This past month was definitely not my best one this year. That’s because I was sick most of it. In the first two weeks, I could barely get out of bed. So I was forced to take a break from everything I was working on and rest. I spent my time reading, watching TV series and thinking. And that got me thinking about some precious life lessons that I keep forgetting. You may have heard them all before and forgot about them too, so let me remind you of them! They seem common sense, but I think they are worth dwelling on for a while.
1. Your health is extremely important
This is an obvious one since it was my health that made me reflect on myself and my life. Of course, we all know that health is important, that we have to work out every week and that we have to eat healthy food. We know all that and yet we don’t do any of those.
Why? Well, I guess that when we are healthy, we forget that we have to take care of our health. If we feel good all the time and we have no serious illnesses, we assume that we will always be happy. And we take our wellbeing for granted. So we live sedentary lives, we eat fast food and we sleep at irregular hours.
And then, out of the blue, we get sick. It may be a cold, a flu or anything at all. And when our bodies stop working properly, everything else comes to a halt. We have to stop everything we were doing and planning to recover. And in those moments, we say to ourselves “Oh, how great it is to be healthy!” We start thinking about that more seriously and we decide to take more care of ourselves.
But in most cases, we forget about that decision as soon as we recover. Once our bodies are functioning normally, we think we no longer need to take measures to preserve that fragile health…and then we get sick again.
If you are reading this right now and are thinking that you should have a healthier lifestyle, please do something about it. Don’t wait until the next time you get sick or develop a serious condition to take care of your body. Remember that your body has to sustain every thing you do every day.
And when your body gives in, your brain follows.
Be grateful for your health and do what you can to keep it!
2. Take the good with the bad
Have you noticed how we always feel frustrated and complain when something bad happens? Your car breaks down, you don’t get that promotion you want, your trip gets cancelled or you break up with your partner. And then you get upset and wonder what you have done to deserve this. Of course, you feel like you do not deserve any of the bad things that have befallen you.
And when something good happens to us, we often fail to appreciate how lucky we are. We get an unexpected gift, we win a contest, we get a bonus at work and have an amazing road trip...and we think that we somehow earned all that. We do not feel the need to be grateful and truly appreciate the events, things and people that conspired to make all that happen.
I ask you this: do you think that we only deserve good things to happen to us? Are we so special that we think God or the Universe should protect us from all the bad, painful and inconvenient things and bless us with everything that is good and pleasant? And what kind of life would we live if every day was like a day in Paradise? It would surely feel amazing for a few days. But our happiness will soon fade. And without the occasional bad day, we would have a hard time to appreciate our blessed fate.
I think that humans cannot be happy when everything goes right forever. And if we cannot find any problems to solve, we will make them.
That’s just the way we work. So I think it’s best that we learn to take the good with the bad, the happy with the sad, the sunshine with the rain.
3. A relationship takes two
You already know this – if you want to date someone, they can choose to date you or not. A relationship can begin and continue only if both people want that. But I also want to add something else – the rest of the relationship also depends on both people involved.
Romantic relationships are probably the most challenging, complicated and rewarding ones we will ever experience. But all the poems, novels, self-help books and couple therapists prove that love is a serious and tricky matter.
In a relationship, both individuals bring with them their own little worlds: their past, their identities, their passions, their principles, their lifestyle, their needs, desires and dreams. And when the two worlds collide and coalesce, that process is often complicated and messy.
The way that unfolds and what follows equally depends on both partners.
If you and your boyfriend/girlfriend fight a lot, are growing apart of have fallen into a routine, you are both responsible for that. When the one you love falls short, disappoints you, hurts you or makes a mistake, it is easy to assume that it is only their fault. You may blame them and make them feel bad about what they did or did not do. When you are hurt or upset, it is easy to remember the other’s faults while forgetting about your own. And you may think that you did nothing wrong, but you may have contributed to this situation more than you realize.
