Therapist Stacy Kaiser answers questions from Live Happy readers.
Happiness is something we all search for and that we each deserve in our lives. However, obstacles inevitably get in the way, whether that means negative people, current or past circumstances we can’t control, bad luck—even our own self-destructive patterns. I have developed this Ask Stacy column to help Live Happy readers overcome these stumbling blocks.
As the holiday season approaches, are you already feeling stressed out? Send your happiness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wonder what you think would be the best plan for a happy life for someone who has everything he needs but at times still feels dissatisfied? —Tony
You do not specify what you mean by having everything you need, but that often implies that a person has many or all the basic requirements but lacks what I call life’s “happiness enhancements.” Happiness enhancements are not necessities, but they are, nonetheless, important to our emotional and/or psychological well-being. Perhaps you like to sit in nature and take in its beauty or you enjoy eating a piece of lasagna with extra cheese or you find fulfillment in spending time with an old friend and sharing memories. Make a concentrated effort to infuse your life with these types of experiences.
I would also recommend that you place more focus on what you are passionate about. Passion is one of the greatest forces that fills us with both energy and greater happiness. We tend to get stuck in habits and routines and lose sight of what we were once passionate about. Spend time investing in your interests, or look for new hobbies and interests that will elevate your future experiences.
Giving back is another wonderful way to enhance your well-being. Helping those who are less fortunate improves your life as well as the lives of those you are giving to. Giving back has some side benefits, too: You meet new people you enjoy being around and who share your values.
I am in love at the age of 70, but I can’t seem to let go of my feelings of self-doubt and inferiority. I fear I am slowly destroying my last chance at happiness, and I can’t stop myself. What is going on? —Barbara
In reading your letter, I found that it was one filled with both happy and sad news. On a positive note, you have been lucky to find love! On a disappointing note, you seem to be getting in your own way of enjoying and appreciating it. Many of us have trouble focusing on and enjoying the happy times because we tend to overthink and worry. You are so busy questioning yourself and thinking about the worst-case scenario that you are not able to be in the moment and be grateful for what you have.
You say you “can’t stop” yourself. We do not always have power over things in our lives, but one thing we do have power over is our own behavior. Sometimes we just need a little guidance or support to make it happen. I recommend that you focus on your partner’s positive feelings about you instead of your negative ones. If your partner thinks you have a wonderful personality, accept that as fact and bask in the glow. Try focusing on your positive attributes and the good elements of your life, and push aside the negativity. Find comfort in accepting that someone else has found you to be lovable and worthy.
Do you have any suggestions for trying to calm the mind to meditate or sleep easier? —Deb
Feeling rested and getting the appropriate amount of sleep are vital to overall happiness, and I am so glad you asked this question. Here are a few practices that should help:
1. One to two hours before going to bed, begin to wind down. Do not pay bills, think of stresses of the day, plan for tomorrow, etc. This should be a time for relaxation for both your mind and body. Watch an enjoyable television show, take a bath, sit in front of a fire and read calming books.
2. Develop a bedtime ritual to slow your activity levels. Wash your face, put on favorite pajamas, snuggle with your significant other. As you are engaging in these rituals, think restful and peaceful thoughts.
3. Once you climb into bed and turn off the light, try to stay in the present. Tell your brain that you are not going to think about tomorrow until you get there. Then do your best to just rest, listen to your breathing, meditate and relax. This may take some practice.
4. Keep your bed a screen-free happiness zone. No arguments or toxic conversations should be allowed while you are in bed, whether they are in person or via telephone or text.
Stacy Kaiser is a Southern California-based licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and editor at large for Live Happy. As a former weekly advice columnist for USA Today with more than 100 appearances on major networks, including CNN, FOX and NBC, Stacy has built a reputation for bringing a unique mix of thoughtful and provocative insights to a wide range of topics.