I Want to Be Happier… Now What?

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Image credit: Daniel Posthuma on unsplash.com.

Last post, I talked about how becoming happier starts with a decision to choose happiness. Maybe it sounds lame and you’re thinking, who wouldn’t choose to be happy? But there are a lot of reasons we choose to be miserable instead… denying responsibility, side-stepping the discomfort of change, avoiding the anxiety of the unknown, being unwilling to make the sacrifices that might be required, etc. etc. etc.

Ok, but what if we do choose to be happy… what’s next?

Well, I wish I could give a formula, but it isn’t quite that simple. I know, I’d love a formula too! I like things very cut-and-dry. But living life isn’t like following a recipe. It’s more like creating a unique work of art, and that’s just what your life is: a work of art.

That being said, I do have some suggestions that might be helpful. Honestly, I could (and likely will at some point) do entire posts on each of these topics, but it would be overwhelming to try and cover it all here. So this 5-point list is a starting point and my best attempt at creating a “formula” for happiness.

#1. Practice Gratitude
It is easy to focus on the negative, on what is not going right and what we don’t have. It takes intentional effort to look for and focus on the positives. But doing so reminds us of all the good we take for granted and leads to more positive emotions. I agree with Melody Beattie: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

#2. Create Soul Moments
Think about moments when you have felt peace or joy. Maybe it is being outside and soaking in nature, or reading a good book with a warm cup of coffee in hand. Perhaps it’s making connections with others through deep conversation, or cooking a delicious meal, or family game night and lots of laughter with your kids. Is it creating beauty through painting or planting beautiful flowers? Whether it’s playing tennis or playing Bunko (don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone), make a list of what makes you feel happy and do more of that.

#3. Release Expectations
Consider if your expectations of yourself, others, and perhaps even life, are realistic. Do you expect a toxic mother to treat you with respect and kindness? Do you expect your spouse to read your mind, or life to be fair, or you to be perfect all the time? Lowering your expectations is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s appropriate and incredibly freeing. Unrealistic expectations are a set-up for failure and hangover frustration, shame, or discontentment always follow.

#4. Live Your Values
What are your passions in life? For some, it’s family or friends. It might be spirituality. It could be humor, kindness, learning, service or wealth. Likely, you have a few top values and then secondary ones beneath those. But does your life reflect those values? If your highest value is family, but you’re working excessive hours, you’re not living within your values. Those long hours might be fine if your top value is wealth, but when our lives are incongruent with what is actually most important to us, we will usually feel frustrated and unhappy. Sometimes that’s unavoidable because there are bills to paid or other factors out of our control, but as much as you can take steps to bring your values and your life in parallel, the more fulfilled you will be.

#5. Take Care of Yourself
This is so common sense, but it’s completely not common. We are terrible at taking care of ourselves! Evaluate each of these areas in your own life and determine which ones need some improvement:

  • Are you getting enough rest and sleep? For most people that means at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night as well as time for relaxation.
  • Do you move your body? It doesn’t have to be 45 minutes at the gym; a 10-minute walk outside counts (and gives the extra benefit of a vitamin D boost from the sunshine!).
  • Are you eating a balanced diet and not over- or under-eating? It is impossible to feel good if we aren’t nourishing ourselves or if we are abusing our bodies with food.
  • Do you address any medical conditions with the proper care and medication? Do you even go to the doctor regularly to know if you have any medical conditions needing treatment? And yes, that includes treating mental health issues too!

Can you think of other ideas that cultivate happiness? Let me know what’s been helpful for you!

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

The First Step to Being Happy

Dare 2 Hope_chasing joy

Photo Credit: Psychology Today

Some of us just never really seem to find or hang on to happiness for long. And yet there are some people who are happy even when life is really hard. During our lifetime, we will, without question, experience heartbreak or undeserved tragedies. No one is immune; suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition. So how do some some people manage to stay relatively happy or more quickly recapture their happiness after devestation?

Those types of people take responsibility for their own happiness, and that starts with choosing to be happy.  It is always a choice to be made—and not just once, but daily, maybe minute by minute—even as we are bombarded with reasons not to be happy.

It can be tempting to abdicate our happiness responsibility by blaming our circumstances or others, and sometimes, it would even be perfectly understandable given what’s going on in our lives. But that leaves us helpless. Helplessness is scary because it means we will be stuck and miserable until something or someone else changes. When we realize we can take control of our happiness and are brave enough to own that process, joy becomes possible again, whether or not other things change. Taking responsibility means we are powerful instead of powerless. It’s not easy at all, but it is life-changing.

