Chin up! Get back in the saddle. Fake it ‘til you make it if you have to. Turn that frown upside down and get back into the game. So much advice that only keeps you pretending to be happy instead of helping you to be genuinely happy. People mean well, but they don’t always advise well.
In their defense, those well-intended happiness pushers aren’t completely wrong. There are times and reasons for donning a smile instead of wearing your emotions on your sleeve.
And research shows that smiling can actually lift your mood. It triggers your brain to release neuropeptides and “happiness hormones” like dopamine (pain reliever) and serotonin (antidepressant).
Translate that to pragmatics like productivity in the workplace, and you can see how one person’s mood, good or bad, can affect the whole team.
And, whether you are on the giving or receiving end, smiles, like yawns, are contagious.
But what if every smile is disingenuous? What if the one you fake looks fake and people don’t buy it?
What if, despite your best shot at pretending to be happy, you aren’t convincing anyone, including yourself?
It’s one thing to have a situational source of unhappiness. A loved one dies. You receive some troubling news. You get a flat tire on the way to work.
Everyone has and understands “those days.”
By the same token, we have all known, met, or read about someone who was almost miraculously happy. Their circumstances may not hold a glimmer of positivity within them, and yet, these people radiate hope, gratitude, and genuine happiness.
All you have to do is read a smidgeon of Anne Frank’s work to realize that you are in the presence of someone who knows genuine happiness. The Nazis were looking for her family, and she was in hiding in an attic. Yet, she was inherently happy.
How can someone living in such fear know such happiness?
In March 1944, she wrote, “…I can at least write down what I think and feel. Otherwise I would suffocate completely.”
And that honesty — that courage to reveal in writing what the mind could otherwise choose to sequester — is where we’ll start this discussion.
Topping the list of reasons for pretending to be happy is an unwillingness to confront uncomfortable feelings.
And that’s understandable. So understandable that our brains actually have strategies to keep us from hurting too much.
But even our brains can’t hide the truth. And they can feign happiness only so long.
Why, then, is this “writing your thoughts and feelings” so important as a way to counter pretending to be happy?
Well, it turns out that the answer may be rooted in something known for two-and-a-half millennia.
What do Buddhist monks and neuroscience have in common? Mindfulness.
The practice of mindful meditation is the practice of being present to the present. And, in terms of thoughts and feelings, it’s an acknowledgment of what is there — without judgment.
And therein lies the key. Judgment.
Of all the things that genuinely happy people know about happiness, acceptance of one’s feelings tops the list.
Your feelings “are.” They just “are.” They reveal, inform, and bear witness to life.
It’s always when you choose to deny them that your happiness is diminished — or, at best, a performance of pretense.
Perhaps you choose a career path because “it’s what your family has always done.” But, in your heart-of-hearts, you dread the day you leave school and face a life of living someone else’s dream.
Perhaps you have all the trappings of someone who’s been wildly successful and “has it made.” And yet, you’re miserable inside. In the words of Queen, “Nothing really matters, nothing really matters….”
If you don’t validate your own feelings by at least naming them (writing them down is incredibly powerful), you will live in your own dishonesty. And dishonesty puts you at risk of “being found out.”
How can that existence possibly be happy?
Another reason the monks have always had it right is that happiness is not a goal. It simply is. It is found in the here-and-now.
And, in that regard, it is a choice. No, not to continue pretending to be happy, but to “choose” happiness as a birthright state-of-being.
People who master this principle don’t feign happiness with giddiness and pretension. They simply have an undercurrent of happiness in their lives. And it influences their choices and perspectives.
Valuing your own unique gifts is an essential part of being happy. We are all guilty of comparing ourselves to others. You want to be just like the person you admire — the person whose life is “all together” and whose talents are sought after.
You may even blind yourself to your own gifts and how they are being called upon as an essential role-player in your life. After all, it’s common and easy to perceive others as being “in the know,” “more this,” “more that.”
Being truly happy is about being truly yourself.
And a certain amount of achieving that comes down to giving yourself permission to be yourself, especially if that includes being happy.
