Last year, Liz Crawford came face to face with a jarring reality – her drinking and her life had spun out of control. She was alone in her apartment, feeling unsated at the bottom of a bottle of wine, when she decided to stop drinking. The choice had been coming for years.
“I had all these thoughts, like to be social I need to drink. To be fun, to be outgoing, to do all of these things that I thought were ingrained in my life. And because I've been drinking since I was 16, I thought I needed alcohol for all those things,” she says.
Crawford has always thought of herself as an optimist, a positive and friendly person. But in this struggle, she was anxious, isolated, and too embarrassed to reach out. “I don't think there's any way to feel better or feel optimistic when you feel completely alone,” says Crawford. It took a spiral into depression for her to make a change.
After a year of sobriety, Crawford has reconnected with her optimism. Her strategy? Intense self-reflection and honesty. “What I like to do when I'm upset is look at what I'm upset about, analyze the ‘why’ behind it, sit with it, really try to figure out if it's legitimate or not, and then after I've had some time with my thoughts, I try to move past it. But you can't just move past it right away.”
Alice Inoue, Chief Happiness Officer and founder of Happiness U, says this is a great first step. “To me, happiness is accepting life as it is, not for what you want it to be,” she says. “Choose to change the ratio of negative to positive.” You don’t have to wear rose-colored glasses, but take your blinders off, too.
Inoue says it’s not about being an optimist or pessimist, it’s about where you send your attention. A January 2018 University of Oslo study found that only 40% of our outlook is predetermined by our genes. The other 60% can be changed. “If you wait for life to make you happy, there’s no guarantee,” says Inoue. “If you focus on what you do love, no matter how insignificant it seems, you’re putting your energy into something that can go right.”
For Crawford, that meant reconnecting with the people who love and support her. “I think of happiness as being defined by the little moments,” she says. “A person’s overall happiness is in the day-to-day stuff.”
An exercise in happiness
Here’s an exercise from Alice Inoue of Happiness U to help you tap into the good stuff:
Every day, write down three things that make you happy. The key is specificity. Instead of “I’m grateful for my family,” dig into why you’re grateful. Try “I’m grateful that my partner cooked dinner so I could relax.” After seven days of consistent practice, this exercise will start to rewire your brain to think more positively.
For information on how to talk to your kids about happiness, visit islandscene.com/more.