When you’re a sensitive deep thinker, your “happy” doesn’t look like other people’s “happy.” Here’s how to get your needs met and thrive.
I find it astounding that on a planet of more than 7 billion people, we’re all expected to fit neatly into a pretty narrow set of standard societal norms.
Although people’s attitudes toward those different than themselves is hopefully changing for the better, we’re still conditioned to be and feel a certain way that isn’t always aligned to our true, highly sensitive selves. And we’re all told to pursue the same few things that should make us happy.
As a highly sensitive person, I tend to be a deep thinker and very aware of the stimuli around me: I may taste the trace of oregano in a tomato sauce while a non-HSP may not, and I have to be cognizant of what I wear, as I’m very sensitive to fabrics against my skin, as well. (If I wear something that’s too itchy, for instance, it’ll distract me all day and pull my focus from other, more pressing things.)
Also as an HSP, I absorb other people’s emotions as though they’re my own, often leaving me mentally exhausted.
Suffice to it to say that my “happy” doesn’t look like everyone else’s “happy.”
But my sensitivity also makes me more aware of what does make me happy — and keep me happy. Of course, every highly sensitive person is different, but here are 5 ways I’ve learned to protect my happiness as an HSP.
5 Ways to Protect Your Happiness as an HSP
1. It’s time for us all to accept that sensitive = strong.
I’ve spent my whole life thinking that I needed to change because my highly sensitive self was so led by my feelings, I’m super emotional, and can overthink things. But I also love to laugh, mainly at myself, and have come to realize that I’m actually a pretty strong person.
Last year, I stumbled across an article on HSPs and realized I possess a lot of the traits. I’d spent most of my life not knowing that being a HSP was actually a “thing,” only to discover there are millions of us out there — roughly 20 percent of the population are highly sensitive people.
For many years, if something hurt me, my initial reaction was to scold myself for being “too sensitive.” Now, however, I validate myself and what I’m feeling, and I’ve come to discover that because of my sensitivity, I make better decisions since I really think things through first (which is common among HSPs).
2. Choose ‘your people’ carefully — you’re going to soak them up.
The more sensitive we are, the more we tend to “soak up” the energy of others, which can lead to us becoming mentally and emotionally flooded.
It seems so simple now, but it took me years to connect the dots between who I spent time with and the subsequent impact on my vitality and well-being.
I’m now more conscientious and discerning when it comes to the people I share my space with. Sometimes someone can seem effervescent and lovely on the surface, charming those around them, but to us HSPs, their energy feels off.
There’s usually a reason for that, and experience has taught me that I have to trust that innate feeling — something we HSPs are masters at — even if it seems illogical at first.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I’ve started to attract different types of people into my life, too. I’m finding myself spending more time with those who make me feel good, and less with those who drain me, because I’m able to tell the difference.
After all, what more precious resources are there than our time and energy? If there are people in your life who are “drainers,” not “radiators,” simply identifying that fact means you can understand how to better protect yourself from fatigue or toxicity. This way, you can save your energy for those who matter most to you, and vice-versa.
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3. Curate social media around what makes you feel good about yourself.
With a highlight reel of perceived perfection ever-present on our various screens, it’s very easy to compare ourselves to others, despite our own fantastic achievements and level of contentment.
Our first checkpoint — if we’re easily knocked off-balance — should be going within ourselves rather than riding what can feel like a carousel of perfection. So when we get a spare 10 minutes to rest, it’s almost instinctive that scrolling is the first thing we find ourselves doing.
But comparison really is the thief of joy, and young people learn all too early the soul-destroying art of measuring the validity of their happiness against tiny snapshots of others. In other words, it can be detrimental to do so for us all, no matter what age group we fall into.
Of course, social media has its benefits (you probably wouldn’t be reading this without it), but I feel happier if I’m careful about how I use it. These days, I also avoid it more, too, with the bombardment of negative news out there, which can be triggering for those of us who are highly sensitive.
Curating our social media activity around what makes us feel good should surely be the norm, yet many of us feel pressure to follow the crowd and one-up each other. But being authentic is key, both in what we post and how we absorb what we see.
If you feel yourself get overwhelmed, taking a social media detox can be just what your highly sensitive soul needs.
4. Focus on today and right here — that’s where happiness comes from.
Does anyone else “postpone” their happiness until [insert desired life event here]? Until you get that new job … or until you have more money saved … or until you live on your own?
I can be far too quick to say “I’ll be happy when…” as though I just need that one missing element to happen to make my life complete.
But I try to think of life this way: I wouldn’t throw a bunch of roses away if only one had wilted. Would you?
It’s something I’m really trying to work on, and I’m growing to accept that life is never perfect, and that happiness is more plentiful — and less grandiose — than I’ve ever realized. We have to remember to focus on the present moment (which HSPs are pretty good at; in fact, too good at), for it’s all we really have.
I think that at some point, I became too reliant on looking outside of myself for happiness rather than ‘just being’ happy. If we fill ourselves up, our happiness is less subjective and there’s less need for external validation and gratification.
For me, that means doing things that bring fulfilment in my work and personal life. It’s about a state of being which allows me to focus on nothing other than the present moment and unwittingly zone out. It can be as simple as writing and sharing my blogs, spending time with my son, or walking my dog. Other people practice mindfulness to help them get centered. Do what works for you — but do something.
Discover your happy “things” and build them into your life in whatever way you can. You’ll know when you find them, and they can be simpler than you think.
5. Remember, you get to decide what happiness is — no one else.
Without social media, would we spend half as much time comparing ourselves to everyone else and questioning whether we are — or have — “enough”?
With time and work, my definition of happiness has evolved from being something that’s “out there” (in a relationship with another person, an outfit, or a holiday) to something that’s within me.
Knowing that I can create a solid sense of my own happiness has made me less vulnerable to the definition of it presented to me by mainstream media or people’s social media feeds.
This means I’m less likely to compare myself and my journey to others’, leaving the way clear to simply enjoy happy moments without questioning their validity. HSPs tend to find happiness in many ways, from having dedicated alone time to spending time with a friend we can have a good heart-to-heart conversation with.
After all, since life is a series of moments, let’s give ourselves the best chance of them being ones we love and protecting our “happy” at all costs.