It also requires the release of anything that doesn’t serve you and your highest good.
Eliminating physical clutter from your life is just the beginning. It’s also a metaphor for eliminating clutter from your inner life.
That means having the good sense and courage to forgive others. Releasing them from the captivity of your anger, hatred, and/or disapproval simultaneously releases you from the weight of all that negativity.
Cleaning the clutter out of your life — literally and figuratively — makes room for the good things you seek.
You see, happiness, like all positivity, is light. Its weightlessness comes from being unburdened by the limiting responsibility of carrying, honoring, and remembering all that negativity.
When you’re ready to stop pretending to be happy and are ready to be happy instead, remember Michelangelo. One of the most notable things he ever said was in reference to his David masterpiece: “I saw the angel in the stone, and I carved to set him free.”
No matter what has happened in your life, there is always an angel inside, waiting to take flight.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in putting together the pieces so you can create a happy and healthy life for yourself.
Looking for more information about how to live a happy and healthy life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.
Oh rebuilding a life after divorce. You know it has to be done. And you know you’re the one who has to do it. But seriously? Your life hasn’t even finished demo-day, and it’s already expecting you to put it back together…and better than ever? Please.
It really does sound unfair, doesn’t it? Like, just how difficult can things get before something goes your way? How miserable do you have to feel before you can feel any ray of hope?
As difficult as it is to believe when all you see from your rear-view mirror and windshield is “divorce,” life does get better.
It really does.
But the process takes time. And it takes you.
Yep, just when you want to shake your fists at God, the Universe, your Higher Self, whatever, you have to trust that She has a plan for you.
And, just when you want to fold into a ball and cry yourself to sleep, you have to awaken the strength you never knew you had.
Let me validate a few things for you. After all, I’ve been where you are. And I remember how it felt to take advice from people who had no idea what I was going through.
Losing your marriage unravels you. Your dreams, your self-esteem, your confidence, your security, your lifestyle – it all just poofs at warp speed. In an instant, it seems, your life is forever changed.
Regardless of who initiates the divorce or why, everyone in your family is swept up in the current of divorce.
And then there is the process itself – the legal, financial, custodial, and emotional aspects. Timelines, division (and loss) of assets, packing, moving, telling family and friends….
Oh, and the crying. The crying! The lack of appetite. The non-stop appetite. The lack of sleep. The aches and pains. The embarrassment. The anger. The confusion. The worry.
I get it. And I get how the idea of rebuilding a life after divorce for yourself can seem all but impossible.
But stay with me here – because we’re going to take this step by step. You don’t have to guess how to go about building a life you don’t even recognize. And you certainly don’t have to do it alone.
Below are 10 actionable tips for rebuilding a life after divorce.
They will all have a place in your journey (if you allow them to).
They will all challenge the status-quo of your feelings and energy.
But they will all promise more than they ask of you.
So…place your hands over your heart. Gently press and feel the warmth. You are now your own best friend. And you can do this.
Let’s get started….
Get out of victim-thinking and into can-do thinking.We all fall into the trap of victim-thinking. Why me? I can’t believe s/he did this. What am I going to do? I’ve lost everything. I used to have/do/be….
Be compassionate with yourself when you hear these thoughts come up. Even as you work to evolve out of them, they come bearing helpful information. They can reveal your fears and the areas in which you need to grow.
The “no victims, only volunteers” reminder isn’t meant to be cold or blaming. It is a reminder that, on a spiritual level, we lend our lives to the experiences and lessons that will inch us toward self-fulfillment.
You are not responsible for your ex’s vices or actions. But you are responsible for your response to them.
What will you take from this experience? How will you use the lessons, joys, and regrets of your marriage (and now divorce) to propel your life forward? You have the opportunity to become more than a cautionary tale. Your resilience can become the very inspiration that pulls another life out of victimhood into victory.
Journal for a year.Trust me on this. Give it a year. Every day – before bed, when you wake up, whenever you have a feeling/insight/grumbling. Just write.
