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Short and Sweet Summary: Learning how to be happier widow requires agreement with some basic life principles. And effort. You’re obligated to do the work. Oh, and it also requires that you believe in your right to be happy. Are you ready? Good to go? OK, let’s do this.
A looming question for most of us is how to be happy after being widowed.
It’s almost like the two components, widow and happy, are incompatible. It’s hard to believe one can exist with the other. So if I told you there is a way to be a happier widow, would you believe me?
Because, well, I’m going to tell you how. You can do with the information as you wish and if you want to continue believing that being a widow and being happy are mutually exclusive, I won’t stop you.
But when you’re ready to learn how to be happy when you’re widowed, read on. It requires agreement with some basic life principles. And it also requires that you do the work to believe in your right to be happy.
I’ve said before that happiness requires some effort on your part. It isn’t as simple as getting a bundle of happiness drop shipped to your doorstep. It’s not like every other instant gratification program out there today.
It requires work and an application of the KISS principle. Ever heard of it?
If your goal is to be a happier widow who leads a less stressed-out life, conventional wisdom encourages us to strive for simplicity using the KISS principle which stands for “Keep it Simple, Silly.”
The KISS principle originated from design rules for technology and engineering to suggest that simple design systems perform better than complex ones. This principle means that simplistic systems work better because they’re easier to understand, provide fewer distractions, and encourage more interaction.
Here’s the thing, though…you don’t have to be a tech whiz or an engineer to apply the KISS principle to your own life.
If you want to be a happier and less stressed widow, you can make peace with the following basic life principles to simplify your life, too.
THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN MAKE YOU HAPPY IS YOU
You get to decide what you want your life to look like.
Even though death has irrevocably changed your life, you get to decide how that change affects your view of happiness.
You see, to be a happier widow, you must choose to be a happier widow.
I’m not just saying you can twinkle your nose like Samantha on Bewitched and happiness instantly appears. It’s not like that.
But what I am saying is that you can choose to believe that happiness is an option for you. If you don’t believe it, you can’t achieve it, right? So what does it take to believe that happiness is within your reach?
- Stop saying “never.” You will always find evidence for your thoughts, so saying you’ll “never” get over your loss gives your brain the go-ahead to keep showing you how that’s true. Your brain likes to compile data to prove you right. But what happens when you stop saying never? If you say, “I know feeling better takes time,” or “I’m willing to consider a life beyond my loss” your brain will compile data to prove you right in that way too. You see? Either way, your brain will find evidence for your thoughts. Why not make them good thoughts?
- Practice believing. Even if you don’t believe it right now, you can practice what happiness feels like for you. You must practice yoga or piano or sports drills to increase your skill level, so why not practice believing so you can get better at happiness, too?
- Look inside for answers. Nothing outside of you can make you happy. No friend, job, boyfriend, windfall, pill or “thing” can give you what you crave because your thoughts determine your actions and your thoughts are inside you. If you want to change the outcome of any situation, you need to change the way you see it first.
Happiness looks different to everyone. Your version of happiness will differ from mine. That’s why it’s so important to focus on your wants and needs and no one else’s.
Please keep in mind that you don’t need to strive for happy thoughts all day every day. I mean, that’s just nuts. No one is happy all the time. You get to feel sad and mad and whatever else you want to feel without sacrificing your happy feelings.
They can, and should, co-exist.
It seems counterintuitive to think about helping others during your own existential crisis, but that’s precisely when it’s the most beneficial.
It’s easy to fall into despair when you think about how different your life is from what you expected it to be. And no one really understands the stress of losing a spouse and all the associated secondary losses. So, naturally, your first instinct isn’t to help others when you feel like you need more help yourself.
But what if you grieved and also helped someone who was having a rough go of it? What if the act of giving back helped you as much as someone else? Scientists have widely studied the benefits of helping others, and the data is clear. Helping others helps us in ways we never even thought of such as:
- Reducing the risk of hypertension
- Giving you a sense of purpose
- Preventing dementia
- Counteracting the effects of stress, anxiety and anger
Pick an amount of time that feels right to you whether it’s one hour a week or one day a month or one weekend every other month. The point is to make it a priority in the timeframe that suits you. You might not feel like getting out and volunteering on some days, and that’s OK. If helping others becomes a burden, then no one is benefitting, least of all you.
Just put on your volunteer hat and learn how to be a happier widow by watching firsthand how your actions are changing the world.
MAKE HEALTH A PRIORITY
How do you feel when you skip meals or sleep all day or don’t workout for days on end? Probably not great. Grief is hard enough on a good day, but when you don’t make your health a priority, you give grief more opportunities to derail you.
I know all the excuses because I’ve used them. I’m too tired. I don’t have time. It’s Tuesday. No one cares anyway. But it’s time to stop making excuses and start taking better care of you.
