Six Reasons Why Your Best Life Can Be Only Three Months Away
Reprinted from August 2011
You’re busting your butt at work so that you can snag that coveted promotion, and when you come home each evening, a whole separate pile of responsibilities and chores awaits you. Whether you’ve accidentally overdrawn your checking account or you were unlucky enough to become your mother-in-law’s scapegoat just by answering the phone, you feel like you’re a victim of circumstances on a regular basis. You’re convinced that the best you can do is to simply try to survive each day without a meltdown. In short, you’re the farthest thing from “happy”—and there’s not a thing you think you can do about it. Sound familiar?
If your answer is “yes,” Todd Patkin has an important message for you: You can start to live a happier life…and believe it or not, the choice is completely up to you.
“Earlier in my life, if you had told me that happiness was a choice, I too would have told you that you were crazy. After all, no one chooses to experience things like the pain of low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression,” points out Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $18.00, www.toddpatkin.com). “But what I’ve come to realize is that happiness isn’t about leading an obstacle-free life—instead, it’s about learning how to change what you focus on and how you react to circumstances, regardless of whether they’re good or bad.”
Patkin isn’t just a talking head—he speaks from painful personal experience. After dealing with feelings of anxiety and depression throughout his life—despite achieving outward success, wealth, and respect—he suffered a devastating breakdown at the age of thirty-six. Finding Happiness chronicles Patkin’s difficult life experiences, as well as his eventual recovery and the lessons he has learned about the true nature of both depression and happiness.
“I can tell you unequivocally that money and success and accolades aren’t going to make you happy,” Patkin says. “In fact, they have surprisingly little to do with it. Happiness is the culmination of all the little actions, choices, and habits that fill your day. Whether to smile and be cheerful, for example, or whether to instead be more negative and participate in water-cooler gripe fests.”
Learning to choose how you respond to life isn’t always an easy journey, Patkin admits. In fact, he likens building a happier life to strengthening your abs or your biceps—it’s going to take some effort, and you might feel a little sore at first! But, Patkin stresses, the work is worth it—and he has some concrete suggestions to help you get started on strengthening your happiness “muscle.”
“I’ve identified twelve things that will help anyone begin to lead a happier life, especially if they’re added on one at a time to your life and in the order in which they’re given,” Patkin shares. “You’ll begin to focus more often on the behaviors, people, and things that will enrich and fulfill you, and that will inspire your positive physical, mental, and emotional growth. And conversely, you’ll stop allowing your negative moods and habits to dictate your life.”
Patkin explains his “Twelve Weeks to Living a Happier Life” in Part Two of his book and has also provided free corresponding instructional videos on his website, www.toddpatkin.com. Each video features Patkin, who talks about his own experiences, provides explanations as to why each of the twelve weeks is important, and shares tools for implementing each of the steps into your daily life.
If you’re ready to take control of the stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts that have been running your life so far, then read on to learn about Patkin’s Twelve Weeks to Living a Happier Life…and why they’ll work for you.
Step One: Exercise. Yes, you’ve heard it (a million times) before, but exercise is one small change that yields really big, life-changing benefits. For starters, it will begin to make you feel more relaxed, stronger, and more capable of handling life’s challenges—also, it will improve your sleep, and it’s a natural anti-depressant that will help your attitude and outlook. And as time passes, you’ll gain the added bonus of being happier with your physical appearance as well.
“I’ve placed exercise in the number one spot because I think it’s the single most important thing you can do to improve your life right now,” Patkin asserts. “Exercise is a fantastic energizer, and it actually opens you up to future change by invigorating your mind and body. If working out is already a part of your life, great! If it isn’t, commit to walking just twenty minutes every other day to start out. You don’t have to join a gym, sign up for exhausting classes, and completely reorder your life to reap the benefits of this investment!”
Step Two: Take Charge of Your Mind. Why do you eat breakfast? To give your body the nutrients it needs so that you’ll have the energy to get through the day, of course. And guess what? Your mind is no different. If you want your thoughts and attitudes to be positive, you must fill your brain with encouraging ideas. For this reason, Patkin recommends making motivational books and audio recordings part of your daily ritual, too.
“I know, I know…this probably sounds incredibly hokey,” Patkin admits. “But trust me, listening to a motivational CD during your morning commute or reading for fifteen minutes as you sip your coffee in the morning can put you in a positive place until you go to sleep in the evening. When you do this each day, you’ll find that your attitude is improved, and that you have learned new tools to eliminate your own self-doubt and self-criticism. By focusing more on all the positive aspects of who you are, what you are doing, and what is great in your life, you’ll find that the whole direction of your life can change. If you’re not sure where to start, I have a recommended reading and listening list on my website.”
Step Three: Learn to Be Easier on Yourself. If you’re like most people, you probably tend to focus a lot of your mental energy on the things you mess up rather than the things you do well. And as a result of magnifying your failures, you reinforce in your mind just how “subpar” you think you are. No wonder you’re unhappy! It’s time to realize that you’re human—and thus fallible—so you will make mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up, start celebrating your many successes. Until you give yourself permission to break free of the cycle of self-blame and negativity that causes you to be stuck demanding perfection from yourself in every situation, you’ll never have a chance to be a truly relaxed, content, and happy person.
“The really tragic thing about fixating on your screw-ups is that for every one thing most people do wrong in a week, they usually do a hundred things right,” Patkin points out. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but if you want to be happier, you’ve got to start showing more compassion and love to yourself. This means giving yourself a break when things don’t go perfectly, and giving yourself a pat on the back when they do. For instance, let yourself bask in your family’s compliments when you cook a delicious meal, and savor your boss’s praise when you offer an ingenious solution at a meeting. Basically, extend to yourself the same love and kindness that you would to others you care about!”
Step Four: Play to Your Strengths. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time doing things we enjoy or are truly good at. In fact, it sometimes seems like frustration, boredom, and discontentment are the bricks that are used to build the so-called “American Dream.” The fact is, though, we all possess special abilities and unique talents. And if you want to be happy, you need to recognize, use, and share them. When you do, you’ll feel more fulfilled and proud of yourself, and the world will be better off, too.
“If you’ve never done so before, sit down and first make a list of the things you are best at, and second, make a list of the things you enjoy doing the most—often, the same items will appear on both lists,” advises Patkin. “Then, make it a goal to spend more time doing these things. Focusing more on a hobby or personal interest is a good start, even if, like exercise, you do it for only twenty minutes every other day. And if you determine that your career doesn’t utilize your strengths, start looking at online job postings or for local classes in your field of interest. It’s never too early—or too late—to start doing the things that make you happy.”
About the Author: After graduating from Tufts University, Todd Patkin joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.