Several years ago, I attended a college workshop for psychology majors (psychology was my minor) and heard a fascinating story about how change caused depression for someone who, according to everyone else, was a happy person. No one would have suspected it, and I’ve since learned more about how change can actually be a major cause of depression, among other factors.
The speaker at the workshop acknowledged that these types of change, for her, were as simple as moving to a new location. When I first heard this, my initial thought was, “How could something as serious as depression be brought on by something as trivial as moving?” OK, in the moment, that particular thought wasn’t quite so articulate, but I really was curious about how little changes can disturb our happiness.
As the speaker put it, change begets change. Moving to a new location meant she had to get a new job. She had to get along with her new co-workers and make new friends in a city that was unfamiliar to her. I started to see the story unravel.
That brings us to the task at hand, which is: how to be happy when things change. To do this, I’m outlining several steps to go through if you’re searching for a silver lining to your less-than-ideal situation.
Step 1: Evaluate your definition of happiness.
Before you start dwelling on what your current change means to you at this moment, define your terms. What is your definition of happiness? Put another way, what would it take for you to be happy? What things need to happen, or what things would you need to do in order to find happiness?
This exercise will be the first and last step for some people reading this article. This is because your definition of happiness may not be related to the change you are experiencing at all. For example, your definition of happiness may be as simple as spending time with people you love.
Well, if the change you are experiencing is that you’ve lost your job and are unemployed, this may actually be an opportunity to spend more time with your children while you’re in between jobs. In this case, defining your standard for happiness resolves any negative feelings you initially have about your change in employment.
Unfortunately, there isn’t always a happy ending, and even scenarios like the one above can lead to severe depression when you can’t seem to achieve the happiness you strive for. Which brings us to …
Step 2: Change or adjust your standard for happiness.
For some people, life may only be worthwhile if they’re making six figures and living in a mansion. Others may believe that their happiness will be achieved if they manage to travel to a certain number of countries and check off a bunch of things on their life’s to-do list.
The problem is that these goals aren’t always realistic, especially if you fail. Regarding the earlier scenario of losing your job, this situation means that a lot of things are about to change, including your income.
You may worry that your definition of happiness, which is making a lot of money, doesn’t match up nicely with this recent change in your life. To solve this problem, it may be necessary to adjust or modify what happiness means to you.
This means that instead of focusing on making a lot of money, your definition of real happiness may actually come down to being able to provide for your loved ones. From there, you may find this change in your life more manageable and practical.
Step 3: Let go of attachments and choose happiness.
This is especially valuable advice for individuals who move to a new location. You’re essentially losing something that is very important to you, which could be your hometown or close group of friends. Though it may not be easy, letting go of these attachments and focusing on the new things that are enriching your life is the key to making it through these awkward transitions.
Now, it may be easier said than done to accept these changes, mostly because the attachment can be so strong. But if you’ve been following along with the steps, you may start to realize that your happiness shouldn’t really be a goal or expectation. Happiness should, in fact, be an attitude. It’s a choice.
Once you start to accept that happiness should come from life, no matter what it hands you, then you’ll be able to set a standard for happiness that is sustainable, no matter what external circumstances or changes come your way.
Essentially, you’re choosing happiness and letting it influence every reaction you have when something changes or doesn’t go your way. As a result, you’re ready for anything.
You may also want to read: The 7 Deadly Sins of Happiness.