How to be really happy?

First appeared in Straits Time’s MIND YOUR BODY supplement, where Wendy had a column “Life Lessons” (2005-6).


How to be really happy? A rather common yet difficult question


Hello, I am 33 years old and is married with a daughter. I've never really understand the true meaning of happiness because I've been feeling unhappy for more than 15 years now. It all started when I stepped out to the society to work.


Sadly to say, there are so many 'demons' in the working world. I'm in the secretarial line and have been a victim of back stabbing and subject of office politics. I'm not a capable worker, (more) a quiet and low profile worker, I don't gossip and I am very responsible worker. I always carry out whatever task that my superior delegate and I do not speak ill of anyone in the office. However, I can never hold a job for more than 3 years.


Like I mention, I am not an intelligent nor capable worker, I am just very responsible and hardworking. I am not well liked by colleagues since I keep a low profile and people sometimes mistook me for being proud. I'm also not well like at home. I am original looking and I have 3 good looking older sisters who are very sociable and popular. My mum has been comparing my look with them since young, this has inevidently turn me into someone with very low self esteem.


My 2 years old daughter who takes after her dad in every way is very pretty and well liked. She is always very happy and cheerful and she is the only reason why I'm still hanging on.


Wendy says:


You asked “How to be happy?” and my first question back to you is “What does happiness mean to you?”


You said you have not been happy for more than 15 years. Nevertheless, if you picture yourself happy, what would your life be like? What work will you be doing? What would you be saying about yourself, your looks, and your strengths? What would your relationship with your husband, daughter, mother, sisters be like?

I believe we create our happiness.


If you want to be happy, what are you willing to change about yourself? More importantly, what are you willing to change about the way you think?


I find the way you think about yourself and people very defeatist.


Firstly, you have negative thoughts about the people at work. These thoughts have affected your behaviour at work. For example, if you see your colleagues as “demons”, you will inevitably treat them with skepticism, fear and resentment. Even changing your job will not make you happy because you will bring your same negative thoughts about people into your next work-place. Your negative thoughts will lead you to see people in a negative way, to put distance between them and you, and eventually you will start to think they don’t like you.


Secondly, you describe yourself in negative terms, such as not intelligent, not capable, not well-liked. Although you know you have positive traits such as responsible and hardworking, you focus a lot on the negative. Looking down on yourself contributes to your own unhappiness.


Where do your negative thoughts about people and yourself come from?


You mention that your mother used to compare your looks to your sisters. You also tend to compare yourself with your sister, and feel inferior. Part of your negative thoughts about yourself may easily stem from the messages you received as you were growing up. Which of these messages sound familiar - “you are not good enough”, “others are always better than you”, “people cannot be trusted”, “you don’t deserve to be happy”?


I am not asking you to blame your current unhappiness on your mother or your childhood. Knowing that your childhood affects you is just one step. The rest of the process in creating happiness depends on you NOW.


You need to start loving yourself. Everyday, make a list of what is good and beautiful in your life and about you? E.g, you read a story to your daughter and both of you enjoyed it, your smile is lovely, a friend called you, you had a great chat with someone. By making such a list (at least 2 items), you will start to focus more on being happy and your happy moments, and less on your misery. You will start to see the goodness in others, instead of their “demons”. You will then find yourself more content, with more joy and more friendships.


Every time you think a negative and unhappy thought, take a look if it is logical or it is part of a “negative childhood message”. Most likely it is from your past, and you need to dismiss the thought and replace it with a positive and empowering one.


By transforming the way you look at yourself and others, you will start to build your self-esteem and your relationships. If you need some guidance on how to transform yourself, join a support group or a personal development workshop.

You have a lovely daughter. Make sure you are building your relationship with her and her self-worth. Praise her for more than just being pretty. You must also acknowledge her for displaying values and character.


I hope you find more reasons to live than just “hanging on” for your daughter. You deserve to be happy, and you can create happiness for yourself and others.