Top 6 Lessons from the Past Year

To be honest, I’m still scratching my head wondering why I’ve been unusually happier this past year.

It’s not like I accomplished anything big. The resolutions I made last year are the exact same ones I have now. I’m still scrambling for a greater sense of meaning and purpose. I’m still trying to reacquaint myself with a value system I had once put into question. I’m still trying to let go of shame and self-doubt while growing in confidence. I still have the exact same same job, live in the exact same city, and have relatively the same life circumstances.

But after digging deeper, here are the top 6 things that have contributed to raising my overall sense of life satisfaction without accomplishing anything huge.

1. Live boldly.

This past year, I’ve made it a habit to do the thing I wouldn’t normally do. If it makes me nervous, I’ll probably do it, if it means the possibility of expanding my life positively in some way. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t, but overall my life’s become way more interesting (or amusing, lol) by making bold moves. And “bold” doesn’t necessarily mean moving to a different country or going skydiving. It can be as simple as daring to look a stranger in the eye when previously you would evade it. Whatever gets you out of your comfort zone even a little bit.

It’s not that I am less afraid than I used to be; it’s that I choose to be more courageous. The fear and anxiety are still there. I’ve just developed a greater tolerance for them, lugging these uncomfortable emotions along for the ride if that’s what it takes to live a full life. It’s like ripping on a bandaid off over and over again until it starts to lose its stickiness and doesn’t hurt as much anymore.

As Jordan Peterson says: “Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face life voluntarily. You respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for a catastrophe.” Something about your disposition shifts when you go from defense to offense, from hunted to hunter, from fleeing to confronting. I can’t explain it. Life just gets hella more exciting when you live boldly, and your self-respect grows. 

2. Accept yourself.

Someone once asked me what the best thing about turning 30 was and my answer was easy: feeling more comfortable in my own skin. It’s not that I have my shit together; it’s that I’ve gotten more comfortable with not having my shit together. And that makes all the difference. You don’t have to ‘fix’ everything in order to magically feel better about yourself.

You choose how you feel about yourself. You can live as if your insecurities are why you’ll never accomplish anything good in your life … or you can simply own them, realize they’re part of the shared human experience, do your best to improve, and then amp up your strengths rather than focusing solely on your weaknesses.

I, for one, have gotten a lot better at simply shrugging things off when they don’t go perfectly. I spend less time dwelling and rehashing and more time improving and moving on. Life is a lot easier when you’re nicer to yourself. And if that’s hard for you to believe at the moment, then apply it to your life strictly from a strategic point of view until, eventually, you’ll start to believe that you deserve it too.

3. Take care of your mental health.

Caring for your mental health can be approached in so many different ways depending on your situation, but for me, seeing a therapist has been a game-changer. It’s taken me a literal decade of trying different types, but I’ve finally found a form of therapy that is actually producing results for me (EMDR, if you’re curious).

For those who’ve lived through trauma, sometimes we need a little more help to get unstuck—largely because our triggers and automatic reactions are subconscious; no amount of rationalization is going to stop their automaticity. Knowing this has freed me from being so hard on myself. After more than a year of sticking with it, the ‘knots’ in my life are finally slowly starting to untangle, freeing me to engage with people with a greater sense of safety than I’ve felt in my entire life. There is no shame in seeking out professional help; let’s end the stigma.

4. Take care of your physical health.

After working with a personal trainer and nutritionist, I am proud to say that I have met my fitness goals this year and, more importantly, have turned them into a lifestyle. My biggest advice is to be consistent. Get up, dress up, and show up. Make it a habit, make it automatic. Then it will take care of itself; you won’t have to rely on motivation or will power.

For me, sticking to my fitness routine keeps me grounded and helps me feel accomplished even when other areas of my life are out of my control, because this is the one area of my life where I do have control. Had a shitty day at work? At least I still got my workout done. Experienced rejection? At least I still got my workout done. Have no idea what I’m doing with my life? At least I still got my workout done. It sounds funny, but I’m serious—it helps! As with social connection, physical health is directly tied to mental health, so take care of yourself.

5. Nurture your relationships.

If I were to pick one word to summarize my past year, it would be relationships. It sounds simple, but the people in my life, both old and new, are probably the biggest highlight of 2022 for me—even more than all the places I was fortunate to travel to. I truly believe that developing new friendships and deepening existing ones has been the biggest contributor to my elevated baseline level of happiness overall.

I’ve noticed that the times in my life when I am most mentally healthy are when I am socially connected and involved in some type of community; I am most depressed and anxious when I am isolated, disconnected, and lonely. Despite being an introvert, I cannot stress enough that we are wired for social connection. The human spirit just wilts when we are not in relationship with others, because we are meant to love and be loved.

6. Live for something greater than yourself.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few weeks of being off work and staying at my parents’ place for the holidays, it’s that one can only watch so many Netflix shows back-to-back before starting to go insane in this vegetative state. We aren’t meant to only consume, but to create. We aren’t meant to only do what’s convenient, but to do what requires sacrifice. We aren’t meant to only take, but to give. Security is obviously great, but living in too much excess, comfort, accumulation, and self-centeredness can make us hollow, empty, and miserable.

I think somewhere deep down, the human spirit knows that we are meant to make a gift of ourselves to one another. Only then can we find true meaning and purpose. I am grateful to be part of a faith community that constantly reminds me of this; since ‘returning’, my life feels far more substantial and less superficial. We are happiest when we live for something greater than ourselves—be that God, a greater mission, or one another. The next time you find yourself feeling restless and miserable, try shifting your focus beyond yourself and see how you can be of service to others. As Viktor Frankl says, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”

___

As you can see, none of the items on this list are new. They’ve been promoted for decades (even centuries) as being the core pillars of happiness. But sometimes we overlook them because they seem, well, simple. I hope that this can be a reminder that you don’t need to do anything fancy to raise your baseline level of happiness. It’s within your grasp.

Cheers to a new year! ✨

— Celine

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