3 Steps to a Happier You
By Meg Lundstrom
For greater peace of mind, learn the secrets to self-compassion
High self-esteem has long been touted by psychologists as the key to
happiness and success. But these days, experts are questioning self-esteem's
status as a personal cure-all — noting that it's hard to acquire, even harder
to hang on to, and can lead to arrogance and narcissism. What does
create a healthy, resilient psyche, it turns out, is self-compassion. When
things go badly, a be-kind-to-yourself mind-set makes you feel less anxious,
depressed, and angry, and helps you recover more quickly from setbacks,
according to groundbreaking research from Duke University. Best of all,
self-compassion is easy to develop. Here's how.
Step 1: Realize that you're only human.
Goofing up, getting dumped, just plain losing it, and the like happen — to
everyone. "Whatever failures, losses, or humiliations we face are
part of the human experience — and adding self-criticism to the mix only
increases the pain," says study author Mark Leary, Ph.D., director of
social psychology at Duke University. "You're not unique in your trouble,
and it doesn't point to a shameful personal flaw."
To embrace this frame of mind, say mantras to yourself such as, Everyone
goofs up now and then, or Guess I'm human after all! Reinforce this
line of thinking by reminding yourself of people you know who've dealt with the
same setback you're facing. You can also visit self-help Websites like
dailystrength.org to see how many others are in your boat and to take comfort
in their stories.
These measures help you sidestep the sense of isolation and self-bashing
that make the situation feel worse. Heck, you may even start feeling affection
for your idiosyncrasies and flaws as you realize that they're just part of what
makes you you.
Step 2: Feel your pain.
Rushing through or denying your bad feelings won't make them go away, but
wallowing isn't healthy, either. Mindful acceptance — that is, truly
feeling your feelings — allows you to face your pain and then move on.
"If you get mentally lost in blaming yourself or others, you prolong your
suffering," notes psychology professor Kristin Neff, Ph.D., of the
University of Texas at Austin. "But if you simply allow yourself to feel
the emotion and let it run its course — which is often a wave that builds and
tapers off — it dissipates much more quickly."
Start by closing your eyes and taking a few slow, deep breaths to center
yourself, while recalling what you want: to be peaceful and free from
suffering. Then focus on the physical sensations in your body, such as
constriction in your chest, a tight throat, a clenched jaw. Note how those
sensations shift and change. If your mind strays, gently bring it back to your
body until the emotion ebbs away. Do the exercise as needed, whenever painful
feelings emerge, and you'll feel less fearful, anxious, and depressed.