I know that it is a bit cliché, but whenever a new year begins, I tend to look back on the one that just ended. I don’t plan to sit down, think about what I achieved and what I learned. But I naturally seem to think about this for a few days. And this year I wanted to share some of my thoughts and life lessons with you!
First of all, I want to say that for me, 2017 was a challenging year. I think that it was the year when I grew the most, but not necessarily in an obvious way. I did not change careers, move to another continent and lose 30 kgs. The changes that took place in me and in my life were more subtle, but also very deep and (probably) lasting.
One of the reasons why this year was so tough for me was because I was forced to truly analyze myself, be honest with myself and begin walking the long road of change. In the first months of 2017, I made a very startling discovery – that I was a very negative, critical and sometimes mean person. To be honest, it was my boyfriend, Radu who helped me realize this. And I was socked to realize that it was true.
I had never realized this about me before. Or maybe I have never been like that before. I always thought I was quite a positive person. But it seemed to me that life, some “invisible” forces, some decisions, some childhood wounds, some mistakes and some latent tendencies all contributed to my beautiful downfall. Well, let’s not be too dramatic. It’s not like I lost everything and everyone I had. I just became very negative and then quite depressed and I almost lost some of the things and people that I love. And I am so glad this happened because this is how I learned a very important lesson!
Life lesson 1: You can become more positive and happier
When I finally became aware of my problem, I began looking for a solution. As I knew that the source of my depression, negativity and challenges were my negative thoughts, I began to work on changing them. I started reading books about negativity, happiness and the mysterious and fascinating ways in which our brains work.
What I learned was surprising and encouraging at the same time. I discovered that depression is on the rise. More and more people are depressed – and it starts at earlier ages too. That’s the reason why some psychologists warn us that we are dealing with an epidemic of depression.
The good news about it is that psychology has evolved a lot in the past decades. We now know that depression is caused by negative thinking. Well, at least some brilliant psychologists like Martin Seligman do. We know that our thoughts affect what we do and how we feel. And we also know that we no longer have to be at the mercy of our ow thoughts. We have the power to choose our thoughts and focus on the ones that help us. And we can overcome depression, become more positive and happier. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
I was so excited about this that I wanted to apply that knowledge into my life. I did and I have seen how it works. Now I did not miraculously remove all negativity from my life and become the happiest person alive. That is…impossible. After all, this type of change happens gradually and it takes a lot of work. But I have made progress. I am less negative, I control my feelings better now and I generally feel better about my life. And, most importantly, I keep going!
Life lesson 2: Work is an important part of life
When I realized how much I could learn from a few books and how much they helped me, I wanted to share that with more people. I wanted to tell you that you can become happier – even if you are depressed or not. So I decided to write a book about it.
It took me a few months to do the research, write the book, improve it and finally publish it. But those months were some of the best! I was working on a project I was excited about, on something that I was proud of.
But in that process I also learned a very important life lesson: work is important and it can contribute to your happiness. Now, you probably heard this before in one form or another. So have I. But I truly understood this only when I experience it in my life. It was so interesting to see that I was writing that book because I was finally happier and I was finally happier because I was working on that book!
While I was working on a big goal that I believed in, my life seemed more meaningful, I was happier with myself, I was more excited about myself and, of course, I was less negative and no longer depressed. You know how the saying goes “a few hours of work a day keep depression away”!
Now I know that this idea is not novel at all. Do you remember the quotes like “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” or “Do what you love. Love what you do.”. Well, we’ve both heard these quotes many times. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I’m simply saying that those quotes finally meant something once I experienced that myself. They were no longer empty words on a picture with a mountain in the background, but they were my reality.
Life lesson 3: You can get a big project done – step by step
I was very excited about writing a book…until I realized I had no idea how to do it.
To be honest, writing a book seemed like a complicated and challenging process. Whenever I have to work on big projects with no clear tasks in my I feel a bit anxious. I perform much better when I know exactly what I have to do or what my guidelines are. But I had none, so I had to learn how to do this.
So I did what almost any young person does when they have a problem: I googled this! I started by reading articles about how to write a book. Then, I started doing research for the book itself (and for me). I have read articles and books, I watched TED talks and videos and I took notes. Then I had to decide what was important from everything that I had learned. I knew I needed a structure, so I tried to design my book as a journey. Basically, I analyzed my journey and I tried to reproduce the same steps. Then I combined information, facts, my opinions and my experience to recreate those steps for the people reading the book. And, of course, I also had to create the actual book, choose a platform and basically make sure that people can buy it and use it.
To be honest, it was a quite complicated process, but it was one of the best things I have ever did. The book I wrote is called “Happy by Choice” and it is available on Amazon Kindle and on Teachable. I’m really proud of it and you can read more about it here.
Basically, the lesson I learned is that you can take on a big project, even if you have no idea how to begin. If there is something you want to achieve, start where you can. Maybe the first thing you have to do is to google how other people have done it. It’s alright. Read some articles, read some books, talk to other people – gather the information you need to see your next step(s). Then move on to the next part. It may be a long process, but if you divide it into smaller goals, you will stay motivated and you will keep working.
