If you know you’re due for a dose of self-therapy, here are four questions for jumpstarting a wave of psychological lightness that could potentially raise your happiness set point in the future.
Here we go…
1) What prevents me from being in the moment more than anything?
This question is so important to answer because any effort you make to find greater happiness or grow as a person will be relatively useless if too many things take you away from appreciating the present moment. I’m not saying that you need to remain mindfully and present all of the time, just when it counts.
For example, I took my daughter to the amusement park last weekend and I missed out on building a memory because I was too busy thinking of a solution to a work dilemma. In my self-anger and guilt, I vowed to create 10 new memories in which I drop everything and only focus on father-daughter bonding. I just created one with her in the local park on the swings and it felt redeeming. For me, this is the perfect example of when it counts — time alone with someone you love that offers a wealth of opportunities for memorable wackiness, adventure and belly laughs.
If you’re answer to question #1 is my phone or social media, then I would recommend developing a habit of turning off your phone in 30-minute increments or making airplane mode your best friend. Create tiny phone-less moments. If work or relationship obligations prevent you from distancing yourself from your phone, try keeping your phone on ringer and leaving it in another room.
Essentially, a commitment to checking in with yourself by answering this question a few times a week will raise your happiness levels a noticeable amount as long as you take even minimal action to practice bringing your attention back to the present when you sense that your mind is somewhere else.
2) How does it feel to be alone with my thoughts these days? What do I usually think about when there are no distractions?
This questions builds on the first one. If you can’t be alone with your thoughts, then you’re not in a good mental state. Period.
Do your thoughts race or become dark when you don’t have a screen or another person to distract you?
If so, consider two self-interventions. One, drop everything and write a quick handwritten list of five coping statements/affirmations that either remind you of the value of this moment or your ability to overcome adversity. Two, run through your mind a list of three things you’re grateful for and why. These exercises are simple but wildly effective if practiced daily or even a few times a week.
3) How often do I judge people for being wrong, bad or stupid, and what is true price I pay for these judgments?
The least happy people are the ones who judge the most. I’m referring to people who are in the business of making other people wrong. Rather than behave in a way that demonstrates their good qualities, these people aim to lower the value of people around them through insults and dark sarcasm.
All humans judge. We’ll never stop judging. It’s really about understanding the price you pay for judging.
If you must judge, do it in your head and point out to yourself that you just judged. For example, say, “Uppp, here goes Greg judging again.”
Judgment generates anger and emotional distance. It makes you liked only by ignorant people.
Most importantly, judgment kills cells in the body, so if you want to live long, commit to separating yourself from your judgments.
4) Which family member do I resent and resemble the most?
If the answer to both is the same person, then you need to step away from your screen as soon as possible and increase your self-reflection because you’re likely to be judging someone for the same behaviors that you’re guilt of.
A wise old friend once taught me that all of the world is a mirror. What you can’t stand in others is what you struggle with in yourself.
I know it’s complicated, but resentment really only has value when a damaging behavior just occurred. Otherwise, you’re essentially knocking yourself over the head.
Ask yourself what you gain from your resentment. Is it power? Safety? Distance? Control? The illusion of winning?
Moving toward learning to forgive might seem like too tall a task when it comes to the one family member you resent the most. Similar to learning to be more in the moment, building a well-developed muscle of forgiveness is one of the main keys to a happy life. It will also deepen your love toward the people you don’t resent…yet. Why do I put it this way? Because people who don’t deal with their primary resentments tend to have a hard time maintaining long-term, successful romantic relationships.
Once you’ve answered each question, review your responses and your subsequent reactions to your responses with a trusted friend who knows you well.
Why? Because someone who isn’t subjected on a constant basis to your inner chatter and psychological defense mechanisms can add valuable input and help you work on a possible plan of action. He or she can also help you work through your psychological blindspots and increase your accountability with regard to your self-therapeutic commitments.
In truth, there is no substitute for in-person psychotherapy, but you need to be motivated and ready to commit to the process. Otherwise, therapy can be next to pointless.
Maybe self-therapy is where you’re at right now and that’s totally fine. I would just recommend one thing — that you understand the intimate relationship between your long-term happiness and a commitment to personal growth, which is essentially what these questions target.
Just to quickly review, strive to check in with yourself and allocate time and energy toward answering what’s taking you out of the moment, what you can do to overcome dark thoughts when there are no distractions and how you can distance yourself from your judgments and metabolize your resentments.
THAT my friend…is the key to happiness.