Audrey Hepburn famously said that the most important thing is to enjoy life – to be happy. Yet, so many of us find it hard to be completely satisfied with life– there’s always something missing, a step toward happiness we just can’t reach, or too many situations (and people) that lead to frustration, anger and dissatisfaction.
The reality is that if you keep searching for happiness, you might never find it.
On the other hand, if you can find a purpose in life, and focus on that, you may get the contentment you’re looking for, says Elizabeth Venzin, founder and CEO of Australian non-profit organisation MindShift, who believes that looking for purpose and meaning will improve both your odds of happiness as well as your self-esteem.
Read: Be nice, be happy
But self-esteem is only one part of the story.
Self-esteem vs. self-acceptance
Writing in Psychcentral, mental-health counsellor Dr Jeffrey Guterman agrees that people with high self-esteem usually feel better about themselves, but says that increasing self-esteem is often just a temporary solution. That’s because it perpetuates the underlying problem: an irrational philosophy of self-rating.
Dr Guterman suggests the key to a healthier self-image is self-acceptance, not just self-esteem.
“We’re all imperfect and fallible human beings who therefore cannot always do well and win the approval of other people,” he says.
Hard work, practice and persistence
That said, how can we move towards self-acceptance (the attitude we hold about ourselves) in a culture that’s focused on boosting self-esteem?
A starting point, says Dr Guterman, is to recognise that we mostly create our feelings and that it’s largely our thinking about external events that contribute to these feelings.
“Having insight isn’t enough to change long-held patterns. It takes hard work, practice and persistence to change self-defeating habits and beliefs.” The key, he says, is to realise that self-acceptance is about recognising you’re a process, and not a product.
Another important step towards self-acceptance is to surround yourself with people who accept you and believe in you, and distance yourself from those who bring you down, says psychotherapist Joyce Marter of Urban Balance.
Read: Learn to be happy
A fairly new area in psychology is called “positive psychology” – the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. It looks at factors such as life satisfaction, spiritual development and emotional wellbeing.
Kansas-based life-transition coach Joe Wilner writes in a Psychcentral blog that wellbeing is far more multidimensional than simply being just happy, healthy or successful.
He describes wellbeing as “a concept that encompasses a well-rounded, balanced, and comprehensive experience of life”, adding that it includes health in social, physical, mental, emotional, career and spiritual domains.
Wilner comments that self-acceptance is a major source of well-being and living a happy life. “It relates to feeling satisfied with who you are, making peace with the past, and contentment with your current situation.”
In a nutshell, acceptance is about coming to terms with what we can’t change or control.
Tips from coach Joe Wilner
Joe Wilner offers the following advice on how to be happier with what you have and who you are:
- Practice gratitude: Learn to reflect and focus on what you have and are thankful for. List five things you’re grateful for right now and make a point of doing this every day. It need not be big things – sometimes it could be as simple as being grateful for a lovely message from a friend or just that the day has ended!
- Relinquish regrets: Holding on to regrets from past decisions can be toxic for your wellbeing, especially when it involves something you can no longer change. Accept that things in the past are done and gone. Focus on staying present so you don’t hold yourself back from moving forward in a more positive way.
- Banish comparisons: Using other people as a yardstick to measure your own quality of life and personal success is a sure-fire way to make you feel less satisfied.
- Temper expectations: Most people have learnt that life isn’t always fair and that they don’t always get what they want or expect. But some people still struggle with this, and having high expectations invariably results in disappointment. Temper this by controlling your expectations and focusing on what things in your life are distressing and difficult to accept. That’s the first step in learning to accept things you can’t change.
- Celebrate simple pleasures: There are so many daily pleasures that surround us. Often we don’t notice them if we’re too busy or focused on future goals and lofty ambitions. Take a few minutes to slow down, stay present and take time to absorb the beauty around you and reflect on the positive things in your life. Don’t let life slip past!
Read: The science of happiness
Simple steps to happiness
Lastly, in an article on Greatest.com, writer Alexandra Duron mentions some simple actions we can all take to boost our overall happiness quotient.
These include cultivating close friendships, spending time outside, sleeping more, exercising, getting a new hobby, meditating and listening to upbeat music.
Here’s to a happy, fulfilled life!
Image: Beautiful happy girl holding balloons from Shutterstock