Or at least less sad

Although each of us might define happiness differently, it’s something we all desire. Many of us wait for and depend on the incredible moments in life—getting a promotion at work, falling in love, or going on vacation—to experience happiness. While there will always be highs and lows in life, we have the ability to experience contentment (nearly) every day.

In Lee Crutchley’s new book, How to Be Happy (or at Least Less Sad), he offers a unique, accessible approach to happiness. Along with reading helpful tips, you can also write, draw, and reflect on your own happiness and ways to achieve it. Here are several insights from the book that particularly stood out to me:

Insight 1:
“Your brain is designed to keep you alive. It doesn’t give a shit about your happiness.” – Ruby Wax

Our brains are better – and some would say faster – at processing negative information than positive. This was very useful for keeping us alive in the past, when our lives were often under threat. But it’s not so useful today, when our minds are telling our brains that we are worthless idiots. Our brains tend to believe it.

A good way to combat this is to make an effort to notice the positives in each day. Our brains can actually be rewired through repetition to look for those positives with less effort on our part – the term for this is neuroplasticity.

The simple daily exercise of writing down a few positive events – no matter how small – can make a huge difference.

Insight 2:
“Depression is the inability to construct a future.” – Rollo May, Love and Will

I always found describing my depression really hard. When you say that you’re depressed, most people think it means that you just feel sad, and their instinct is to try to cheer you up. It’s hard to explain that you feel completely numb, or nothing at all, or like you want to curl up into a ball so tightly that you disappear forever. People who have never felt that way cannot relate.

Depression really does limit your ability to construct a future – and not just a future where you’re happy, but a future where you even get out of bed in the morning. When I am struggling to construct that future, looking to the past always helps me. I know I’ve felt that way before, and I know that I’ve come through it – it’s a fact. It doesn’t change the way I feel, but it does remind me that I won’t feel that way forever. Which is a really good thing to remember.

Insight 3:
“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” – Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

We’ve somehow become attached to the belief that we should be happy, forever and ever, and that we’ve failed if we’re not. Which is crazy, if you actually think about it. I bought into that belief as much as anyone, and it made me instinctively try to limit any chance of sadness. I would avoid situations and relationships that I thought could end up making me sad. But limiting your sadness doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be happy. In fact, sadness often happens as a result of having once been happy. So by limiting your chances of sadness, you’re also limiting your chances of happiness.

It’s ok to feel happy, and it’s ok to feel sad. It’s perfectly natural. The same as it’s ok to feel angry, or grateful, or jealous, or proud, or… you get the idea. Happiness and sadness are both feelings – neither one is right, and neither one is wrong. The sooner you accept that you cannot protect yourself from sadness, the sooner you will stop protecting yourself from happiness.

Happiness is an amazing sensation that we want to hold on to and make last forever. It took me a long time to realize that happiness is more than just a feeling; it’s a state of being. I’ve learned that happiness is not based on conditions—it’s based on accepting and being grateful for where you are, in this moment.

Adapted from How to Be Happy (Or At Least Less Sad) by Lee Crutchley. © 2015 by Lee Crutchley. A Perigee Book, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.

To find out about Rose’s thoughts on how to live a happier life, click here

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