Don’t read (yet), don’t edit, don’t judge. Just. write. If you need guidance and inspiration for the process, try Julia Cameron’s (The Artist’s Way) Morning Pages. You’ll be amazed by the clarity and direction that rise to the surface simply by developing this one habit.
You won’t want to stop after a year. But that one year will be instrumental to rebuilding a life after divorce.
Focus on your children’s lives and adaptation to your divorce.You may feel consumed by emptiness. Not having a partner in your life, sleeping alone, doubting your own dateability and lovability – it can all become self-imploding.
And rebuilding a life after divorce – contrary to what can feel instinctual – doesn’t start with filling the spouse-void.
It starts with grieving, healing, introspection, forgiveness, and adaptation.
And, if you have children, it starts with helping them to adapt to this life change that they didn’t choose.
They don’t need their parents clinging to them. And they certainly don’t need their parents using them as allies.
But they do need to have good role models.
If you’re co-parenting, they need to see that their parents, even in divorce, can be mature.
Now, more than ever, your kids will be watching you for signs of assurance. They want to know they are physically, emotionally, and financially safe.
And they are always watching for the modeling that will guide them in their own relationships one day.
Instead of rushing into a dating life, focus on your kids. Make sure they’re doing well in school and have access to all the support and healthy activities they need.
Give them time to adjust to a new routine without worrying that their parents are rushing to “replace” one another.
And find enjoyment in the building of new rituals and traditions.
That singular expression of creativity can be one of the most unifying things you and your children do.
You will read this over and over as a guideline for rebuilding a life after divorce. And there’s a reason for that.
Grief is a natural, inevitable process that can’t be disregarded or avoided. Shove it down, and it will come seeping out through your pores.
Learn the stages of grief and welcome them as expected visitors. Allow each stage to tell its story, and become a good listener.
Gift yourself with the support and friendship of a coach, counselor and/or support group to guide you through this unique emotional journey.
Being realistic about grief will prevent you from rushing into relationships and choices for which your life isn’t ready.
Grief, when embraced as an expression of love – for your lost marriage and dreams…and for yourself – is actually a gift. Trust that it is helping to prepare you for the promise of what lies ahead.
But first it needs to clear some space.
Think in terms of “change,” not “loss.”One of the biggest consequences of divorce is a financial shock. Women typically suffer more financially after divorce, and they don’t always recover.
You definitely need to be prudent when going through divorce. Choosing your legal and financial team of experts wisely can have a lifelong impact.
Assuming you have had good counsel and have achieved the most equitable settlement possible, it’s time to move forward.
Your lifestyle may never be as lavish as it once was. You may have to live in a smaller home, forego certain luxuries, and become friends with a budget.
But here’s where you have a life-defining choice.
You can continually look back and compare “what is” to “what was,” seeing only through a filter of loss. Or you can stand up tall and say to everyone – including yourself, “It’s only change. And change will be as good as I allow it to be. I’m ready. I can handle this. What’s next?”
No, you don’t (and shouldn’t) simply accept impoverishment or a lifetime of financial struggle as your new status-quo. You should educate yourself on investing and other financial matters that will affect your life going forward.
But many people stay in miserable marriages precisely because they are afraid to live without the lifestyle and financial security they have accrued together. How sad is that?
If all you see right now is change in the form of “no more misery,” you will be living in positivity…and possibility.
Build your sacred circle of support.Divorce separates more than just spouses. It often forces friends and family to choose sides going forward.
Yes, this can be painful and can make you wonder what else is going to disappear from your life.
But please, please remember that you can’t reach out to receive a gift if your arms are weighed down with baggage. Trust that your Higher Self knows what your life needs…and what it no longer needs.
Removing things (and people) from your life opens space for new things that will nourish your life going forward.
Building your sacred circle isn’t only about “making friends.” It’s also about learning how to ask for help.You may not realize how important this is until you realize you don’t know how to do something essential. Or that you can’t navigate all the emotions without a coach, counselor or support group. Or that, no matter what a great parent you are, it really does take a village to raise a child.