After all, as Bob Proctor said: “You don’t know how to do something until after you’ve done it”. I had no idea how to write a book, but I’ve done it! So, I you want to do something but you have no idea where to start, I encourage you to give it a try. Learn and act step by step.
Life lesson 4: If you want to be happy, you need to find meaning
There are many things that can contribute to your happiness. But from what I have learned, it seems that meaning matters the most. While we are different and we derive meaning from different goals and experiences, meaning makes us all happier with our lives.
But how do we find meaning? Well, that is a very complicated question that may have no “correct” answer. As I said, meaning is something very personal. But I would say that when you are trying to find meaning, look for what you value most in your life. Some people rely on religion and their relationship with God to find purpose and direction. Other people turn to their jobs, their hobbies, their families, their friends and so on.
Basically, you can find meaning in anything from weightlifting to building houses for the poor in Africa to building a business. You just need to find that goal that makes sense to you. Preferably, it should be a goal that is good for you, for society and for the world. I would never encourage you to sell drugs or bully people. But I would encourage you to lose weight, learn to paint or learn foreign languages.
Once you find what it is, what guides you in your life, do something about it. Set a measurable goal and think of the steps it will take to achieve it. Once you start working on it, life will get better – I’m sure about that!
Life lesson 5: The pursuit of happiness and the personal development process need to stop
If you have read any of my previous articles or social media posts, you probably know that I truly believe in personal development, goal setting and happiness. I think that we should all aspire to improving ourselves and enjoying life more.
But, there is a trap you should know about! I have recently learned about it and I want to warn you about it. If you decide to be happy just to be happy, you will probably be miserable. If you want to develop and improve just for the sake of personal development, you may be miserable and feel like a failure.
I discovered these ideas from 2 books. Mark Manson wrote the book “The subtle art of not giving a fuck” and he stated that constantly trying to improve yourself will make you miserable. Honestly, I have not read the book yet, I have only read a few reviews of the book. But I realized that he has a point. After a few years of discovering the magic of personal development, I also discovered its pitfalls. The idea is that if you obsess over “fixing your flaws” and developing skills and becoming better at everything, you will slowly realize that it cannot be done. You will brood over your flaws, shortcomings and failures and this will make you unhappy with yourself.
After all, you cannot improve everything about you, remove all your flaws, fix all your problems and become perfect. No matter how hard you try, it can never be done. So you might as well decide what you should change, focus on that and accept the rest.
I got another great insight from the book “How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use”. The author points out the mistakes we all make while trying to achieve happiness. He does that in a humorous and simple way that makes you laugh at yourself for being so foolish at times. And, according to him, if you want to be miserable you should “aim for happiness directly”. I also found this idea in another article and I realized how truthful it is.
First of all, if you always want to be happy, you will be disappointed because it cannot be done. Happiness is a momentary feeling. And if you obsess over it and constantly ask yourself “Am I happy now? What about now? Am I happy enough?”, you will be disappointed every time you have to answer “No”…which will be often.
Moreover, happiness does not work that way. Check out lesson #4 again! Happiness is usually a positive side effect of something else – working on something you care about, beating a personal record, doing something really well, being accepted by the people you love, helping someone else and so on. Most of all, you feel happy when you find something meaningful. So focusing on happiness will not make you happy. It seems counteractive, but it is true.
And to be honest, I have fallen into both traps and I am working my way out of both. I have fallen into the first trap when I realized that there are many things I have to work on. I have to be more productive, stick to deadlines, be less judgmental, be more friendly, be more enthusiastic, develop better habits, control my thoughts and feelings, contribute to society more, procrastinate less, learn foreign languages, study politics be happier and so on. And if I would sit down and write down all the things I could improve, I would never be done. So I realized that I have to focus on what is urgent or important for me right now and postpone or accept the rest as it is – at least for now.
The other mistake I did was focusing on happiness. While I was working on my book, I was always thinking about it and doing something for that. And those months were great. I was excited, motivated and happy. Well, not every minute of every day since that is impossible. But that’s what I experienced every day or on most days. However, when I was done and my book was published, I failed to set another goal so…I began to feel sad again. I did not stop working at all and start watching TV series and movies every day, but I definitely slowed down. And, slowly but surely, I got depressed again. So…I decided to focus on becoming happier. You now know that that’s the wrong way to do it so I do not need to tell you that I failed.
I kept thinking that I have to do something to become happy again. And I should know how to do it – after all I’ve written a book about it! But you know, sometimes you know what you have to do but you do not do it for some strange reason. But once again, I realized what I was doing wrong and I am working on getting out of this trap! Don’t be like me – take the advice and avoid falling into the trap as well.
As I said, 2017 was a challenging year for me. But it was also a great one. It taught me these life lessons (and more), it forced me to grow, it challenged me, it helped me improve, it showed me what I still need to work on, it made me achieve a big goal and it gave me hope for the years to come. Well, actually, I did most of that, not the year itself but…you get it!
I know that this article is quite long, but I hope you learned something from it. Feel free to apply these 5 life lessons as well. And I hope that these lessons and the life lessons you have learned will help you and guide you in the new year. And even though a year seems to go by in the blink of an eye, we do have time to do great things in a year. Remember this: don’t wait for 2018 to be great. It’s up to you. If you want it to be great, you have to make it so! And the best part is that you CAN!