Happiness is a do-it-yourself job. Feel like it or act like it, which comes first?

“Happiness is a do-it-yourself job; you can’t rely on another person to fulfill you.  Unless you feel satisfied with your own life, you will not be able to determine whether your unhappiness stems from personal or relationship issues. 

Unless you understand that marriage doesn’t make people happy, you will spend the rest of your life trading in marital partners for new ones.”    Michelle Weiner Davis

Growing up in my house, you could feel bad or sorry for yourself for a little while. Both my parents understood that all of us were going to have some bad days.  My father especially would say, “Life is not fair, and you have to learn to deal with that.”

happiness_flowchartBut if we pouted for too long, my mom would say, “Okay, that’s enough”. She wouldn’t let my brother or my sister or me sit in our rooms and sulk. She’d tell us to get up and get on with our day or our homework or our weekend. And when we’d say, “I don’t feel like it.” She’d say, “That’s okay. You don’t have to feel like it, you just have to get up and start acting like you feel like it.” Huh?

And so I’d get up and grumble. Then, I’d play some music, start moving around, put on some makeup, and start smiling (even though I didn’t feel like it). And it worked. Within a few minutes, I’d be feeling much better.

We often think we are supposed to feel better before we act better, so we wait for it to happen- and it doesn’t (which gives us an excuse to keep sitting and waiting and feel sorry for ourselves).   Or we think someone else is supposed to come along and make us happy. As kids, we lean on our family and friends.  As adults, we want our partner and/or our kids to make us happy.

Nobody can make you happy.  It’s up to you to figure out what you are doing and/or what you are thinking that is making you unhappy.

But the reality is that while we are struggling, we have to act first, and then the feeling comes. It’s called “acting your way into feeling” or the habit of happiness.  “Throw up” if you want, but it works.  And my children have learned it too.

Part of growing up for adults is when you stop blaming your unhappiness on anyone else and take full responsibility for your happiness.  

Taking full responsibility for my own happiness was one of the big decisions I made for myself between my first marriage and my second marriage, and part of the reason why my husband, Mike, and I have been so happy for 12 years even through all our challenges.

If you want to be happy in the longterm, you need to learn about yourself and be honest about who you are. It takes time.  It’s why it is so important that single parents relearn about themselves after a breakup.

If no one ever taught you this habit of happiness, then it will feel very strange when you start being aware of not feeling good and try to move forward.  But do it anyway..

It is a practice that you have to master but you can…  just by moving through the bad feelings and not letting them get in your way. And helping your kids to do the same.

Once you learn how to find happiness on a daily basis, then you will feel more and more confident and satisfied with your life.  These are the baby steps to some big stepping stones.

When people say that happiness is a choice, this is a big part of what it means.  Life is not fair.  Everyone has their stuff.  I’ve learned to be grateful for what I do have instead of focusing on what I don’t.

As a single parent and in a stepfamily, there are times when you will feel very down or some little thing can take the wind right out of your sails.  I know it’s hard. I’ve been there and wanted to just feel sorry for myself for days on end.  But I decided not to.  You can too.  Don’t sit and stew, and lose your day to all those bad feelings.

Take a moment and feel bad for yourself. Take two. But don’t stop there. Get up, start moving, and start acting like you want to feel. And your mind and body will take it from there.


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