You will feel vulnerable, humble, even uneasy when you start asking for help. But, with practice, you will also begin to feel empowered and supported when you do.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of healthy self-awareness and humility. It also opens the door for people whose character and abilities you esteem to enter your life.
How can you start practicing this assertiveness?
Shift your thinking from “needing help” to “getting educated.” When you meet someone with expertise in a certain area, show genuine curiosity. Asking, “Would you mind educating me about what you do? It sounds fascinating!” will deliver an unexpected compliment to the other person and garner a new ally for you.
Also, if you move to a new home, make it a point to meet all your neighbors.
Drop off a new-neighbor “introduction pack” with a little bit of information about yourself. Offer to be of neighborly service to them, and watch how quickly your new neighbors rally around you.
Remain open to the inflow of new friends and support. You have friends who have always been (and always will be) with you. And you have friends waiting to join your journey.
Life is benevolent if you set your heart to see it that way.
And nowhere is that more evident than in the village of love, support, and expertise it prepares for you.
Get outside your own story to help build someone else’s.There is nothing like helping someone else’s life to help you with rebuilding a life after divorce for yourself.
When you find yourself spiraling or staying stuck in your own woes and worries, it’s time to focus on someone else.
It could be an effort close to home, like chairing a committee at your kids’ school.
Or it could be a brand-new experience with people you’ve never met and skills you have yet to develop.
The benefits of volunteering go beyond the obvious. While your heart is opening to someone else’s needs and your mind is on creative overflow, you’re reaping benefits, too.
You get to become part of a new “family” that is connected by a common passion. And you get to learn and practice new skills without worrying about an annual review.
Your community will get a big boost, and so will your resumé and confidence.
Join a group.Yes, you might consider joining a group…or two…or a few.
Join at least one group online – maybe something on your favorite social media platform that will give you constant access and connection.
Avoid political or controversial groups. Instead, opt for one or two that focus on a favorite interest – pets, crafts, your college alma mater.
You may even want to join an online support group for people going through divorce or dealing with grief.
You may also want you to join a group in real life (IRL). Joining a group like this can motivate you to get out into the world again for the sole purpose of connecting with other people.
Again, find something that interests you or simply intrigues you.
Don’t know where to start? Check out Meetup. You’ll have a tough time limiting your choices because there’s a group for every conceivable interest.
If you feel a little nervous and vulnerable going to your first group, yea! Consider that a sign that life is flowing back in!
Exercise.If all you do is walk every morning or do yoga in front of your TV, you’re doing great!
Grief, worry, exhaustion, and all the other negatives of post-divorce life can excuse a brief slip into sedentariness. Now, more than ever, you need all those invigorating endorphins that come only from exercise. Nothing else will give you the two-for-one deal of caring for your body and mind at the same time.
For a little inspiration, consider this book by Barry Strauss. Rowing Against the Current chronicles the author’s late entry into rowing in response to a midlife crisis.
Believe.Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. And yes, there is life after divorce.
Not ready to raise your right hand on that belief? It’s OK to pretend until you are.
Just keep telling yourself that life is going to get better.
Sometimes faith happens one little belief at a time. Believe you can get that job. Believe you can go to a movie and laugh. Believe you can make it into that Destroyer of the Universe pose you’ve been challenged by for years.
Believe you’re going to make it through this year (you can worry about the year-after later).
And believe that you are right where you need to be to learn what you need to learn, with all the resources you need at your disposal.
Rebuilding a life after divorce doesn’t come with universal blueprints. There is no singular formula, no a+b=c.
There are, however, intention, hope, trust, and choice in what your life is going to look like. It won’t happen overnight. But you are still the one in charge.
Even the architectural Wonders of the World, some built millennia before technology and modern engineering, were constructed one brick, one chisel at a time.
And yet, all were guided by a vision for what could be. And backing that vision was the belief that one step, one stone, one creative solution at a time would one day manifest to please the gods.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a divorce and life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in putting together the pieces so you can begin living your happy life.