Does it ever feel like you’re the only one who’s unhappy and stuck? Like everyone else’s life is Insta-perfect while you struggle? You’re not alone. In fact, most of us feel this at some point in life.

At 26, I had done everything I was supposed to do to be happy: I worked in corporate marketing making good money, I married a tall, good looking lawyer, we lived in a beautiful colonial on a tree-lined street, we had a beautiful fluffy golden retriever, and we cooked Thanksgiving dinner for our families. Life looked as I’d always imagined: Perfect.

Yet deep inside I felt empty. Lost. Lifeless. Lonely. I cried nearly every day and screamed at my husband for everything he did and everything he didn’t do. Then I beat myself up for acting like a crazy lunatic. Something was broken in my very perfect life: Me.

My husband couldn’t understand what was wrong with me, and neither could I. I only know that a hole burned in my soul aching to be filled with something –anything – that would ease the pain. My mind raced with ideas: get a different job, get a different husband, move to a different city. With each new fantasy, I felt a moment of ease, followed quickly by the terror of leaving my safe, cushy life.

I saw a therapist. I went on anti-depressants. I started journaling. One day after therapy, I sat at a Starbucks writing in my journal: “I thought all of this would make me happy, but I have no idea what will actually make me happy. I have no idea who I am.”

Now, as a women’s happiness coach and motivational speaker, I know how common this is. We work so hard our whole lives to be “good girls,” to “have it all,” and to make everyone else happy that we completely forget ourselves. One of my clients wanted to be a nurse, but her father told her there was more money in computers so she went into IT and hates it. Another client always felt like she had to be the best at everything she did, and she developed an eating disorder and self-harmed. Another client got married and had a baby because that’s what everyone else from her town did, but now she feels trapped.

Each of these women looks like they have it all and it’s making them miserable.

Sadly, we’re in the middle of a women’s depression epidemic right now and it has to end. Statistically, women are twice as depressed as men, and although we have more advantages and more choice than our mothers, a University of Pennsylvania research study shows that we’re less happy today than women were 30 years ago. Plus, the average onset of depression is getting younger, hovering around 14 years old, while the use of anti-depressants is on the rise. 

Of course it is. Society tells us every day that we’re not good enough. Advertisements say that we need to be skinnier, prettier, more sexual, less sexual, smarter. Social media makes us think that if we just get botox or a boob job, then maybe we’ll be worthy. Then maybe those girls will want to be friends with us. Then maybe we’ll make as much money as men do.

Then maybe we’ll be happy. It’s a lie. Trying to chase happiness in outside appearances will only make you more miserable. Rather, happiness needs to be found in an honest chat with your inner self. Fortunately, it’s possible. 

Research in positive psychology, the scientific study of human flourishing, shows that happiness is a choice. It may not seem like it on days when your boss is being a jerk, or your girlfriend breaks up with you, or your roommate leaves his dirty dishes in the sink (again). But, the fact is that we are in control of nearly everything in our lives. We control what we do for a living, who we hang out with, if we respond to a text, when we go to bed, what we eat, how much we work out, and if you keep letting that jerk back into your life. Even for those things over which we have no control, like a loved one’s illness, being abused, or growing up with an alcoholic mother, you still get to choose how you think about it. You get to choose if you do the personal work to heal and grow. You get to choose how you behave. Your attitude is 100% in your control. Yes, it’s scary to make choices that go against your parents’ wishes or society’s expectations, but it’s worth it.

And research shows that it matters. Happy people not only live longer, healthier lives, but they have more friends and better relationships, and they make more money. Your happiness matters and you deserve it.

The key to happiness is to take control of it by learning who you are and what you love, and then following your truth.

Here are 7 ways to be happier now, all based in science:

1. Be Honest with Yourself: Each of us is wonderfully different and when you live life according to someone else’s values, you’ll be unhappy. Get honest about the aspects of your life that are making you unhappy and why. Check in with what you’re doing because your parents or friends do it, and if you’re out of alignment, ask yourself what really matters and follow that. For instance, one of my clients found that she valued adventure, but was afraid to pursue it. Another valued faith and friendship over success, but she was spending all of her time at work. Get honest and, though it will be scary at first, you will be happier.

 

2. Know your Strengths: If you have no idea who you are or how to figure it out, begin with your strengths. Unfortunately, many of us focus on our weaknesses and it makes us unhappier. Rather, researchers find that when you focus on your strengths, you’re happier and more successful. So, decide that you’re a Superhero and get to know your own true powers . Do this by asking your friends what they love about you, or you can take an online assessment that I love called the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths.” It was developed by top psychologists at the University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania and it diagnoses what’s right about you. Once you take your strengths assessment, post your strengths in the comments and make sure to intentionally use them every day.

