How to be Happy After Trauma

How to be Happy After Trauma

My brother died, having overcome our childhood traumas. And he took with him several other lives.

Trauma has a way of drowning you. And one loses themselves in it.

He was not always living through his trauma. He was an adorable toddler once, my best friend growing up, and my playmate. He was funny, sweet, kind, gentle, and playful.

He couldn’t find positive ways to be just a little happier. And I couldn’t help him, as I was drowning in my trapped reality. I wouldn’t have known at the time how to help him.

A few years after his death, I began to put the pieces together that would lead me to heal from my trauma. While stumbling along the way, I continued and eventually found sustainable happiness. The kind of happiness where every day is a good day. The kind of happiness where I live a life I only dreamt of.

Part of Just a Little Bit Happier Project is the reverse engineering of happiness. Part is ungating happiness, as it’s often seen as something that other people have, unattainable within our control.

For the following few happiness research analyses, I will focus on being just a little bit happier despite your trauma.

Can you be happy again after trauma?

It’s possible, yes. Is it easy? For some, it will be the most challenging, intentional work; for others, their low has been so intense that there’s nowhere else to go but up.

But you can be happier post-trauma. Happiness is yours.

What is the research on happiness and trauma?

There are so many studies on happiness post-trauma, but I will point to four in this article.

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131. This paper reviews research on the possibility of lastingly increasing happiness. They propose that activities to sustain happiness can be divided into behavioral, cognitive, and motivational strategies. Behavioral strategies include committing acts of kindness or maintaining social relationships. Cognitive processes involve reframing situations in a positive light or practicing gratitude. Finally, motivational techniques include setting and working toward goals congruent with personal values.

Davis, D. E., Choe, E., Meyers, J., Wade, N., Varjas, K., Gifford, A., … & Worthington, E. L. (2016). Thankful for the little things: A meta-analysis of gratitude interventions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(1), 20. The authors carried out a meta-analysis of 26 studies of gratitude interventions. They found that gratitude interventions were effective, particularly when they involved writing (like gratitude journaling).

Fava, G. A., & Tomba, E. (2009). Increasing psychological well-being and resilience by psychotherapeutic methods. Journal of Personality, 77(6), 1903-1934. This paper reviews psychotherapeutic techniques to improve psychological well-being and resilience. They propose several practical activities to enhance well-being, including setting and pursuing meaningful goals, cultivating social relationships, and practicing stress management and emotional responses.

Tedeschi, R. G., Shakespeare-Finch, J., Taku, K., & Calhoun, L. G. (2018). Posttraumatic Growth: Theory, Research, and Applications. This book reviews the literature on post-traumatic growth and offers practical applications. The authors suggest that individuals can foster post-traumatic growth by seeking social support, finding meaning in their experiences, and using active coping strategies. They also recommend a technique called “expressive writing,” where individuals spend time writing about their thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event.

You can be happy, insanely happy, after trauma. And we will focus on just one tiny step at a time.

10 Tiny Steps to Find Happiness After Trauma

Based on research in positive psychology and post-traumatic growth, here are 10 practical steps that you could take if you’re someone that has experienced trauma:

1) Practice Gratitude: Start a gratitude journal, and each day, write down three things for which you’re grateful. They can be small, like a good meal, or more significant, like a supportive friend.

2) Acts of Kindness: Doing something nice for someone else can boost your happiness. This could be something minor, like paying a compliment, or larger, like volunteering.

3) Mindfulness Meditation: Regular mindfulness practice can help increase resilience and decrease stress. Even a few minutes a day can make a difference.

4) Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity has been shown to boost mood and improve mental health.

5) Goal Setting: Identify meaningful personal or professional goals and take steps towards achieving them. These should be challenging but achievable.

6) Social Connections: Spend time developing and maintaining positive relationships. This can involve reaching out to old friends, making new ones, or spending quality time with family.

7) Reframe Challenges: View difficulties as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable problems. What can you learn from this situation?

8) Positive Self-talk: Be mindful of the way you talk to yourself. Try to challenge and change negative beliefs and be kind to yourself.

9) Seek Social Support: If you’re dealing with a traumatic or stressful situation, don’t hesitate to contact friends, family, or mental health professionals.

10) Expressive Writing: If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, try writing about your feelings and thoughts related to the event. This can help process the experience and foster growth.

Your job right now?

Choose one.

Don’t choose five or seven or all ten.

Choose one to start tomorrow, and you’ll do just that one over and over and over until you feel just a little bit happier. Then, you’ll find that you want to do one more step.

But start with one.

A tiny step you do consistently will open the light path out of the darkness.

Remember, it’s essential to find what works best for you. What helps one person might not help another, so feel free to adapt these suggestions.

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