The road to happiness isn’t always easy, nor does it really have one final destination. Joy exists on a spectrum. And thanks to work, life and relationship problems ― not to mention, you know, an extremely distressing global pandemic ― it can be easy to fall on the lower end of the spectrum more frequently.
A lack of contentment is one of the most common overarching themes people bring up in therapy. Fortunately, mental health experts are filled with wisdom and are able to offer guidance on how to get there.
While it’s best to seek tailored advice from a therapist for yourself, it can be helpful to see just how therapy has helped people with this particular issue. We asked people to share the best advice on happiness they’ve received in therapy. See below for some mood-boosting inspiration.
You don’t always have to be OK.
Amber Robinson, a 31-year-old licensed psychotherapist, may help others with their mental health for a living, but she learned a lot about happiness going to therapy herself.
“The best advice I learned is that it is OK if you’re not OK,” she said. “This was so powerful to me because I spent so much time resisting negative emotions and feeling as though I needed to be happy. In actuality, sadness and anger are totally normal and appropriate in certain situations.”
Robinson now makes a point of noticing if she is sad or upset and allowing herself to feel those feelings. “This acceptance has allowed me to understand that things are really going to be OK, and it makes the negative emotion less powerful overall,” she explained.
Valerie Dauphin, a life coach and author, was having a hard time feeling happy due to decision fatigue. But she received this valuable advice from her therapist, which has led her to feel much better about having to pick a path to travel: “The most memorable advice I received was, ‘Whatever decision you make, just line yourself up with it,’” she explained.
This helped Dauphin take the stress out of decision-making by learning that she could be satisfied with any decision she makes, as long as she was fully on board with her reasons — and could have her own back whatever the outcome.
“I apply this advice every time I have decisions to make, especially the more substantial ones,” she said. “I have healthy confidence and feel solid about navigating choices.”
“The most memorable advice I received was, ‘Whatever decision you make, just line yourself up with it.’”
Accept that sometimes you’ll mess up.
Ravi Davda, a 32-year-old marketing professional, has found power in the concept of self-acceptance.
“This was difficult because, for me, I was always questioning my actions. Am I doing this right? Should I be doing it another way? Is acting this way or feeling this way right? Is it wrong?” he said.
His therapist explained that, as humans, we’re all just trying our best. And we have to accept that sometimes we will do things wrong and that sometimes we won’t feel our best.
“It resonated with me because for a long time, I thought I needed to do things differently,” Davda explained. “I thought that I had to be a certain way, even if I didn’t want to be. I felt bad every time I felt low or down.”
This advice has allowed him to trust himself and his decisions and to trust that he is doing his best.
Kristin Runyan, a 30-year-old digital marketing professional, said she was constantly under pressure when she was growing up. “I wasn’t allowed to have flaws, and as a stereotypical Type A personality, I am incredibly perfectionistic,” she said.
But there are so many things Runyan wants to do in her life that require her to do new things ― and when you do something new, you will inevitably make mistakes.
“Fear of making mistakes has held me back from pursuing my dreams,” she said. It was only when her therapist urged her to occasionally fail that she felt so much more inspired. “I follow[ed] my dream of starting a business with an environmental mission, [and] I had to accept sometimes I would make mistakes,” Runyan explained. “Adopting a different mindset has allowed me to begin embracing a growth mindset and find joy in learning.”
Let go of judgment over things that don’t matter.
Amelia Alvin, a 44-year-old psychiatrist, used to struggle with being judgmental.
“I spent half of my life judging people over petty matters and casual opinions,” she said. Then her therapist told her, “Life is too short to hold grudges and hate people.”
This, Alvin said, is the best happiness advice she ever received. “I was bottled up with bitterness until my therapist made me realize negativity is not worth holding up,” she explained.
Ask yourself “why?”
Claire Westbrook, a 31-year-old founder of an LSAT prep course, learned the importance of asking herself questions, particularly when something was bothering her.
“So many people flee from things simply because they create negative feelings, but they don’t bother asking themselves why,” she said. “By asking yourself why something is making you sad, upset, angry or uncomfortable, you’re able to understand yourself better and weaken its power over you.”
This has helped her to drill down to the root of a problem, work through it and then feel happier after the fact.
“It’s so easy to say, ‘I’ll worry about myself later,’ but when I finally learned to take my happiness seriously, I also learned to worry about myself now.”
Start your day with a good attitude toward others.
Chantal Dempsey, a 46-year-old life coach, was so inspired by this advice she learned in therapy that she chose a career out of bestowing this wisdom upon others: “Every morning, make sure you act and seem happy for the first half-hour of the day when you get to work, school or college,” she said.
“After half an hour, because you have created a nice vibrant energy around you and people are nice to you, this, in turn, makes you feel better,” she continued. “People are smiling to you, they are happy to see you, which changes your state and fills your positivity and happiness pot.”
Take your own happiness seriously.
This powerful statement greatly impacted Jeanine Duval, who co-founded and edits an online resource for tarot and astrology enthusiasts.
“It seems pretty obvious, but it is so easy to put your own happiness on the back burner due to external stressors like work, relationships or just life as a whole,” Duval said. “It’s so easy to say, ‘I’ll worry about myself later,’ but when I finally learned to take my happiness seriously, I also learned to worry about myself now.”
She also learned that a lot of people think they can have full control over other peoples’ feelings, but noted the importance of letting that go. “You can only control your own feelings, which means you can control the actions that trigger those feelings,” she added. “Don’t ignore what makes you happy, or else you’re holding yourself back.”
Self-care isn’t selfish.
Kimberly King, a 51-year-old parenting expert and author, spent years being a dedicated mom of three, a Navy wife and a kindergarten teacher. In the process, she lost herself.
“I became obsessed with taking care of everybody and everything, and it left me with no time or energy to focus on myself,” she explained.
But then her therapist told her that it was important to focus on herself more.
“I guess I needed to hear this from a therapist because I just couldn’t see how bad it was,” she said. “I made therapy night my night. No cooking, no kids’ homework, no cleaning. I went to therapy and then would meet up with a girlfriend for dinner.”
That led to her prioritizing other self-care routines.
“I started going to yoga every day. The friends I made at my yoga studio are my soul sisters. I go outside every day with walks and runs. I took baths with a locked door. I started writing again and pursued my calling to be an author of children’s books,” she said.
“The more you assure yourself of your happiness, existent or non, you eventually will experience the happiness you conjured up.”
Speak up for yourself.
Mone Symone, a 26-year-old manager, went to therapy for years to help overcome childhood trauma. She said the best advice she received in the process is: “I’m in control of my happiness and my life, and to always use my voice no matter what.”
“Hearing that helped to motivate me not to settle for less than what I deserve. That if I wanted better out of life, I had to make it happen,” she said.
This has also helped her in her music industry career. “People expect me to take a lot of B.S. or change myself to benefit them, but I always think back on that advice to stand up for myself and always use my voice,” she said.
Fake it until you make it.
After two years in therapy, Heather Keita, a 36-year-old editor, finally received some advice that ended her cycle of unhappiness.
“The more you assure yourself of your happiness, existent or non, you eventually will experience the happiness you conjured up,” she said.
She now tells herself: “I am happy today because I have this awesome food to eat and my car was just washed and is looking great,” or “I am happy today because I went to work, made some money, and get to enjoy my time off now.”
Doing this on a daily basis has allowed Keita to focus on the many reasons she has to be happy. “They were there the whole time, even during all the time I spent wasting being unhappy,” she said. “Now, the only thing that I am truly unhappy about is that it took years of therapy to realize that this amazing little trick exists.”