This is the second part of a two-part article by Todd Patkin (Read Part One Here)
9) Invest in your relationships—especially your marriage. When we’re driving ourselves to the brink, personal relationships are usually one of the first things to suffer. After all, the more time you spend at work, the less time and energy you have to invest in friends and family. You don’t consciously realize it at first, but this gradual deterioration can leave you feeling unappreciated, angry, alone, and anxious. Remember, though, that loving, supportive relationships will majorly enhance your happiness levels, and that friends and family care about you and accept you in a way that your employer never will.
“It’s never a waste of time to reach out to the people who are meaningful to you and tell them how important they are to you, or to try to address any unresolved grievances and apologize for the things you may regret,” Patkin assures. “And there’s one relationship you need to focus on in particular: the one with your spouse or significant other. Put more work into this relationship than you do into anything else: your house, your car, or your job, etc. Celebrate your spouse every day. Tell her (or him!) all the time how beautiful she is and how lucky you are to have her in your life. Trust me: this can make such a great difference in your emotional health, your stress levels, and your overall happiness! I truly believe that I would not be as happy as I am today without the love of my wife, and I also believe that my breakdown would have been much worse without her support.”
10) Take control of what you can. If you’re reading this, chances are your life isn’t exactly stress-free. It’s practically impossible to live in the modern world without a million worries ranging from work deadlines to bills to clogged gutters. While you aren’t omnipotent, you probably can influence at least a few of the things that are causing your anxiety. Try to eliminate or minimize situations that are stressors instead of constantly dealing with their effects. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference when it comes to relieving stress.
“Start by identifying the two or three things that cause you the most stress on a consistent basis—maybe having a messy house is one,” says Patkin. “Often, you’ll find that there are concrete things you can do to lessen or even eliminate the pressure. For example, you might have a frank discussion with your spouse and kids regarding chores. Or, you might finally hire a cleaning person to help you once or twice a month if you can now afford it. Also, if you can’t eliminate or change a stressor, such as a job you hate but can’t afford to quit, challenge yourself to handle it differently. Specifically, decide beforehand how you will react in a more enlightened way when certain stressful situations occur—actually visualize yourself handling them with poise instead of becoming outwardly or inwardly worked up. Having a game plan in place before the ‘beast’ rears its ugly head really can reduce your negative reactions to stressors—big time.”
11) Being friendly is a good investment. In our culture, it’s become a badge of honor to stride around with an air of importance and a stony face. After all, if you’re too busy to say hello, you must be important. Yes, it’s easy to become absorbed by your responsibilities—but you’re not doing yourself any favors by shutting out the rest of the world. Even if you don’t have time to answer all of your emails, you can still smile at people in the hall and say a friendly hello to the cashier in the grocery store. Making positive connections will bring more happiness to you and to others.
“Have you noticed that although our society is more and more ‘connected’ by technology, we interact less and less with other people on a meaningful, face-to-face level than ever before?” Patkin asks. “Our plugged-in lifestyles aren’t doing us as many favors as we thought they would. Even when we’re not at work, we’re likely to be glued to our smartphones or laptops, which amps up our stress. Make a conscious effort to unplug and make a friendly connection with another human—even a simple smile or hello is great. The fact is, everyone on Earth is carrying some sort of burden. You can’t make their pain, stress, or grief just magically disappear…but you can be what I call a ‘lamp-lighter’—someone who makes others feel just a little bit lighter and happier on their journey, even if only for five seconds. When you make friendliness a habit, you’ll attract kindness and smiles in return…and you’ll feel great about yourself for making a positive difference in the world!”
12) Helping others is the soul food of life. One of the (many) negative side effects of our busy lives is that we tend to think mostly about ourselves: how much work we have left on that big presentation, how we’re going to find time to take the kids to sports practice and pick up groceries, and much, much more. No matter how busy you are now, consider helping others to be an integral part of the healthy work/life balance that will help you to avoid unhappiness. This will give you perspective, make you feel good, and will prevent you from staying in the negative me-focused cycle that was making you unhappy in the first place.
