January 18, 2011 5:37 AM   Subscribe

How to be more light-hearted?

How to change my 'heavy', analytical and serious outlook on pretty much everything? How to take things less seriously? How to chill out and not care? In sum, how to become more light-hearted or whimsical?

I scare away even loved ones with this intense energy I carry around me like a dark cloud. How to take a step back and relax?
posted by ruelle to Human Relations (31 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I don't how easy it is to change your personality, but if you find you say 'heavy' things, at the very least before you speak you should pause, consider what you are about to say, and question whether it can be rephrased in a more light-hearted manner. Conscious effort regarding what you are saying.
posted by modernnomad at 5:42 AM on January 18, 2011

What about keeping a journal where you write down one light-hearted idea each day? Just a sentence. It might make you more aware of the light-hearted thoughts you do have.
posted by mskyle at 5:55 AM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you could give an example of something that you responded to recently that was not received well because it was overly analytical, it might be helpful to use it to recast a type of response that would be a lighter. It's partly in the natural inclinations of the "heart", I think, but also in simply learning an alternate way of responding such that it becomes a habit.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:00 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you need to find a more appropriate outlet for your heaviness. If you were to write down your heavy thoughts, find a discussion group or reading group where your heavy thoughts were welcome, you might find your need to analyse quite satiated by the time you get to hang out with your loved ones and, thus, a little more light-hearted.

Also, do you have any low-brow guilty pleasures? A tv show that you find hilarious even though it's, you know, a bit beneath you? If so, indulge those pleasures and share your joy with those who are repulsed by your usual depth and over-analysis.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:06 AM on January 18, 2011

Although you can change your behaviour (what you project to others) with some conscious effort, you will most likely still have unchanged internal values, beliefs and needs. You need to examine and work on these internal drivers if you want to establish lasting change. Easy to say ... but very difficult to do!

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (don't let the title put you off) is a great (albeit hard-going) read that certainly changed the way I interact with others. But, as they say, YMMV.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 6:13 AM on January 18, 2011

Why are you so serious? What is it you care so much about? Why?

Maybe if you can answer these questions you can answer your own question too.
posted by emilyw at 6:14 AM on January 18, 2011

I think that I have modes. Part of me is liable to over-analysis and taking things seriously; but part of me likes and/or knows how to make jokes, how to laugh, how to talk about other things, or about the same things in other ways. I switch between them.

One of the things behind this is an empathy -- or my ability (sometimes!) to join in with the prevalent mood. Something that I find much easier with one-on-one interactions than with group ones, where I misjudge things (or am misjudged).

It's fine, great even to have an energy, but sometimes it needs to be chanelled in ways that don't upset those around us. Maybe you could separate things, and think about it like so: you take situation X very seriously, but another person does not. Well, start thinking about those as two different situations, thinking about their ideas as something independent of yours, and there being no imperative for everyone to think or behave in the same way: your and their outlooks can be equally valid and wonderful even if they are absolutely opposite.
posted by squishles at 6:15 AM on January 18, 2011

I'm a believer that most socially peculiar things we do on some level "work" for us. The person who gets angry easily may do this to avoid uncomfortable topics or to assert a need for control, for example. I've been guilty of being the analytical downer and gradually I realized that I did this because I felt more comfortable asserting myself as the alpha dork than being in the nebulous middle ground of conversation. Your chosen/innate (I don't know how much is innate or chosen, honestly) response may well serve the purpose of placing you firmly outside of the group where you are more comfortable.

My suggestion is to think of it as a game. Take on a role, so to speak, of someone light hearted who draws strength from seeing issues that could be debated on the Senate floor as peculiar and unimportant.
posted by dgran at 6:19 AM on January 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I recommend meditation or any practice, spiritual or otherwise, that increases your self-awareness and sense of presence. If you can establish a layer of "awareness" above whatever mindset you're in, you increase your potential for self-evaluation and introspection.

Sometimes intensity and analytical gravitas is merited by the situation. Sometimes it is necessary to take that "hat" off so you, and other around you, can just kick back and relax.

It's not a matter of either/or. It's a matter of having the skills to observe your mental states and shift them as appropriate. I can think of no way to do that other than to practice regularly in everyday situations, including some form of meditation.
posted by cross_impact at 6:22 AM on January 18, 2011

It is possible to change, perhaps not your personality but the way you interact with people. My normal tendency is to be serious minded, but what saved me was realizing that I was attracted to cheerful people. I actually analyzed the qualities of the people I liked a lot and I tried to imitate them. I make myself:
1. Smile a lot
2. Abstain from criticizing anything or anybody even if asked
3. Refrain from offering my opinion or advise unless I'm asked and I know the person really well, and even then prefacing it with a "I'm not sure, but I think..."

