someone who grew up priding myself on my logical approach to the world, the first time I heard this I immediately thought “No you can’t.” How could you just decide to be happy? Well I still don’t know, but I know it’s possible. Not that you’ll instantly turn into a bubbly ray of sunshine that never slows down, and not that what’s going on in your life won’t affect your mood, but deciding to focus on the positives can have a huge impact.

I definitely spent a couple years focusing on the negatives and it was toxic and self destructive. I eventually made some changes that stopped the cycle and looking back stopping that negative focus was probably the biggest single factor in turning things around.

This attitude stuff is well supported by research, and this article has a bunch more you can do. I personally do my best to cut out stressors and toxic relationships, and have found that very beneficial as well.

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Allow yourself to be happy in your present situation

Don’t let life pass you by. This one we hear all the time but it’s still easy to let it happen. It’s commonly heard as “live in the moment,” but I think that phrase is often misunderstood. I prefer something like

2. Don’t live for the past or even the future. Learn to appreciate each day and get as much life from it as you possibly can.

I first heard the phrase “live in the moment” from an immature person using it to dismiss the importance of foresight. That led me to completely ignore it every time I heard it for years. Eventually I heard it from someone who I knew had their head on straight and it prompted a second look. Turns out it’s actually a vitally important piece of philosophy, it just had the misfortune to be misinterpreted as “be a hedonist without regard for the past or future,” which is of course a horrible idea and completely divorced from the original intent.

As I discovered the original meaning I realized that I was doing the first part right – learning from the past but not living in it. However, the majority of the time I wasn’t just planning for the future, I was living for it. This may seem over-dramatic, but little thoughts like “Once this happens I’ll be able to…” are cancer. Cut them out. They result in mentally putting your life on hold until some future event happens. And guess what? When that event happens you’ll just come up with a new one, never allowing yourself to be completely content with where you are.

Take it from someone who has gone through clinical depression and is now one of the most content people he knows, getting rid of that attitude is one of the most important things you can do.

The golden rule is wrong, and this is why.

As an imperfect human being I often need to be reminded of things I’ve learned. I’ve decided to set a few down here so I can be easily reminded of them and perhaps provide the same service for a few internet wanderers.

1. What you think is important in a friendship or relationship is likely completely different than what the other person thinks is important.

This might seem obvious, but most of us (at least people my age and younger) completely fail to give it its due emphasis. From what I’ve seen this is actually at the root of the vast majority of failed relationships. I remember very clearly when I first realized it was a big deal. It was when my relationship with my first girlfriend started failing. It took me a while to figure it out because it was initially completely outside my sphere of comprehension that she could possibly value things in the order she did. Furthermore, when I did figure it out I dismissed her priorities as wrong. I didn’t make much of an effort to meet them, and instead focused on complaining about how she didn’t prioritize the things I did. She of course responded in kind. We were both trying to follow the golden rule, both thinking we were doing everything right and the other person was being impossible. Needless to say, things did not work out. This illustrates what for me is the hardest part: acknowledging the other person’s values as equally important even if they make little sense to you. This is incredibly difficult for me, and probably a lot of other people as well. A friend of mine offered me a suggestion that I found helpful. He said I should think of their values as if they were the values of a foreign culture. It really is essentially the same, and I’m already in the habit of treating foreign cultures as “not wrong, just different” which is exactly the mindset we need. But, even if you can’t get to the zen-like point where you give the other person’s values equal validity, just the recognizing and believing that those values exist and need to be prioritized can go a long way.

As a footnote, the article 5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You is what sparked the discussion with my friend and is an interesting read. It was slightly mind boggling to me because I’m sure I do those things all the time and it never occurred to me that they would make people upset because most of them simply wouldn’t bother me.