Ask yourself what keeps you from choosing to be happy. Does taking personal responsiblity for your feelings seem too hard? Does it feel like letting people who have hurt you off the hook? Make a list of all the ways that believing you have no control over your happiness prevents you from having the life you want. Now, make a list of the ways your life would be different if you could cultivate more happiness for yourself instead of waiting for it to happen to you.

After creating each list, consider making a commitment to start choosing happiness and learning how to live that out. Go ahead, it’s okay to chase joy! If you’re a reader like me, a fun book on the topic is The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

P.S. Depression can be a biological condition, not just an emotional one, needing medical treatment such as medication so please don’t think I’m saying depression can be cured by thinking happy thoughts! Sadness and depression are not only unavoidable at times, I don’t even think we should try to always avoid them. Though painful (I know from personal experience), they can serve a purpose by adding meaning and depth to our lives. They can grow us and teach us important lessons, like how to reach out for connection or to slow down and take care of ourselves. The point is just DON’T STAY STUCK there longer than you need to!

Be well,
Cherie Signature

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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9 Questions to See if Your Perfectionism is Hurting You

Dare 2 Hope - Perfectionism

For most of us who have it, perfectionism is probably both a blessing and a curse. The obvious upside is that perfectionism is associated with exceptional performance and achievement. Perfectionists tend to be driven to do whatever it takes to meet the high standards they set. But there are drawbacks to perfectionism too. In a recent article, psychologist David Burns says we are especially given to troubled relationships and mood disorders. It can also be detrimental to our physical health. Consider these ways it may be taking a toll on your life and well-being.

#1. You’re stressed out. A lot.
We perfectionists are usually black-and-white thinkers, placing situations at the extreme end of the continuum. Anything less than an A+ is equivalent to an F. Overcooking the chicken ruins the whole dinner. This all-or-nothing mentality produces intense pressure and anxiety to perform flawlessly at everything all the time. Of course, that is unattainable and we will make mistakes at times. But whereas this knowledge leads to self-compassion in others, it acts like a ticking tomb bomb for us…we’re just waiting for that inevitable (and in our minds, horrible) moment we finally fall short.

#2. Things are personal.
Perfectionists don’t separate themselves from things they do, so we view those things as a reflection of who we are. Take the above scenarios. Anything less than an A+ is the same as an F…and that means I’m stupid and I’ll never get a good job. Dry chicken ruins dinner…and that means I’m a terrible cook and mother because I can’t properly feed my family.

#3. You avoid challenges.
Because perfectionists usually have a fear of failure, we often procrastinate on things we don’t feel confident we’ll succeed at…if we even try them at all. This certainly means missed opportunities of all kinds—even valuable opportunities to learn and grow from failure (did just thinking about that make you break a tiny sweat like it did me?). Or maybe we avoid challenges because we’re afraid we will succeed…and then we’ll have to keep it up, and that can feel like too much pressure.

“Perfection is an illusion and those who chase it will find themselves unfulfilled their whole lives.”

#4. You’re emotionally fragile.
Whether it’s a getting second place or missing a typo in the office memo, every mistake is such a catastrophic event that we can obsess over it for days. Because perfectionists blow minor things into ginormous proportions, we don’t have the same level of resiliency that others have. If we’re honest, we’d probably have to admit that even small setbacks can produce emotional meltdowns, existential crises, and even temper tantrums.

#5. You have a hard time taking criticism.
No one likes to hear about their mistakes or flaws, but constructive criticism is essential for personal growth and healthy relationships. How can a marriage (or any relationship for that matter) be the best it can be if one or both people won’t hear anything from the other about a needed change? Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” We don’t want to look at the “unhealthiness” within us, but just like a disease, it’s there whether we acknowledge it or not.

#6. You’re a people-pleaser.
We find people not liking or approving of us borderline unbearable, so we have trouble setting appropriate boundaries. We end up saying yes to requests and accepting treatment that we secretly resent. We might make decisions based on what others think instead of being true to ourselves.

#7. You avoid opening up to people.
Being vulnerable means being okay with others seeing your messiness. If we equate having flaws with being unlovable, we will always be in hiding. The problem is that no matter how much we put our flawless front, people will see through the cracks at times. Our lack of authenticity just ends up getting added the shortcomings list. These kinds of walls lead to isolation and loneliness, which is a steep price to pay for a strategy that doesn’t even work.