One surefire way to be a happier widow is to put your mental and physical health front and center. You know excuses will pop up because you’re human and we humans have an extraordinary way of avoiding uncomfortable things. But ironically, the things we think are uncomfortable are the very things that end up making us feel better after we’ve done it. Weird, huh?
So, plan some healthy meals. You’ll feel better and your body will thank you when you’ve made some Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Croutons or some Blueberry Baked Oatmeal. There’s no shortage of meal planning YouTube videos or health and wellness Instagram accounts to help you out. Just search for your jam like, “meals for one” or “vegan dinner planning” or “healthy desserts.” I put a link to a couple of my favorite recipe websites in this post.
And then decide on an exercise regimen you can life with. If something is too hard or overwhelming, you won’t stick with it, so choose something sustainable. If you have a limited amount of time, start with a 7-minute workout and increase from there.
When I got back into my exercise regimen, I tried HIIT classes, streaming workout videos, and dance classes, but nothing works as well for me as walking. Instead of trying to find the hardest, fastest, sweatiest workout, I just lace up my shoes and go for a walk. Walking is simple, free and I’ve found for me, being outside is a great stress-reliever. Plus, I listen to a Podcast on my walks and learn something at the same time. It’s a win-win!
If you listen to Podcasts, too, you can check out my Podcast interview on Widow 180 right here.
Once you start exercising and eating well, your body will thank you. You’ll have more energy. Maybe even be more focused. Possibly more well-rested. I guess what I’m trying to say is there are no downsides to taking care of your health. Only plenty of advantages.
If you want to be a happier widow, throw the excuses out the window and start taking better care of your health.
SETTLE IN WITH UNCERTAINTY
Life has a funny way of changing our plans when we least expect it. I’m sure your life’s plan, like mine, included many more years of togetherness with your spouse. But he’s gone, and now you’re faced with an uncertain future and lots of questions.
What’s a widow to do?
Accept uncertainty as part of your growth.
I’m a planner and a control freak, so settling in with uncertainty has been a real struggle for me. But, I’m working on it. I really am. And I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms, my anxiety and worry diminishes when I trust the process over which I have no control.
The good news is you’re already settling in with uncertainty because you don’t have any other choice. Your life was upended and now nothing is certain.
You don’t have everything figured out, and that’s OK. No one said you need to know how to be a widow. No one knows how to be a widow until they become a widow. And even then it’s not as easy as “just do XYZ.” It’s a constant process of learning, evaluating, and accepting the ambiguity that comes from being human.
Uncertainty exists in everyone’s lives. Not just widows. Even before your spouse died, what you thought was clear and safe never was. So now it’s time to cut yourself some slack and forget about controlling the universe. You never did anyway.
Settling in with uncertainty allows you to let go of expectations of how things should be and embrace what is. No matter how pissed off you are.
KNOW YOUR WORTH
If you ask your best friend if you’re worthy, she’d say, “hell yeah!” If you asked your parents or siblings or next-door neighbor they’d say, “well, that’s a silly question. Of course, you’re worthy!”
But what happens when you ask yourself?
Now that you’re living solo and figuring out how to deal with this widow gig that you never saw coming, it’s more imperative than ever that you believe in your worth. Why? Why does it matter if you think you’re worthy?
Because that will dictate every single decision you make going forward.
Just because you’re a widow doesn’t mean you’re broken, or damaged goods, or unable to care for yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re relegated to a life of misery, financial ruin or failure.
It just means you’re living a life without your spouse.
When you focus on those “damaged” and “broken” aspects, you decide everything from a place of scarcity or lack. If you don’t believe in your worth, your decision-making focuses on what can go wrong or why you’re not deserving.
On the other hand, when you believe you’re worthy of whatever you choose, your decision-making focuses on honoring your needs and creating valuable outcomes.
So how do you know or understand your worth?
- Practice self-care
- Commit to yourself first before committing to others
- Say no when something doesn’t serve you
- Stand up for yourself
- Love yourself no matter what
WIDOW WRAP UP
So, what do you think? Is this doable? Achievable? Right up your alley?
If you answered no, please come back when you’re ready to change your mindset. I’ll wait. And I promise I won’t take it personally that you think I’m full of shit and have no idea what I’m talking about. I probably would have thought that too when I was first widowed.
However, if you answered yes, then YAY! You’re well on your way to becoming a happier, less stressed widow because you know that the work required for happiness and peace comes directly from you.
Nothing outside of you can make you happy. Because your thoughts determine your actions and your thoughts are inside you. If you want to change the outcome of any situation, you need to change the way you see it first.
And this bears repeating: I’m not advocating that you are a happy, 100% positive Pollyanna ALL THE FREAKING TIME. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s annoying because it’s not genuine. At all. I’m just saying you get to feel all the feelings that come with being human. Including happiness.
Keep applying these basic life principles and do yourself a favor: Keep it Simple, Silly.