“Since my breakdown, I’ve become very involved in philanthropy,” Patkin shares. “I’ve found that it really is better to give than to receive, and that reaching out a helping hand to someone who isn’t as fortunate as you tends to quash selfish impulses and highlight your own blessings. Giving of yourself doesn’t have to involve money, either—remember that your time, talents, and compassion are just as valuable as cash, if not more so. Consider visiting a disabled veteran at the VA, or simply rolling your neighbor’s trashcan up the driveway! And if you have kids, you’ll be setting a wonderful example for them. I promise you, whether you’re giving time, energy, money, or encouragement, being generous will build up your self-esteem, broaden your perspective, keep you anchored in reality, and connect you to your blessings—all components of a happy life.”
13) It’s important to connect with something bigger than yourself. Yes, spirituality (much like politics) is a touchy subject. But according to Patkin, believing in something bigger than yourself is essential to developing the kind of perspective you need to be happy. Whether you consider your Higher Power to be God, Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, the Universe, or even just Nature or another entity, being willing and able to see and feel His (or Her, if you prefer!) presence in your life will enable you to move away from self-centeredness and focus your energy and concerns on the greater community. It’ll also provide solace and give meaning to unfortunate events and troubling life circumstances.
“Personally, I’ve been connected to the Jewish faith for my entire life,” Patkin shares. “But it was only after my breakdown that I really allowed my faith to grow. My personal belief that God exists and cares about me has changed the way I view the world—but you don’t need to espouse my beliefs, or even join an organized religion and attend services regularly. What I do hope you’ll do is make an effort to clarify your thoughts about faith and also make an effort to connect to your Higher Power, whether it’s through prayer, meditation, writing in a journal, doing random acts of kindness, or just spending time in nature. Eventually, I hope you’ll begin to see your Higher Power as a source of inspiration, renewal, strength, guidance, and aid—as I do.”
14) A grateful heart is a happy heart. It’s very easy to take things for granted: the information your coworker emailed you, the fact that your car is running, and even the food you’re eating for dinner. The fact is, most of us have gotten into the habit of ignoring all of the good things in our lives. Instead, we focus our mental energy on being upset about what’s wrong and what we don’t have. Yes, cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” might be a clichéd concept, but the humility that comes from knowing you owe so much to so many others will, in turn, spur you to give back more often to those less fortunate than yourself. Plus, studies have actually shown that thankful individuals are 25 percent healthier than their counterparts, too!
“To start tapping into the power of gratitude, just say ‘thanks’ to the people who help you out during your day,” Patkin suggests. “And beyond that, try to notice all of the blessings in your life. If you live in America, you have access to great education, healthcare, and the freedom to worship and work as you choose. Those are huge things to be thankful for right out of the gate! We take these ‘basics’ and much more for granted, and we often have others—whether it’s an ancestor of ours, a veteran, or a coworker—to thank for them. It’s extremely important to be aware of all of your blessings, and to honor and thank those whom you owe.”
15) Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. All of the things Patkin has learned from his breakdown will help you to cut your stress levels, and they’ll also aid you in cultivating a more balanced, happier life. But he’s also adamant that feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed are all very serious, and he says that you shouldn’t expect yourself to easily “fix” these issues on your own.
“If you feel that you’re in over your head, or if your best efforts aren’t working, please reach out and ask for help,” says Patkin. “I might never have recovered after my breakdown without the help of my friends, family, and medical professionals. This is all big stuff. You shouldn’t—in fact, you can’t—make big changes in your life alone. At the very least, you’ll need the support of those who love you.”
“Ultimately, I’ve learned that the quality of your life is largely up to you,” Patkin concludes. “If you’re anything like me—and if you’re honest with yourself—you’ll have to confess that a striving, stressful lifestyle is not making you happy. I’ll admit that many of the changes I’m asking you to make in order to avoid more unhappiness (and perhaps even a breakdown) go against what society says you should do if you want to be successful. But I have found out the hard way that a ‘successful’ yet stressed out and unhappy life is certainly not, in reality, a truly successful life at all.”
Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he 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.
Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.com.