#8. You’re always struggling to feel good enough.
Perfectionists have a long list of ways we don’t measure up to what we “should” be and all the ways we want to be better. Growth is not a bad thing, but constant, self-defeating striving driven by shame robs us of so much joy. Controlled by perfectionism, we never feel at peace being who we are right where we’re at. It’s like running on a treadmill and seeing that for every mile run, another one is added to the odometer. Talk about exhausting!

#9. You’re highly critical of others.
Yes, we perfectionists are certainly hard on ourselves. But it’s important to realize that we’re probably hard on others too, and that can deeply hurt people we love and our relationships with them. Are you hard to please? Overly demanding? Do you expect flawlessness from people all the time and react negatively when they fall short? We might be intentionally inflicting stress and feelings of inadequacy on our family, friends, and colleagues. If you’re not sure whether you are…ask them. If they seem hesitant to tell you, you should probably assume the answer is yes.

#10. ________
You tell me…What are some other costs of perfectionism you’ve experienced? How do you take advantage of the positive while minimizing the negative aspects of being a perfectionist?

Be well,

Cherie_signature

 

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

5 Steps to Help You Let Go

Dare 2 Hope - How to Let Go

In my last post, we talked about why letting go is a better alternative to holding onto things, even when some things “should” be different. As I’m sure we’re all now thoroughly convinced about the benefits of letting go, I’ll move on to talking about the process.

1.) Decide to make a new habit of letting things go. Don’t be fooled by how obvious or simple this step sounds. It’s the most important step because if you don’t truly decide you want to change, you won’t. Really stop to think about what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be someone who is easily upset about all the day-to-day life stuff that is annoying but unavoidable? There are endless opportunities to get upset (e.g. rude people, the overbearing boss, waiting in lines, kids making messes… just to name a few!) and learning to let go requires more than just wanting it. Would anyone really say they want to be irritable all the time? Unfortunately, wanting to be different is not enough because it goes deeper—we have to give up our “right” to be offended by slights and inconveniences. Maybe it makes us feel more powerful to be angry. If we’re honest, sometimes we just don’t want to give that up and we’d rather hang on to our hot coal for a bit.

2.) Take some deep breaths and remind  yourself being angry will not change things and can actually hurt you. Does being angry about the traffic jam on your way home change how long the commute will be? No. And yet many of us will stew the whole drive anyway. The physical toll of being angry too often is undeniable, and includes serious issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, migraines, skin disorders, digestive problems, chronic pain, fatigue, and more¹. It also makes you more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and problems with food, alcohol, and drugs. And if all that isn’t enough, it also can be damaging to important relationships at home and work. So take several deep slow breaths while thinking about why it is better to let go of the frustration and how good you will feel when you do.

3.) Try to reframe the situation and find the positive. Sometimes finding the potential good in a situation is hard, but usually, it can be done and it does get easier with practice. Take our previous traffic jam example. You would probably be in hurry to get home so you can relax or see your family, and therefore, the delay is understandably frustrating. But since it can’t be changed, instead of being miserable and flooding your body with unnecessary chemicals (and then eventually getting home in a bad mood!), what about making the best of a longer drive? Put on some of your favorite songs that you haven’t listened to in a while, or keep a book on tape especially for those times, or call a friend you need to catch up with, or use the time to pray and meditate on the day. We have the choice to turn something that could have been waste of time into time well-used.

4.) Do some visualization. Okay, so you’ve tried talking yourself down and are still struggling to let something go. Forgive me for a moment while I go all therapist-y on you and recommend trying a visualization technique called thought diffusion. While doing this, take long deep breaths in your nose and out your mouth. Picture an autumn tree by a stream. Hear the sound of trickling water in your mind. Imagine that the red and gold leaves on the tree hold your anger. Now picture a soft wind coming through and rustling the tree just enough to shake off a bunch of the leaves, which float down to the water in the stream. Watch the moving water take the leaves (and your anger) downstream, out of sight. Exhale one last long breath, feeling the anger draining out of your body.

Dare 2 Hope - Thought Diffusion

5.) If all else fails, remind yourself it’s temporary. The vast majority of the daily hiccups and hair-pullings don’t actually last that long. If nothing else has worked, just focus on getting through it and moving on. Remind yourself you won’t probably care about or even remember whatever it is in a year (or even a week).

Learning to let go of things is not easy, but it can make a huge difference in your life and in your relationships if you’re willing to put in the effort of changing. Happiness and anger cannot live in the same heart, one will eventually overtake the other—that is, whichever one you nurture.