It took a lot of growing for me to reach the awareness that there can be two valid solutions to a problem or (heaven forbid) multiple solutions. It took quite a bit of people watching to realize that people are not really asking your input, but are just venting or talking aloud to clarify their thoughts.
posted by francesca too at 6:27 AM on January 18, 2011

1. Don't sweat the small stuff.

2. It's all small stuff.
posted by Tin Man at 6:28 AM on January 18, 2011

Try just to notice yourself as you are when you are being a way you don't like. Don't try to change it or run away from that impression because it is the truth. Be with it and relax. Things will lighten naturally without doing anything.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:32 AM on January 18, 2011

things might go terribly, horribly wrong = balancing problem solving and tolerance for ambiguity

the power of intuition = balancing analysis and intuition
posted by zeek321 at 6:33 AM on January 18, 2011

You'll need to change your outlook. You need to be less of a controller (change your environment to suit you) and more of an adapter (change yourself to suit your environment). Controllers rely on anger and frustration as signals in order to determine what needs to change (and if you don't change it, the anger/frustration builds). To get rid of it you need to figure out what changes are non-negotiable and which ones you can let go of. This will require some analysis on your part; som deep analysis.

Once you know what you MUST have, work quickly to get it or to set those changes in motion, thus getting rid of that anger/frustration.

And once you know what you do not NEED, you can work on becoming more easygoing in two ways: 1) intellectual review when frustration arises: "this doesn't matter, I can just let it go." 2) meditation and relaxation exercises so the frustration never arises at all.

Take it slowly but it is possible. I'm proof of that.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:33 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It might help if you thought about what stops you from making those comments. This might help:

When you think of "lighthearted comments" that your friends make, what kind of comments do you mean? (Examples)
And if you imagine making them yourself, how does that make you feel?

For example would you feel silly and uncomfortable? Like people can't take you seriously if you say something like that? Or merely like you can't fathom what makes your friends think like that in the first place because such a thought would never occur to you?

How do you feel about other people when they say something inconsequential and lighthearted? Envious? Superior? Alien?
posted by Omnomnom at 6:41 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm also very analytical and serious so I need a (sometimes absurdly) silly side to counterbalance my seriousness because otherwise, I wouldn't be able to tolerate me. You say:

How to change my 'heavy', analytical and serious outlook on pretty much everything? How to take things less seriously?

Instead of changing yourself you could find ways to deflect your seriousness so that it doesn't overwhelm innocent bystanders. What has worked really well for me, is not becoming less serious but taking things very seriously but never myself.

For example, sometimes before I have time to stop myself I come up with A Very Serious Response to someone's comment. You know the kind that shows you've spent way too much time thinking about said issue and have come to have a thoughtful and reflective opinion about this thing no one cares about?
Then, I realise and make a joke about it. Jokes are lame out of context but something that shows you acknowledge that you misjudged social norms, something like..."and that's all you'll ever want to know about this" or "how's that for a conversation killer?".

If you treat yourself lightly and show awareness of your behaviour, people are going to be much more likely to find your analytical nature charming rather than overbearing. At least, that's what I tell myself...
posted by mkdirusername at 6:41 AM on January 18, 2011

Such serious answers. How about heavy doses of P. G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, or Terry Pratchett? And just smiling more? :D
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:51 AM on January 18, 2011

Do more things - fun and useful things, athletic things - where you don't have an opportunity to think. The more you try to solve this problem just by changing the way you think, the more you're just getting sucked back into your brain.

My internal monologue gets more and more like a surly 19th-century letter to the editor the more I let myself get stuck in my own head.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:10 AM on January 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Focus your serious, analytical energies on empathizing with where others are coming from. You can channel this intensity into understanding their perspectives, and in doing so you might naturally tone down your own negativity or gloominess just because you'll be more aware of the effect it has on others.
posted by anildash at 7:19 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Clever people and grocers, they weigh everything." Try not to be so clever. Acceptance goes a long way.
posted by fixedgear at 7:20 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

My (admittedly occasional) impulse to be Super Serious about things was quashed once I began hanging out with comedians, who WILL find the humor in absolutely every conceivable situation. And I don't mean they'd 'make fun' of things that ought to be serious- no, they genuinely could make you realize that nothing is too serious to be funny.

So take an improv class or something. Also: read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Also: do shrooms, and I'm only sort of kidding.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:31 AM on January 18, 2011

I think Bertrand Russell's THE CONQUEST OF HAPPINESS, especially chapter 16, is very good on this.
posted by Mr. Justice at 7:34 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is your life really stressful? Are you not setting appropriate boundaries and then getting into situations where you feel exhausted/worn down/over-extended?

Do you equate heaviness/seriousness with living a valuable purposeful life?

Do you *see yourself* as an intense, serious person?

Start telling yourself you are happy go lucky. Seek out activities and art that make you laugh. Spend less time doing dour things.

Also, get a pet. It's really hard to be an intense curmudgeon when a cute fuzzy thing is being ridiculous in your presence every day.
posted by amycup at 7:55 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe not quite the core of your issue, but perhaps tangentally related: When you start to get wrapped around the axle about something, think to yourself, "Will I care about this in a week/month/year?" If the answer is no, let it go. Simply let it go.
posted by Doohickie at 8:00 AM on January 18, 2011

So take an improv class or something.


I used to be an extremely serious young twenty-something. Now I'm a goofy late twenty-something. Believe me, it's a hell of a lot more fun on this side of the fence.

The first step is to just plainly accept yourself for who you are. In my case, I am a Star Trek nerd. Hear that too-cool-for-school friends? Get over it! I also love vapid pop music. Hear that academic-music-nerd friends? Look out!

This is it, fuck it, it is what it is.

Start desensitizing yourself to embarrassment. You can start small—turn on "Walking on Sunshine" in the comfort of your own living room and go batcrap. I'm talking some serious flailing and yelling. "WHOOOOAAAA, AND DON'T IT FEEL GOOD! YEAH!"

Then you can unleash your goofy self on the world.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:16 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

i used to take myself VERY seriously (why would anyone ever want to be 25 again? ugh) ... until my life sort of fell apart on me. i went to a therapist who basically challenged me on everything i've ever thought or done - and it changed my outlook forever. he wasn't a dick about it and i was clear i wanted to CHANGE, not just piss about all the things in my life that weren't going exactly the way i wanted them to.

the best thing that came out of it was that i've learned to enjoy doing things i'm horrible at. i don't need to control every little thing around me, etc (read pema chodron's "when things fall apart" - it contributed to the change).

it took a long time and a lot of work, but i'm now an extremely successful and awful hula/burlesque/ballet dancer, crafter and all around bad girl.

i agree with all the previous posts, but i think without a good shrink, i wouldn't have really gotten what i should out of doing them. i needed third-party insight and prodding to get it.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:27 AM on January 18, 2011

I'm a lot like you, and I find that seeking out dark, twisted comedy and absurdist film and literature really helps me see the humor in the sturm und drang that is human existence.

My recommendations: The films of Lars Von Trier, the plays of Samuel Beckett, the writings of David Lodge, the films of the Cohen brothers, the music of Morrissey, the music of the Decemberists, and the nonfiction of David Sedaris, just to name a few.

I work with my dark side to become more lighthearted, in other words. It doesn't work for me to try to be all Pollyannish and earnest. It sounds like maybe you want to be more lighthearted because you feel like you're driving people away, but maybe you just need to find other people who can appreciate your depth.
posted by xenophile at 7:03 PM on January 18, 2011

I would second "When Things Fall Apart," by Pema Chodron.

Also, it gets tossed around too much these days, but your heaviness and overanalyses indicate that you are not fully present in the moments you are in -- there is a part of you that is removed, observing, thinking. You might try yoga, or some of the breathing/thought exercises associated with Buddhism to help you turn off the part of your brain that wants to work instead of engage.

And it may seem obvious, but make sure you are getting a healthy, daily dose of exercise. Endorphins are little miracles bursting inside you. For example, if you wake up in the morning with a million things on your head, get up and out and walk fast for 45 minutes. I guarantee those million things will be dispersed or manageable when you are finished, and the residual good feeling will help you manage the rest of your day, including staying in the moment with others.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:09 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

How to change my 'heavy', analytical and serious outlook on pretty much everything? How to take things less seriously? How to chill out and not care? In sum, how to become more light-hearted or whimsical?

The trick is to realise that it is all about your thoughts and the way you treat them.

The thing about our thoughts is that we make them. They are all ours. They don't come from outside and they don't have any external force. Circumstances don't make thoughts, we do in our own pretty heads. It's a function of our human consciousness.

The fact that all thoughts are coming from inside the head! means we have control over how we react to them. You can't stop thoughts (don't think of an elephant) but you can starve them of attention. They will pass. You can even pick and choose which thoughts to pay attention to and which ones to let go. In essence, if you want to be more light-hearted, don't pay attention to the 'serious' thoughts.

But the serious thoughts are so serious! And they always seem urgent and pressing!

