This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of ESSENCE
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Happiness can sometimes feel like a far-fetched goal—especially for a Black woman in America. Day after day, there are forces—both seen and unseen—that surround us and fight to steal our joy. Life comes at us hard and fast. We awaken to heartbreaking headlines about our unarmed sons, brothers and fathers being gunned down. The current political climate in America, fueled by blatant racism and privilege, leaves us keenly aware of just how dangerous it can be for our families and our future. As if that weren’t enough to plague the mind, we must keep up with the daily grind of adulting. Urgent e-mails wait to greet us in the mornings and compete for our attention as we send our children off to school. Meetings gridlock our calendars, we can’t seem to take a rain check on the drama in our personal lives and we spend our spare time scrolling through never-ending social media feeds filled with photos of moments and opportunities that we feel we’re missing out on. Soon self-doubt sets in.
But try as they might, these external factors have nothing on our power to manifest and claim our own contentment. It starts when we look within.
“A lot of times we look to external material things or people to make us happy, but happiness is no one else’s responsibility but our own,” says Atlanta-based clinical psychologist Sherry Blake, Ph.D. (aka Dr. Sherry). You take ownership of your happiness when you first learn to recognize that you’re feeling unhappy and acknowledge that this means you have some work to do, she explains. When we spot a red flag, like waking up feeling helpless or finding yourself uninterested in things that usually make you happy, Blake warns, we must stop and face the hurdles in the way of our better well-being.
As Black women we must learn to recognize when we’ve crossed that thin line between being pillars of strength for our families and taking on more than we can bear.
The goal is to minimize stress, not completely remove it. “You’ll never eliminate all the stress in your life,” says Blake. “The key to happiness is to learn to manage life—the good, the bad, the ugly, the indifferent and the unknown.
“Happiness is a part of joy,” Blake continues. “And if you can’t find joy in little things, it will be very hard to find it overall. When you cannot find joy, or even a small sense of happiness, then something is more seriously wrong.”
Making time to see a therapist can also be a powerful tool, she says. “At some point you may have to say, This is more than just something I can handle. This is something I really need to work out and I may need support.” Even before you make that move, you can take small steps toward improving your situation.
Here, Blake breaks down three of the most common sources of sorrow—your career, your family situation and your relationships—and suggests ways to take back your power and joy.
If Your Job Is Making You Unhappy…Identify The Problem
Sometimes we dislike parts of our career, but there are parts we thoroughly enjoy. Ask yourself, What is it about this job that’s making me unhappy or that I don’t like? Once you identify it, figure out how you can minimize that issue.
Unplug When You Need To
Take short breaks more frequently throughout the workday if you can. You don’t have to leave the building, just do something to detach and walk away from what’s going on at the moment. Breathe! Listen to music in your headphones. Learn to do muscle relaxation exercises at your desk or work area. Practice visualizing what you want to feel and take yourself to your zen place.
Talk About It
If there’s a colleague or manager who brings you down, first separate your issues from theirs. Ask yourself, Is this my problem or the boss’s? An easy way to determine the source is to think about whether you are getting the same feedback from different people in different settings. If so, it is likely your issue, not your boss’s. Everyone cannot be wrong. If your boss is the cause of your discontent, consider having an honest conversation with him. If you feel as if you can talk to him, do. But avoid placing blame or pointing fingers. Instead, only take responsibility for your feelings. If you can find a resolution, that’s great. If not, reduce your interaction with that person or it may be time to look for another job.
Plan Your Exit
If you decide you need to quit, be smart about it. Sometimes people get upset and just leave, but they don’t do it with an exit strategy.
1. Secure another job before you leave the one you have. Check to see if you have sick or vacation time that can be cashed out.
2. Make sure you have positive recommendations from a colleague or supervisor.
3. Also be sure you have a copy of your perform