Conversely, if you and your partner have a dreamy relationship, you may assume that you have contributed to that more than you have. If you are being respectful, supportive and loving to your partner, you may sometimes forget that they are treating at least as good as you are treating them. When you go the extra mile and take over some of their responsibilities or surprise them and make them feel special, you may feel proud of yourself and forget about the instance when they have done the same.
For some reason, it seems that we tend to take more responsibility for the good things we do and less responsibility for the bad things we do. So it’s a good idea to remind ourselves that a relationship takes two. And the good and the bad things that happen are done or caused by both of us.
4. You are happy when you are working on a goal
It is true that happiness is subjective and different people can derive happiness from different things. But it is also true that setting a goal, making progress towards it and achieving it can make anyone happier. At least, that’s what the science of happiness has found.1
“Find a happy person and you will find a project.”
If I look back on my life, I realize that I was at my happiest when I was working on my goals or enjoying my achievements. So why were there moments when I stopped reaching for more? Well, there are many reasons and you may relate to some of them. Sometimes I got too caught up in my daily routine and work obligations that I would have no time and energy left for my personal goals. Sometimes I would let go of a goal without having a back-up goal or plan. Or sometimes I would get sidetracked because of other things that were happening in my personal life.
One of the moments when I realized how important goals are was when I wrote my first book, “Happy by Choice”. Before I started working on it, I was going through a transition. I gave up on a path I had set for my life, without having a new plan in my mind. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, but I was very frustrated because I could not see the first steps or imagine the final destination. I only had a direction in mind. I changed a lot of things in my life at the same time and all those changes and pressure weighed me down. I became more and more depressed.
When I realized I was depressed, I was desperate to find a way to heal myself. I started reading articles, books and looking for answers to the many questions in my head. Slowly, I started to understand myself better and I became aware of the negative thoughts that were constantly running through my head. I learned how to identify my darkest thoughts and how to manage them. And slowly, I started getting better. Of course, the process was more complex, more challenging and it took some time.
But when I realized that I have changed for the better, I was determined to share my journey with others. I wanted to write a book that would guide other people from depression to true happiness. And by the time I started doing research for “Happy by Choice”, I was already feeling better. And my happiness increased while working on my book. I was not happy all the time, but I finally had a clear and meaningful goal in mind. And that made my life so much better! No matter who you are or what your plans are, make sure that you always have a goal to strive for.
5. Life is meaningful when you are in motion
Whenever I am really sick, I begin to experience time differently. It feels like one day melts into the next one and they all blend together. And when my normal life is on pause, it feels like its meaning fades away. The same thing happens to me when I am very depressed as well.
That’s because when all we do is lie in bed, stare at the ceiling or watch TV series, we feel a bit disconnected with our normal selves and our lives. We can no longer do the everyday activities that shape our routine. We cannot go to school or to work, to the gym, to the cinema, we no longer go out with friends or go for a run.
The daily things that we do define who we are.
And when we can no longer do any of them and we are no longer involved in anything, we began to feel strange. We may ask ourselves questions like: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? How should I live my life? What should I do? While I do think that such questions are precious and can lead to valuable insights in a normal context, I also think that in some cases they come to our minds to signal that we are losing our identities or our meaning.
However, we never seem to experience any of this when we are in motion. When we are caught up in our lives and we enjoy what we are doing day by day and hour by hour, we almost never stop to ask ourselves “What is the meaning of life?”.
I think that life is more meaningful when we are moving, working, growing, striving and doing.
That’s why we like to keep going. So I’m not saying that you should take a break from living to sit down and analyze your life. That might simply push you off your track. Rather, I think that while we keep living, we should sometimes remind ourselves how great it is to be in constant motion. And we should do our best to keep moving, preferably forward!
now that I have shared these life lessons with you, I’m thinking to myself: would I have written this article had I not been sick? Probably not. So while we all hate being sick or dealing with unpleasant situations, it’s a good idea to remember that sometimes the darkest moments may help us shine brighter.
One of my goals is to help people learn how to manage the darkness of negativity, pain and depression and learn how to live in the sun. If you are struggling to find happiness in your life, “Happy by Choice” was written for you. Read more about the book and start reading it if that’s what you need!
- The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky