What to Do When You Think “I Want to be Happy Again”

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I want to be happy again.

I hear that so often from women with an empty nest. They feel lost and lonely and like their best days are behind them. 

Happiness feels almost like a distant memory. It feels like an almost impossible task to feel happy again.

If you feel that way, first know that you’re not alone. Many, many women feel sad and purposeless when their kids grow up and leave home.

You’re also quite normal. A phase of your life is ending and the future is uncertain. Change is uncomfortable. It’s completely normal to grieve for the life you had.

You should also feel proud! Your grief probably means you were a great mom. Your purpose in life was being a mom and raising your kids. And now you’re honestly not sure if there’s anything you could enjoy more than being a mom.

I want to be happy again.

Does that sound like you? If it does, you’ve come to the right place. After my divorce, I went through a long period of unhappiness and found my way to the other side. I’m currently happier than I’ve been in years, even though 2020 has been a difficult year for me as it has been for so many. 

Here are 10 tips that helped me regain my happiness. I know they’ll help you to be happy again as well.

1. Take Time to Grieve Your Losses

I know, it’s weird to talk about grieving in a post about happiness. But we cannot get past emotions that we haven’t taken time to process. If you’re feeling sad about a loss in your life, take some time to write down your feelings. Write about what you enjoyed and what you’ll miss the most. Really take the time to pinpoint your exact feelings.

You’ll probably cry. And that’s great because it means that you’re not blocking out your feelings.

If you have experienced trauma in your past, you may find it hard to really experience happiness now. If that’s the case, I highly recommend the book, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo. This book helped me enormously to heal after my divorce.

J.K. Rowling Quote - You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.

2. Examine Your Unhappiness

Do you find yourself walking around with a vague sense of unhappiness? Are you wondering if you’re having a midlife crisis? If you find yourself feeling frequently sad (or worse – just numb and blah) for no real reason, take some time to find out why you feel the way you feel.  Your vague feeling of dissatisfaction could be giving you a powerful signal that something in your life needs to change. 

One good way to determine the source of your unhappiness is to track every hour of your day for a few days. Every hour on the hour, write down the following:

  • The time
  • Your current activity
  • Your Happiness Rating (How happy are you right now from a scale of 0-not happy at all to 10- couldn’t possibly be happier)

After a few days, you should start to see some patterns. If you find yourself consistently unhappy after performing a certain task or speaking with a particular friend, that’s probably a sign that you need to make some changes. Remember, your midlife crisis can be a gift if you use it to identify the changes you need to make in your life.

This is a simplified version of Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hour Time Tracking. If you would like to get deeper into tracking your time, you can get more information here.

Your Time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. - Steve Jobs

3. Make Self-Care a Priority

Change is stressful and we need to be gentle with ourselves when we’re undergoing change. Take time to focus on yourself and your own needs. I actually have a self-care kit that I turn to when life just seems to be a bit too much. Don’t be afraid to unplug from the world for a day or two to focus on yourself.

 Self-care isn’t sitting on the sofa watching TV and drinking wine, though. (OK, it can be sometimes, but only for a very short time!) Self-care is taking care of yourself because you’re a valuable person. It’s drinking lots of water to stay hydrated, feeding yourself good food that makes you feel healthy, and setting boundaries with people who make you feel bad. I’ve got a list of practical self-care ideas that can help you keep an even keel when you feel a bit wobbly.

Self-care is not a waste of time; self-care makes your use of time more sustainable - Jackie Viramontez Quote

4. Start a Regular Exercise Program

If you’ve ever experienced any kind of chronic pain (oh, hey, my aching neck!), you know that’s it’s really impossible to be happy when you’re in pain. The best way to stay strong and pain-free in life is with a regular exercise program. Numerous studies also show that older adults who increase their level of fitness significantly raise their levels of happiness.

The good news is that you can absolutely become fit after the age of 50, even if you’ve never exercised in your life.

Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live. - Jim Rohn Quote

5. Go For a Walk

Nope, this isn’t a duplicate of my last tip! If you’re feeling down in the dumps and sluggish and unmotivated, you can increase your happiness right away by simply taking 20 or 30 minutes for a brisk walk. Just getting out of your chair can help increase your happiness and spending time outdoors enjoying nature is always a mood booster. 

You don’t even have to go outside to get the benefits of a quick walk. I often jump on my treadmill for a nice brisk walk when I find that my concentration is weakening or if I can’t see a solution to a problem.

When I'm in turmoil, when I can't think, when I'm exhausted and afraid and feeling very, very, alone, I go for walks. - Jim Butcher Quote

6. Give Out Daily Happiness Awards

I found this exercise in the book, Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Shimoff and Carol Kline. (As you might imagine from its name, the entire book is a great resource for learning how to increase your happiness). 

As you go about your day, pretend that you are in charge of giving out awards to anyone or anything that brings a bit of happiness. For example, if you are admiring the fall leaves in your area, pick one tree that’s outshining all the rest and give it the “Most Colorful” award. I like to watch the birds outside my window and give them awards for “Most Beautiful Birdsong” or “Hardest Worker”.

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results - Willie Nelson quote

7. Pay Someone a Compliment

If a person wins one of your daily happiness awards, let them know! I, myself, particularly admire when a cashier is thoughtful about bagging my groceries quickly and efficiently. So, I’m always happy to tell them that I appreciate their effort. 

Paying someone a sincere compliment brings a smile to your face and theirs. You can find reasons to compliment people anywhere you look: a woman with a really stylish outfit or a mom showing enormous patience with her child. If you notice something you admire, let that person know!

A compliment is verbal sunshine - Robert Orben Quote

8. Adopt a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck discusses the Growth Mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. (Can you tell I’ve read A LOT of books about happiness?)

Many people have a “fixed mindset.” They believe that their abilities are static and cannot be changed. For example, have you ever looked at someone and said something like, “I could never paint pictures like she can. She’s really talented!” That’s you assuming that your ability to dance is fixed and you can never improve it.

However, successful people tend to have a “growth mindset.” They see their life as a series of challenges in which they can always improve. If they decide they want to take up painting as a hobby, they know and understand that they may struggle at first, but that they can always improve with practice.The good news here is that your mindset isn’t fixed. You can start looking at situations in your life with a growth mindset. This article provides a great overview of how to start to develop a growth mindset.

More about the Growth Mindset:

Watch this video on YouTube.

9. Improve Your Self-Talk

We often talk to ourselves more harshly than we would talk to anyone else. When I’m upset, I often find myself berating myself for being upset. “This is such a little thing! What is it bothering you? Get over it!” Spoiler alert – when I talk to myself like that, I find myself more upset, less motivated, and I lose confidence.

Take the time to learn to treat yourself with self-compassion. If you’re constantly hard on yourself, you won’t break this habit in a day. But every effort you make in improving your self-talk will pay off in improved happiness.

And, yes, I have a book recommendation if you want to learn more. What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter really helped me learn to identify and improve my negative self-talk.

Pro-Tip: If you find yourself berating yourself for using negative self-talk, stop and laugh at how ludicrous that is. You’ll feel better. Believe me, I know.

More about Removing Negative Self-Talk:

Watch this video on YouTube.

10. Practice Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude is one of the most effective ways to improve your happiness. It can also be one of the hardest steps to take which is why I put it last. If you’re feeling bad about your life, it can be hard to notice anything that’s worth being thankful for.

Start small by making a game of gratitude. When I’m feeling low, I like to find the absolutely smallest thing in my life that gives me pleasure. For example, today I’m grateful for my long gray sweater because I think it elevates my daily outfit of leggings and t-shirt from frumpy to somewhat stylish.

Keeping an ongoing list of really, really small things that I’m grateful for amuses me and somehow lifts my spirit enough that I can notice the bigger things, like the love of my husband and my continuing good health.

And here’s a final thing to be grateful for:

“Pause and remember— Every situation in life is temporary. So, when life is good, make sure you enjoy and receive it fully. And when life is not so good, remember that it will not last forever and better days are on the way.”

— Jenni Young

Photo of author

Katy Kozee | Midlife Rambler

Hi! I'm Katy and I started Midlife Rambler when my youngest child was a senior in high school. I was staring at the coming empty nest and wondering what was next for me. Does that sound like you? Then you’ll love our community of fun, feisty women. We’re looking forward to finally focusing (just a little) on ourselves and talking about all the things we enjoy: fashion, beauty, travel, entertaining, and being the best possible you.

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