Thoughts are not inherently important just because you think them. It's how you consciously respond to the thoughts, and then how you behave in regards to your response. That is the difference between living light hearted 'in the zone' and living with the heavy, analytical, and serious. It's not about the circumstances we are in but how we respond to our thoughts about the circumstances.

We often get most caught up in our serious heavy thoughts when we are feeling below par, unhappy or depressed. Often that's the time we most feel a need to act on them, give them voice, discuss them, fight about them etc. Yet this is the exact time to give them a wide berth and let them pass. this is a hard one for me personally. They will pass if you don't pay attention to them and probably more quickly than you think. Some thoughts seem fine when they come to us in a good mood, yet the same thought will seem awfully serious when we are in a low mood. Don't take serious thoughts seriously when you are feeling down.

Ironically you can't solve heavy serious problems with heavy serious thinking. It's too laden with globs of past heavy serious thoughts and thus is more liable to send you dwelling and brooding. Once you start brooding, your thoughts will make it an even bigger more serious deal. The path to light-heartedness is not this way.

My mother thinks it is a rare skill to be able to find the negative and the flaws in almost anything (memo to mum: it's not). Her ego is tied up with her critical thoughts and she feels more important for having them. If we define ourselves as intelligent 'serious' people then our ego will be attached to our serious thoughts. Maybe you need to redefine and re-imagine yourself as an intelligent light-hearted fairy-poppet skipping through the daisies.

Heavy serious thoughts are not, in themselves, bad or wrong. No doubt there could be insight and information contained in them. But they are not trauma victims in ER, they can be displaced for awhile - five minutes or five years - until you are in a clearer frame of mind to discern what your best responses should be.

Light-hearted carefree folk treat their thoughts differently from serious analytical folk. Light-hearted folk are more aware of the present moment and they don't dwell in the past. They look for humour not heaviness in situations. They understand that a mindset that allows flippancy, spontaneity and joy more often than not is far more useful and productive than one weighed down by seriousness. Serious analytical folk think they can think their way through any issue, and that stressing about something will somehow make the outcome come quicker, or be righter.

Because you have a heavy, analytical and serious outlook on pretty much everything you have been training your thought-processes to create thoughts that fit the seriousness habit. Part of the retraining to a lighter mindset will be learning when to ignore thoughts that have been created with the old mould (ie: don't chase them up with more thoughts, just recognise them and let them pass). Other thoughts will come, less serious thoughts, more serious thoughts, useless thoughts, so-so thoughts... learn to recognise them and cherry pick the ones that feel positive and good (and not in a 'picking-a-scab feels good' way), and ignore the ones that will lead you to serious-town.

Have you ever been light-hearted? You probably have been, at least as a child. Try and recall the times in your life when there was joy and contentment just being in the moment. Keep in mind that feeling, that's what you are aiming for. By letting serious (but unimportant-this-moment) thoughts pass, by not analysing, you will become more able to induce and enjoy light-heartedness.

If you think you may miss some really important thought by following this technique, trust yourself that you won't. You'll know when a thought is serious enough to follow. Just remember that if you are in a broody, serious or heavy mood your perceptions will be heavily biased by your habituated thought processes.

tl;dr: Your thoughts are made by you. You can control how you respond to them. To be light-hearted learn to let heavy-hearted thoughts pass by, don't follow them up. Don't trust the thoughts that come out of dwelling or brooding. Unlink your ego and identity from seriousness or perceived analytical prowess. Heavy serious problems are not solved by thinking of them while in a heavy serious mindset, however they won't seem so heavy and serious when thought of in a light-hearted mindset. Use your feelings to gauge your mood, use your mind to induce or ignore thoughts.
posted by Kerasia at 7:58 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

This may have been suggested already. I found peace with myself when I consciously decided to stop worrying about things I could not control. It is not easy, and I struggle every day. What I do is pay close attention to my moods and inner thoughts. If a thought progresses to worry, I stop and ask myself, "Is this (issue) something that I can control?". If not, I tell myself, out loud, to stop trying to control the outcome. It's very hard to put this into words for someone else.

One word: Control. For me, I've found that I'm not in the drivers seat all of the time, and after a big uphill climb, I'm okay with it. To me, that directly affects my inner peace.

I also say the Serenity Prayer to myself.
posted by sundrop at 5:06 AM on January 19, 2011

Wow, the output is overwhelming. I marked as best answer all the recommendations I found useful and helpful - and that turned out to be very post in this thread. :)

Special thanks to the person who wrote that s/he doesn't have anything to contribute but that this thread could have been started by him/her. Thank you - it's good to know I'm not alone out there.

Also, please keep the suggestions coming..
I'll be periodically checking back until the thread closes.
posted by ruelle at 12:11 PM on January 19, 2011

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