 

3. Play: I find that women consistently don’t allow themselves to play. Like we forgot how much we loved mermaids, hopscotch, softball, and swings as a kid. Every woman has an inner child and she needs to laugh in order to be happy and fulfilled. Skip down the street no matter who’s watching. Invite friends over for an alcohol-free dance party where you let loose, take a French or painting class, or try something new like snowboarding. Go to the playground and swing! Most of us are so intense, trying so hard to be perfect, professional, successful women that we’ve lost our happiness. Get it back by finding something that makes you lose track of time in joy.

4. Accept your Body: Better yet, love it now (as is). Approximately 90% of all women dislike some aspect of their bodies and it’s making us miserable. Our bodies help us run, dance, skip, kiss, hug, paint, walk, eat, ski, play, laugh, and have a great orgasm. To hate your body because you have a belly or thighs or dark circles under your eyes is an insult to your own greatness. It’s a lie that you’re supposed to be a certain size and shape and color. Think about how you can walk into any art gallery and see hundreds of paintings of voluptuous curvy women. Hundreds of years ago, roundness was considered sexy. It’s only because our media changed the rules to sell us product that we feel horrible about ourselves. So decide that you won’t buy into their lies. Decide that your body is beautiful now. Have gratitude for what it does for you. Take a bath and begin rubbing your feet while thanking them for allowing you to walk. Move up to your ankles, then calves, then thighs until you’ve reached your forehead. Do this several times a week. Also, every time you pass a mirror, say “Hey Gorgeous!” Even if you don’t feel like it, fake it until you become it. Confidence is sexy, no matter your size!

5. Get it Out, Question, and Re-frame: Unfortunately, because of survival instincts, all humans have something called “negativity bias,” which means that we focus on what’s wrong more than right. It’s normal but not necessarily helpful. We have about 20,000 thoughts a day and because of our brain’s wiring, the majority of these thoughts are the same as we had yesterday. That means that most of our thoughts are inaccurate. Is it true that your boss is really out to get you, or that your friends really don’t like you? Probably not. If you don’t learn to control your mind, it will control you. You’re 100% allowed (and it’s healthy) to be sad, angry, afraid, and stressed at times. But if it’s running your life, like it does many women, then you need to get the emotion out in a healthy way so that you can then solve the issue. Close the bathroom door, turn on the water loudly, and have a temper tantrum like a 2 year old. Or go into the woods with a toy bat and beat some dead trees. Once the charge is out of your body, check your brain for accuracy. Ask yourself, “What else is true?” Yes, your boyfriend was a jerk, and what else is true is that you’re hot and there are lots of other men out there.

 

6. Increase Gratitude and Positivity: It’s easier said than done, but you can’t control the past or the future. All you can do is appreciate what is now. We need to balance out our negativity bias by also focusing on what’s right. Researchers have found that when you write down three good things every day for a month, it increases happiness for months to come. Take it a step further and even find gratitude for your challenges. Are they making you stronger? More courageous? Helping you see who your real friends are? Find the good. I like to expand on this exercise by meditating every morning to increase acceptance and then writing a page every day about what I’m proud of, what I’m grateful for, and what I’m excited about. Do this and watch your well-being expand!

 

7. Permit yourself to pursue a dream: As little girls, most of us had big dreams. Whether you remember them or not, inside of you are desires. Maybe the idea of writing a book sparks your eye and leaves you with butterflies in your stomach. Or maybe you’ve been thinking that you’d love to have your own business, but you’ve been too afraid. Every day that you don’t pursue the dream will dampen your heart and rob you of confidence even more. I waited 8 years until I followed my dream of being a women’s coach, speaker and author. If only I had known then what I know now I would have started sooner. Take one small step every day and let that step lead you to joy.

About The Author:

Carin Rockind

Carin Rockind

Carin Rockind is a leading happiness expert, media personality, and the creator of PurposeGirl, a movement to empower purpose-driven living. She has taught thousands of people real-life strategies to reclaim their happiness, and live to their fullest potential of success and well-being. Having survived domestic abuse, divorce, and armed robbery, she teaches others to be resilient through stress and grow from trauma. After fifteen years as a marketing executive, Carin pursued her great passion: teaching women to thrive. Carin was one of the first 250 people in the world to earn a Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where she has also served as adjunct faculty. Carin speaks at companies worldwide, including Morgan Stanley, AVON, BMW, and Progressive Insurance. She is a regular contributor to national media: She has appeared on NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR, the Huffington Post, and Carin’s Business, and served as the Happiness Guru on Sirius XM’s Stars Radio. She is currently launching World Global Happiness Day in over two dozen cities around the globe.

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