If you want to be happier, you can* (*disclaimer: not to sound trite or dismissive of all the circumstances we are forced into that take away from our lives, happiness, or desire to want to be happy. Happiness isn’t the only thing in life and there are many ways to live [or many other ways we HAVE to live in order to survive]. You only have to have the time, space, energy, and resources in addition to potentially trying some of what I am about to say below. Easy right?
It is a paradox of both being simple and not simple at all. There are insidious complexities to living in this society and, honestly, I am not going to just say something ignorant like “if you wanted to be happy, just change your perspective.” It casts unnecessary blame on the individual who is actively going through a lot. However, if you are in a place where you can receive these messages, please, I invite you to do so.)
There are now pretty well-documented ways of being happier through psychological intervention. Although there are simple ways of feeling better at least for a bit, in keeping with the theme of this month, I will focus on multi-component positive psychology interventions (MPPIs). As the name suggests, these interventions will speak to multiple parts of your life.
In short, MPPIs have reliably related to subjective well-being, psychological well-being, depressive symptoms, and anxiety symptoms. For more information on that check out some of my other work (visual abstract, write-up, podcast).
What I want to do here is apply an MPPI intervention to a situation. This situation is known as the life of Daria, a popular show back in the ’90s. She is often pessimistic with a dose of cynical, a dash of angst, and sprinkled with realism. However, if she wanted to be happier (which I can’t blame her if she didn’t want to be), here is a potential intervention that could help.
Below, I’ll start with a Daria quote and then follow that up with a way to address that concern.
The MPPI I’ll be applying is one that focuses on an acronym called “BET I CAN” which focuses on behaviors, emotions, thoughts, interactions, context, awareness, and next steps.
Now, onto Daria.
(No copyright infringement intended)
Quote 1: Is there any time when how you look doesn’t affect how you’re judged? This quote focuses on thoughts. We can change thoughts. In the intervention, the researchers use some skills from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a therapy that can help us reframe our thoughts and change our behaviors. In this case, we’ll want to change the idea that our identities are so completely tied to the way we look.
How can we do that? This intervention would likely have you watch a video that explains CBT and then have you engage in some activities. One activity could be for you to write down your thoughts throughout the day and then point out the times your thoughts were due to your looks or being judged for your looks. Think about 1) how it made you feel and 2) what did you do in reaction to those thoughts/feeling judged. From there you can start to replace those thoughts and behaviors.
For example, if you had the thought, “People think I am lazy because I wear the same thing every day.” First of all, whoever is saying that to you is gross. Second, are you judged or do you actually believe that? If you don’t believe it, you can detach from that idea; you definitely know better than these people that only see you every now and again. Instead, you can start to think of yourself as comfortable or economic. Perhaps you can really just think of yourself as more than your clothes and remind yourself of all the things you accomplish in a day or a week and how that has no connection to the clothes you decide to put on.
Why would this make you happy? The less we focus on others’ judgments, the more we can focus on ourselves. And the more we can focus on ourselves, we can appreciate who we are and what we have to offer. People say such crazy things with no basis. We don’t have to listen to them. This will allow for more positivity and acceptance leading to happiness.
Quote 2: I don’t have low self-esteem. I have low esteem for everyone else.
This quote focuses on interactions. For interactions, the intervention focuses on building empathy and listening skills. When we have empathy and listen to people, we can start to regard them more highly. This doesn’t always happen this way (there is science that shows more empathy can actually lead to more anger, but that’s another post). But, I imagine, in the context of wanting to build positivity in your own life, the empathy you engage in and the listening you do will lead to happiness.
You might want to task yourself with reflecting on how your conversations go over the next week. Focus on how it went. Focus on how much you spoke versus the other. Focus on if you acknowledged what they said or if you just moved on. The more you listen to the intricacies of their lives, the more you will see them as a full human and a human deserving better, from you or from society.
Why would this make you happy? There are 2 main reasons why this could work. The first deals with connecting on a deeper level. We want connections. We want to feel close and like we can trust others. The more we listen and build that interaction pattern, the deeper the connection is, the more fulfilled you will be, consequently feeling more satisfied in life.
The second reason is because we are giving support, even if in a little way, to others. We often think about getting support as a source of happiness, but, actually, it also works the other way around. When we support others, we ALSO feel better.
Quote 3: Trent (Daria’s best friend’s brother/also Daria’s friend): “Daria, do you ever feel like you are wasting your life?” Daria: “Only when I’m awake”
This quote focuses on behaviors. For behaviors, the intervention focuses on goal setting and rewards. Right now, without anything to work toward, her life is feeling like a waste. She isn’t wrong that so much we work toward is pretty meaningless. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of things we can do that are meaningful. She also knows this. This can include helping a friend, making someone happy, and having gratitude for what you do have. This could be done through some of the above methods I have already stated.
Here is another way to make this happen. We can set goals for ourselves. This is a tricky thing, but doing it and accomplishing it feels so good. It reminds us that we are capable. That we have skills and passions and interests. It reminds us of our strengths. Start small. Actually, always think small when it comes to goals. Of course, we can have larger goals. But in everyday life, we need to focus on small goals to achieve and not feel disheartened or like giving up because we don’t accomplish them right away (or after a month, or after a year even).
Why would this make you happy? We like to do things and we like to feel like we are doing things. One of the best ways to become happier is to actually engage. We also see the opposite supported through research where people that are less engaged (e.g., on social media) are less happy than those that do engage. So, go ahead and do. Whatever is you want to do, actually do it. Don’t be preoccupied with the other things that are happening in your life. Have goals. Engage. And feel good about yourself.
Quote 4: No life. No hope. No future
This quote focuses on next steps. For next steps, the intervention focuses on planning and anticipating problems. Not unlike Quote 3, this part of the intervention asks us to look forward. We are allowed to look forward and do things for our future. When we do so, we are able to better think through potential barriers we may need to overcome. We can feel like we have nothing because we haven’t thought about what is possible for ourselves.
How can this be done? It can be daunting to just sit and think. Instead, maybe you can find role models of people that have plans for the future and have (successfully) anticipated problems. This is not me, but there are people out there who absolutely plan ahead in a healthy way. After you’ve seen others do it, give it a try. Maybe give it a couple of tries. Maybe you already had some ideas and you quickly jot those down. Maybe it takes a while to even start. Either way is fine. By the end of it, you’ll have your notes that you can always come back to and remind yourself or come back to in order to edit.
Why would this make you happy? The easier life is and the easier we make life for ourselves, the happier we can be. It’s hard to think about what you are doing and how to do it all the time. To alleviate that stress and bring something solid to your life, you can write down future aspirations. This allows us to remind ourselves about what we are passionate about, which serves as motivation to achieve it. But, this is very grounded in practicality as well. Since you have to anticipate problems, it forces you to stay realistic, while helping your future self problem-solve.
There are of course many other situations to think through and other thoughts and behaviors to target, but I hope these examples help you figure out how to apply these principles to you own life. If you ever want to talk about this or want guidance, let me know!
And, here are some more Daria quotes just for fun: It never would have worked. I mean, unless I tried or something.
My goal is not to wake up at forty with the bitter realization that I’ve wasted my life on a job I hated because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens.
My biggest fear right now is that I’ll wake up and this conversation won’t be a dream. I don’t like to smile unless I have a reason.
Daria’s mom: You’re never going to make friends if you nose is always buried in a book. Daria: Let’s hope.
Do you think if you breathe on me, I’ll catch your enthusiasm?
I’m not being negative, I’m being edgy.