Be well,

Cherie_signature

 

 

References
¹Bundrant, M. (2013). Shocking: The Damage Chronic Anger Does to your Body. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/nlp/2013/01/chronic-anger-damage/

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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Letting Go Is So Cliché

Dare 2 Hope - Letting Go

We’ve all heard the phrase “let it go’ so often, it’s easy to gloss over. I almost yawned typing it.

And yet, living it out is so much more than a feel-good catchphrase. It’s profound and painful… and utterly life-changing.

There are two parts to this Letting Go Lesson, and today I’ll focus on the first. It’s about how so much of our unhappiness is because we are entirely mixed up about what we can and can’t control. We are desperate to control things (and people) that we can’t, and often don’t want to take control of what we should.

I want to control everything. Everything. From the other drivers on the road, to how fast the line at Walmart moves, to how my husband behaves. Does that sound familiar to anyone else? I cling to the idea that all these things and people should be a certain way. And perhaps sometimes I’m right. I mean, yeah, I think we can all agree that many people should be more considerate.

Reality check: They aren’t.

I always kept coming back to the fact that I don’t want to accept reality because it should be different, and it feels like accepting = okaying it. It doesn’t. It means that I finally realize keeping a death grip on my shoulds comes at a cost. Wanting to control things we can’t will inevitably lead to feeling angry, depressed, indignant, impatient, helpless.

Being mad doesn’t actually change any of the things we’re mad about, it just spoils our happy.

This pattern is not just pointless, it’s harmful. An old saying compares holding onto anger like holding a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned. Can you see that whether our anger at that person (or situation) is justified is irrelevant? Because everything will go on as normal while you stand there getting burned. Now, I’m not advocating against anger in general, because sometimes, that’s an appropriate response, such as when our boundaries are crossed. What I am saying is that when anger takes up too much space in our hearts, it will inevitably crowd out the happiness.

While we can’t control everything and everyone else, we can control ourselves. It’s just that’s the very thing we often don’t want to control. We’d rather say we’re the victim of crappy events and can’t help being unhappy about it. But even when we have no say in someone else’s behavior or how something turns out, we do have a say in a how we react.  We can choose to be perpetually angry or we can choose to let go and respond in a way that adds to our wellbeing.  We can decide to drop the coal…not because we’re necessarily wrong in thinking that things should be a certain way, but simply because we don’t want any more third-degree burns. In the psychology profession, we call this practice Radical Acceptance (a term from dialectical behavior therapy [DBT]).

So let’s learn to let go. I know, easier said than done, right? Stay tuned…next post I’ll talk about how we can do actually do it.

Be well,

Cherie_signature

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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3 Steps to Overcoming Fear of Failure

 

Dare 2 Hope - Outside Your Comfort Zone

The fear of failure is a powerful force, and it keeps us from making changes, trying new things, and taking valuable risks. Basically, it limits our potential. Here are some ways to overcome fear paralysis.

(1) Put Things in Perspective. Think about the last thing you considered doing but didn’t because of fear. Now imagine what would actually happen if you tried…and fell flat on your face. What’s the worst that would happen? How long would it take to recover? Probably, if you’re honest with yourself, it’s not as bad as you imagined. Fear exaggerates things in our mind, so be realistic.

(2) Stop Blaming.  Failure can be a great teacher if we have the courage and humility to accept our mistakes. By blaming others (or our circumstances), we choose to believe things are outside our control. Some things are, but not everything.  By refusing to see ourselves as helpless, we own our ability to do things differently. Taking responsibility is very empowering.

“Failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar

(3) Remember that Everyone Fails…But Not Everyone Keeps Trying. When we do fail, we should spend enough time on that failure to learn from it…and then move on. Wallowing in guilt or regret can’t change the past, and it won’t make a better future. Give yourself grace for your shortcomings—we all have them! Plenty of underdog stories prove that the road to success is often paved by failure, including these few…

  • Henry Ford’s early businesses failed and left him broke five time before he founded Ford Motor Company.
  • Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and failed in his first business.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that ended in bankruptcy and failure.
  • Thomas Edison was told by his early childhood teachers that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” And as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.
  • Abraham Lincoln started several failed businesses and was defeated in numerous runs for public office.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

With a healthy dose of perseverance and confidence, failure is not terminal. It can actually be a springboard to growth and success if you choose to see it that way.

Be well,
Cherie_signature
DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS is owner of Dare 2 Hope Coaching and a virtual Health and Wellness Life Coach who helps clients all over the country improve their lives. Her specialty is helping people get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Contact her here.