I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago called “How to get from Hopelessness to Happiness after Divorce,” and it got probably the most views of any blog post I’ve written. Why? I think because separated or divorced men and women are always looking for ways, solutions, ANYTHING to solve that problem of how to be happy after divorce.
Let’s be honest, there really is no “solution” to being happy, everyone has to get their on his or her own. But in my opinion, it’s the choices, the actions that people take that can make a difference both in becoming a happier person, or unfortunately making things worse and becoming unhappier.
Some men and women try to get happy through a new relationship. They jump in quickly and hope that love will make them happy. That is Jackie’s least favorite way to find happiness after divorce, and don’t get me wrong, there is no bigger fan of romance than me. It’s just that I hate when people use a relationship to mask all of their issues, instead of fixing the issues in more head-on, honest ways, like therapy, faith, exercise, and time.
Additionally, men and woman sometimes take to alcohol, drugs, sex or other addictions to make them happy. But we all know how temporary and potentially deadly that solution is.
So, how to be happy after divorce? I asked Dr. Sarah Allen, a therapist who holds a Ph.D, if she would let me post a blog she recently wrote on the subject. She didn’t just write this for divorced people, but for anyone who wants to be happier.
The reason I loved it so much is that she offers an easy solution to being happier, something you can try that doesn’t take a lot of time (5 minutes a day), but that might make you realize after a couple weeks of doing it that it’s really helping! Try it! You have nothing to lose!
How to be Happy, by Dr. Sarah Allen, Ph.D
One of the most successful techniques to come out of the Positive Psychology movement (Seligman) is the task of keeping a daily journal where you write down three positive things that have happened during your day. It doesn’t need a lot of journaling if that’s not your thing. It’s simple, list three things that have made you feel happy.
Why does this work? Well, if we know we have to write something in the evening, we keep our eyes open during the day and therefore are more likely to notice and pay a little bit more attention to positive events. Quite simply, noticing something positive and noting how it makes us feel happy makes our brain increase serotonin. If we do this regularly, over time we increase our happiness.
I have tweaked it a little bit and have divided this daily task into two sections; things that we just observe and things that we made happen. It only takes a couple of minutes to write down three examples of each.
Three Things That Made You Smile/Feel Good
Write down three positive things that you noticed today.
“I saw the daffodils were poking through the soil next to my garage and it made me smile that Spring is finally on its way”.
“My son came through the door and gave me a big hug hello”.
“I looked at a cartoon on Facebook and thought it was so funny I laughed out loud”.
When we are feeling down we tend to just focus on the negative and ignore the positive. Part of therapy is to widen your focus to include things that went well and that you enjoyed, not just what irritated you. The act of noticing and paying attention to the experience makes the brain take more notice and therefore feel more pleasure. This is the opposite of being on automatic pilot as you go through your day.
Three Things That You Had A Part In Making It Positive
Jot down three things that went well for you today. Why did it happen, what role did you play?
“I began the morning in a relaxed way by lying in bed cuddling with my kitty cat – because I set the alarm to go off ten minutes earlier than I needed to get up I still had plenty of time to get ready”.
“I felt very connected to my child because I put down my phone and really listened to how his day at school had gone”.
“I had a lot of work to get done but I made myself take a break and take my friend up on her offer of going for a walk. Afterwards I felt more refreshed and was able to be more productive”.
Just as we tend to ignore the positive and notice the bad things that have happened, we also tend to ignore the positive influence we have over things and events. I think it is so important to recognize not only what was good, but how you came to make it happen so you can hopefully repeat it in the future.
The same with negative things – if you have the attitude that things just happen rather than recognizing what you did or didn’t do to effect the outcome – it makes events feel out of your control and we humans are happiest when we feel some sense of control.
Thank you, Sarah! By the way, I have been in Sarah’s office to interview her for articles for the Sun-Times and I have to say, if you want to be happy, just walk in there! It’s a wonderful, warm, cozy environment, and I would recommend Sarah as a therapist a million times over!
Sarah’s Bio and contact info:
Dr. Sarah Allen is a psychologist who specializes in empowering women to live the life they want. She sees clients in her Northbrook office or via telephone or Skype sessions. She can be reached at (847) 791-7722
I started doing this exercise in my journal last night and I want to thank you as it has definitely helped me stay focused on what matters most. Thank you so much for this blog. My ex and I separated 10 months ago and I haven’t done so well. I have been all over the place and finding your blog recently has provided some much needed perspective. This very morning I was “debating” with a male friend of mine who is encouraging me not to give up on love. He is newly divorced himself and is in his 50’s and I am in my late 30’s. We both have kids. He is very optimistic moving forward but I just don’t believe it is in my cards. For the past 10 months I have been evaluating and assessing my previous relationships and I definitely see a trend/pattern and not a good one. I choose men who are selfish and self-absorbed. However, I also tend to be the definition of the “woman who loves too much”. I tend to have a difficult time ending relationships when it is obvious they should be over. I also can’t seem to advocate or stand up for my own wants and needs. I am working on this but just don’t feel I can trust myself moving forward. Again, thanks for your advice.