The HOW of being happy

(even with tinnitus raging in your head)

In my previous blog I talked about two things that can lead us to live unhappy lives with tinnitus:

  1. We make our happiness conditional on something happening. In our case we say something like “I’ll be happy when my tinnitus is cured”. We learned that putting off our happiness until we have a tinnitus cure, or a relationship, or have lost weight, is doing ourselves a great disservice. Putting off our happiness until our tinnitus is cured, could mean a long life with no happiness. And even if a cure is found in our lifetime, we might be surprised to find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied with life for other reasons.
  2. Our brain has an inbuilt negativity bias which causes us to notice and remember the negative things we experience much more than positive or neutral things. We learned that tinnitus – or any other challenges in our life – don’t have to determine how happy we are. We have more control over our happiness levels than we might have realised. We can live with tinnitus and still find multiple reasons to be happy.

Knowledge is power!

Now that we are aware of these, we can take proactive steps to counter the way they can affect our lives.

I’m not proposing that we start pretending to be Pollyanna (Google her if you’re under 40 – she was a character from a book and film who was irrepressibly optimistic and would have greeted the loss of both feet with the words “oh good, no socks to wash!).

In fact, having a “good vibes only” approach to life can lead to something called toxic positivity – where we suppress all our painful thoughts and emotions and plaster on a fake smile instead.

Do you remember those old-style jack-in-the-boxes in a square metal box?

Toxic positivity is a bit like winding the handle on the side of the box and trying to hold the lid down at the same time. It creates a huge amount of pressure. Squashing our challenging thoughts and feelings creates pressure in the same way.

Those thoughts and feelings don’t just disappear when we squash them down. They will eventually pop up, regardless of how hard we try to keep the lid on them. And when they do pop up, we can pretty much guarantee that they’re not going to do so at a time and place of our choosing. It’s why we might find ourselves yelling at our kids for doing something that really doesn’t warrant that kind of reaction. Or turning into a road-rage monster when the car in front doesn’t set off from the lights the second they turn green.

How to be happy

If we want to increase our happiness now, rather than wait until our tinnitus is cured, how do we go about it?

Here are three suggestions, all based on research and evidence:

Supporting others

Helping and being kind to others not only contributes to their happiness but can also help us to feel happier ourselves!1Curry, O. S., Rowland, L. A., Van Lissa, C. J., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 320-329. Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., &; Norton, M. I. (2012). Happiness runs in a circular motion: Evidence for a positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(2), 347-355. It’s also a very positive way of redirecting our attention away from the noise of our tinnitus.

Supporting others might look like:

  • Volunteering at a tinnitus support group
  • Spending time with a charity or non-profit
  • Checking in on someone you feel is struggling with life
  • Helping young kids learn how to read in school

How could you support others in your community?

Paying attention to life

Being more mindful is a wonderful way of improving our happiness levels. It improves our ability to focus on what we want to pay attention to, rather than our tinnitus. And it also encourages us to pause from time to time in our busy lives and notice positive little things that we would otherwise miss.

During the Pandemic here in the UK we were locked down for a number of weeks. We were allowed to do one short walk a day around our neighbourhood. The dog was pretty bored with this, as was I initially. But, walking the same route, day after day, I started to notice details I’d never spotted before. I saw the holly and lilac flowers growing a little bigger each day that I passed them. I noticed the leaves spreading along the tree branches. These offered little pockets of wonder in amongst the turmoil and stress of that time.

Of course there are courses to learn mindfulness, for example the Bee Empowered course I run specifically for people struggling with tinnitus. But you can also experience elements of mindfulness in your house or on your own street. What might you notice if you slowed down a little and paid attention?

Connecting with others

Studies show people with strong relationships are happier, healthier and may even live longer 2Eg Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press. You don’t need to have a friendship group of thousands – it’s more about the quality than the quantity! Often a few, really good friends, can nourish us in a way that a bigger friendship group can’t. And as far as family are concerned, well, they don’t have to be blood relatives. We can choose who belongs to our family.

Who would you like to connect more with? And are there any connections who are no longer a helpful presence in your life?

Choose happiness

If you’d like to look more deeply at how you can choose to be happy even with tinnitus, take a look at my mindfulness course or my 1-2-1 coaching for way in which we can work together to improve your happiness.