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How Flexible Thinking Leads to Greater Happiness

Use these strategies to feel happier.

Key points

  • We often tie our happiness to getting things we want and achieving our goals.
  • But many of life's experiences are outside our ability to control.
  • Changing how we think about our circumstances and being flexible when things don't go the way we planned can help us be happier.
 Jacqueline Munguía/Unsplash
Source: Jacqueline Munguía/Unsplash

Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” In my opinion, this is the key to finding happiness. If we treat happiness as a state of mind rather than something that exists outside ourselves, it is possible to be happier more often.

There are many reasons that we find ourselves feeling happy. Perhaps we’ve gotten what we wanted, whether it’s a relationship that is fulfilling or a goal that we’ve been working towards. Sometimes it’s because we have purchased something that we wanted or because we’ve been given a gift. Happiness makes us feel good and, perhaps even more importantly, brings us a sense of accomplishment.

Retaining happiness, however, is harder work. While getting things we want and achieving goals are sources of happiness, they are not always in our control. We do not always get what we want, and sometimes achieving our goals is much more difficult than we anticipated. These circumstances can result in stress and negative thinking, which directly impacts our level of happiness. It is also true that sometimes we get something we want, and we realize we don’t want it as much as we thought we did. So being happy is not as simple as it seems. The common denominator in all of these situations is the way that we think about what will make us happy and how our expectations of happiness shape our emotions.

For example, we may think that moving to a big city will make us happy. There are a lot of opportunities, a lot of things to do, and more people to meet. Let’s say we succeed in moving to the city, and we learn that it is harder to find an apartment than we thought, and it’s harder to meet people than we anticipated. There are a few ways to respond to this, and the way that we choose to think about our situation will affect our degree of happiness. We can vent our frustrations and lament that we made a poor decision. We can pack up our belongings and move back to where we lived before. Or we can adjust our thinking to adapt to the circumstances in front of us and figure out a path forward.

This may seem difficult, so here are some ways to break down your thought process so that you can adapt to challenging situations and achieve the happiness you desire.

1. Identify extremes in your thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking poses a threat to finding happiness. There is usually a middle ground that you can find before thinking something is hopeless and a lost cause. Become aware if you are making statements that include “always,” “never,” etc. They will bring you down, and it will be hard to climb out of that downward spiral.

2. Link happiness to simple things as well as bigger goals.

Happiness comes in many forms. Find little things that bring you happiness, like enjoying a good meal or looking at the sunset. The simple things can take the edge off of our stress and help us refocus on what we want.

3. Think of your situation as temporary, and stay optimistic.

If something hasn’t worked out, it often means it hasn’t worked out yet. If it doesn’t work out, then you can reconsider your options and keep planning for the future.

4. Avoid comparing yourself to others.

It is often true that other people look like they’ve got it all together. They have the perfect job, relationship, or house. Remember that you don’t know what goes on in their world other than what they share. Focus instead on aspects of your life where you’ve overcome a challenge or ended up being happy.

5. Find multiple ways to be happy.

Consider the different areas of your life where you can achieve happiness. If one area of your life is currently disappointing, reflect on the other ways in which things are going well.

If we link happiness to flexible thinking, and we allow ourselves to adjust our attitude and thoughts, we can be happier more often. Use these tools to have more flexible thinking when you’re feeling unhappy.

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