1. Don’t demand things from people who aren’t capable of giving them.
Sadness often stems from unmet expectations, and standards are a form of expectations. Take a moment to think about your standards and those of various people in your life. Do they match up? If your best friend (or boyfriend, girlfriend, sister, etc.) has been letting you down lately, stop and consider how exactly they define that role themselves. To you, a best friend might be someone who is always a phone call away, checks in with you daily, and hangs out with you regularly. To them, though, a best friend might mean someone who they can call when they need to, see occasionally, and still feel deeply connected to. Neither of you are necessarily “bad friends”—you just have completely different definitions of close friendship. If these differences in standards become too great, though, someone will ultimately be left unhappy. Ask yourself whether your requisites for relationships (platonic, romantic, and professional) are being met by the people around you, or if you are settling for less than you want for yourself. If someone consistently isn’t meeting them (or doesn’t even want to try), let that person go. Some relationships are worth working for, and some really aren’t. There will always be people who truly don’t have the emotional capabilities to meet your needs, and you can only demand so much from them. Recognizing this as soon as possible will not only save you a world of sadness, but also help you find the people who are capable much more easily.
2. Converse happily.
When speaking with someone, take a second to focus on something you like about him or her. Whether it’s a nice smile, witty sense of humor, or beautiful eye color, take a moment to notice it. It might sound like a cheesy exercise, but doing this actually sends signals of appreciation and gratitude to your brain, which in turn activate regions associated with releasing dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical. When you consistently and genuinely appreciate the people around you, it shows in your face and affects the way you interact, making you an all-around more pleasant person. It also helps you stay positive when chatting with someone you don’t particularly enjoy.
3. Question your routines, then upgrade what’s not working.
Routines go beyond zumba classes and school schedules. Our thought patterns, word choices, friend groups, and paychecks are all reflections of different routines we have. If 2013 wasn’t your greatest year, consider the things you did repeatedly throughout the last twelve months. Who and what did you think about regularly? What was the usual conversation topic among your group of friends? What kind of media did you expose yourself to? Did you keep up with the Kardashians in an intimate way? Fortunately, we control most of our routines and can modify them at any time. I’ve found that it’s much easier to replace a routine than it is to simply “delete” it from your life, so I recommend substituting your not-so-great habits for better ones as often as you can.
4. Establish a habit of acknowledging others.
Take a few seconds out of your day to acknowledge people as you pass them on the street, in school, or at work—whether you know them or not. A simple smile or “G’morning!” is more than enough to brighten someone’s day (and you never know what kind of day they might be having).
5. Laugh. A lot.
There are a lot of funny people in the world, but truly, genuinely hilarious ones are harder to find. I try not to be a clinger as a general rule, but if I find a friend who makes me belly-laugh, I will cling. And I will cling HARD. When you actively seek out people, hobbies, and experiences that make you giggle, life gets lighter, sillier, and much easier to deal with. Find what makes you shed tears of laughter, and surround yourself with it as often as possible.
6. Let things lie.
How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s fine, I’m fine,” when they clearly aren’t? Many of us have an unfortunate habit of pushing away sadness whenever it approaches. We feel like being honest and admitting to feeling anything that’s not “fine” will make the people around us uncomfortable. Maybe it will, but so what? If someone can’t handle an honest answer, they probably shouldn’t ask the question. Now, I’m not advising we all whine incessantly about anything that bothers us, but I do believe that we should respect our emotions a little more in the moment. When something is sad, let it be sad. When a relationship is over, let it be over. It might suck, but there it is. Things will change (probably for the better) because that’s how life works. But you can’t force feelings to go away or sweep things under the carpet for too long without feeling the consequences later. Denial might be a coping mechanism, but it isn’t a healthy one.
7. Protect your mental health.
We’re taught from a young age to quickly remove ourselves from any situation that threatens our physical well-being. Crossing the street? Look both ways. Walking alone and feel like you’re being followed? Call the police, and book it out of there. If a friend asked you to hang out with her in a house that was literally on fire, what would you do? Probably say something along the lines of, “Um, I don’t really feel like getting burned alive, but thanks! Peace out, weirdo!” And never talk to her again. Rejecting that invitation would be easy—our brains are wired to keep us out of that kind of danger. What we do struggle with is bowing out of emotionally unhealthy situations. Unfortunately, our body’s fight-or-flight reflex doesn’t always extend to emotional risks. If it did, we would have less trouble cutting toxic people and situations from our lives. It’s vital that you create your own mental health alarm system, and train it to go off whenever you feel your boundaries being crossed. Don’t hang around people who make you unhappy, and don’t let anyone guilt trip you into doing things you know won’t make you feel great. This might mean declining certain party invitations more often, passing on a couple ill-fated road trip offers, and maybe not being as popular as you once were. But it’s worth it. You’ll thank yourself down the line (and probably save a ton of money on therapy fees).