How can one find happiness?

It just feels so romanticized even unnatural. I have had my ups and downs for about three years now. I sometimes feel like it's hard to even move or speak or take a deep breath. Like every feeling just disappeared instead I felt the utter loneliness and pain while my mind made notes on how no one cares about what is happening to me inside my room but constantly tells me to not make a fuss about it to anyone because then it would be their problem then and they made it clear with not asking it directly that they don't want to be involved, that it's enough to them if I lie that I am happy. I lost so much of myself I can't even remember certain things of my past and it makes me frustrated and furious all the time. I always thought that if I could make others happy, that would earn me the same joy. But when I finally started to feel it, that's when those who I relied on, whom I helped to be happy, just turned around a left me behind thanking me. Never looking back.
Asked by Fru

Thank you for reaching out and for submitting your question. You ask something which a great many people struggle with either throughout or at least at some point in their life. It is a quite common concern.

The reality of being human, and the truth of life, is that there will be good times as well as times which knock us down. There are times during which we experience peace and those other periods where it seems absolutely nothing is as we’d prefer it to be. There are good years and there are bad ones, too. And sometimes we don’t just get struck down by one singular struggle at a time, rather it seems a whole bunch come at us all at once.

When life events happen which turn everything upside down it is normal to feel happiness fade. We might have losses, breakups, health conditions, housing concerns – any number of stressful, hard things might befall us. The majority of people will experience multiple major losses and challenges over the course of their lives. You will probably find it difficulty to find many people who profess, at the end, that the entirety of their life was one blessing and joy after another. It is a natural thing to face difficulties and to thus endure sadness and grief.

But sometimes, the sadness goes on. Sometimes it appears for no particular reason. In such cases, there might be a mood disorder such as depression. It is a fairly common condition. And many people will experience one or more episodes during their life. It can exist entirely on its own, or also be present alongside other diagnoses. And some medications, too, can trigger depressive symptoms.

Happiness tends to be a pleasurable emotion which results because of something. A certain experience can make us happy. A particular situation. It is based on circumstances and objects. And feelings tend to ebb and flow. An emotion we feel can change based on external conditions. Emotions and feelings can be fickle and always changing.

Alternatively, there is joy. This is something which we can find even during times of difficulty. We can cultivate joy regardless of the externals – in spite of the externals. Getting an A on a paper you wrote might being a moment of happiness. But pursuing a meaningful activity may result in lasting joy.

When life becomes especially challenging, it becomes more important than ever to dedicate ourselves to a routine and to purposefully, intentionally pursue joy. None of this will look identically the same for everyone. But there are some strategies which could be helpful and are worth considering.

Volunteering is one way to introduce joy into our life. We take the focus of ourselves, we keep our mind from ruminating on our struggles, and turn outward to give. Giving is a remarkably effective way to receive joy yourself.

Gratitude is another helpful strategy to employ. There is always at leasy one small thing to be grateful for. Pay more attention to what is good. Be deliberate about seeking those things out. Perhaps your feet are cold and you have warm socks to put on. How good! Maybe the sun is shining after a couple days of gloom and rain. Can you be grateful for that? Be watchful for any small thing to be positive about. Consider keeping a list. Maybe buy a special notebook and write down anything you can find to be grateful for.

This can lead in to what might be the opposite – stay away from the negative. If there are people you know who tend to be heavy on gloom and doom, it might be time to limit your interactions with them. The people around us, and those whom we spend a lot of time with, can have great influence over us and our moods. Of course, if they tend to be negative, then it is not so great. Those type of people might contribute to worsening your symptoms of sadness. Be mindful of who you are around. Seek out people who will lift you up more and who tend towards the positive.

Make sure you stay active. Regular physical activity is proven to impact our moods and well-being. It does not have to be anything formal or require significant exertion. A casual walk around the block is wonderful way to get some movement in. Plus, some fresh air and sun will further be helpful to you.

Think about what brings you pleasure. What things in life do you enjoy? See how you might add more of these to your day.

Consider some new hobbies or activities. A new pursuit can bring new energy into your life. Plus, it might be a good way to widen your circle and meet people with common interests.

While these “self-help” types of ideas can be helpful, they may not be sufficient. So, if that is the case for you, and it sounds like it will be since you have quite a bit going on, that is okay. But there are people out there who are ready to help you. People who will be at your side to walk with you through this challenging season.

It sounds like you are perhaps finding yourself in a place in life where you need and could benefit from some additional guidance and support. Life can indeed get overwhelming sometimes. And we can’t seem to find the way out of the darkness all on our own. You are not alone.

Consider finding a therapist to help you work through all the emotions and challenges which you are dealing with. When life become too much, and we can’t figure out how to make things different, a therapist can sit beside you and help you find the path forward. A therapist will help you make sense of what has happened. And will partner with you to figure out a plan for how to make things better.