Lifestyle & Retirement

Elevate Your Happy

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The art of happiness consists of many elements.  And most of us, according to a recent Gallup World Poll, are somewhat happy.  Although hailed as good news by many, I think we should stop to question this.  Somewhat?  Who wants to settle for somewhat, especially when it is within our means to go from mildly to wildly happy.

Happiness research in the field of positive psychology is providing a clear picture of what constitutes a happy and well-lived life.  Focusing on human strengths and potential, and celebrating the best life has to offer can effect behavioral changes that elevate happiness and well-being.

The choices are simple.  We can choose to merely endure life, and be somewhat happy, or to joyfully embrace it.  Want to improve your happiness quotient?  The following practices are instrumental in the pursuit of your own happiness high.

1.      We are what we think.

In the book, Positivity, author Barbara Fredrickson asserts that positive emotion builds up the intellectual, social and physical resources needed to be more resilient and happy.  Handling adversity in a positive way leads us to be more proactive, creative, and open to opportunities.  We see more possibilities, making us better problem solvers.  Treating failures and mistakes as learning experiences ensures future successes.

Fredrickson identifies the ten most frequent positive emotions:  joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.  She goes on to say that individuals who experience positive emotions at a 3:1 ratio to negative ones reach a tipping point that spills over into all areas of life, impacting one’s overall success and happiness.

Increase positive thinking by monitoring your thoughts throughout the day.  Each time an adverse thought percolates, try an affirmation, such as, I can choose to see peace in this situation.  If a person in your life irks you, try I can choose to see love here, or, this is not forever.

2.      Strong Social Ties/Love

Learn to see the bigger picture of life.  The big picture perspective will help you develop deeper connections with others as you refuse to allow petty annoyances get in the way.  Recalling Stephen Covey’s Habit #2, Begin With the End in Mind always gets me moving on the path to strengthening relationships with people I care about.  To begin with the end in mind is to begin with the image of the end of your life as the frame of reference by which everything else is measured.  What will people say about you at your funeral?  Clarify the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life and work towards the ideal.

Satisfying relationships with other people are crucial to happiness.  Close, mutually supportive and long-lasting relationships may be the single most important factor of a contented life.  Such relationships build resilience, helping us to rebound more easily from hardships.

No surprise that people with strong friend and family ties experience more positive emotions (Practice #1) than those who don’t have them.  In fact, many studies point to a high correlation between positive thinking and satisfying relationships.

3.      To Thy Own Self Be True

 Be true to yourself.  It’s easy to get caught up in the way other people expect us to be, or in the way we wish we were.  One of my lamentations used to be, if only I had the time, I would love to garden.  I collected quite a stack of used books on many gardening topics: growing organic vegetables, container gardening, seasonal landscapes, and patio flower gardens.  But when I left my day job and had the time, I didn’t crack open the first book from my extensive library.  I figured out that I loved the idea of gardening, of having fresh tomatoes and cantaloupes at my fingertips like I had as I grew up, but really wasn’t interested in the legwork involved in actually creating one.  I now happily accept this fact as I head to the markets that support local growers.

I used to wonder if something was wrong with me because many things the people around me greatly enjoyed didn’t do it for me.  But I no longer give it a second thought that I’m the only person in America who doesn’t follow Dancing With the Stars.  To live happy, we must follow our own interests and be true to our values.

Every once in a while, I find that I’m willing to compromise on this one in the interest of building or strengthening a relationship.  When my kids were home for visits from college, I’d watch whatever movie or TV show they were into because you want to drink in every minute of their presence during those short visits.   Likewise, I have a friend who is passionate about baseball.  I don’t really care for baseball, but will sometimes compromise because the relationship is important.

4.      Pursue Your Passion

 It’s a lofty idea to support family and friends in their passions, but for true happiness and a greater sense of well-being, we must also follow our own.  Research tells us that healthy passions for a variety of activities lead to cognitive growth, better concentration, a more positive outlook on life as well as improved mental and physical health.  Following passions can foster satisfying relationships as you meet like-minded others.  Passions can also lead us to a rewarding career and increase our creativity.

It’s one of life’s ironies that pursuing our own independent passions opens up space in us to connect more deeply with others.

5.      Schedule 4-Step Happiness Builders

 Anticipation.  Happiness builders are events that we pleasantly anticipate.  Whether it’s coffee with a colleague, dinner with friends, or a weekend getaway, it’s important that we put them on the calendar in between the dental appointments, the project due-dates, the workouts.  Solitary dates with yourself are okay too.   Schedule an afternoon to hike a new trail, or take a blanket and book to a park and read outdoors for an hour.

Scroll through your iCal or day planner regularly and make sure you have at least a few things to look forward to in the next couple of months.  If not, get on the phone and schedule something.  But anticipating the happy event is only the first step.

Be in the Moment.  While the event is taking place, enter it with all you’ve got.  Be mindful of every moment of the experience.  In other words, pay attention.  If you don’t put your cell phone away during outings with family and friends, you may find yourself with less happiness builders to anticipate. During the recent art show, Picasso to Warhol, at the High Museum in Atlanta, I was surprised to see many individuals with smart phones in front of their face while they listened to the audio tour of the featured work of several iconic artists.  But to recast this irritation in a positive light, maybe they were tweeting their joy with the exhibit.

Express Yourself.  Expressing pleasure and appreciation during happiness events will deepen your joy.  Laugh at the humor.  Sway to the music.  Yell for the home team.  Tell your people how much you love spending time with them.  And then afterward, sharing your experience with someone in one of those, what’d you do this weekend? conversations will prolong your serotonin spike.  Writing about it in a gratitude journal will serve the same purpose.

Wax Nostalgic.  Nostalgia hasn’t always been considered a good thing.  Psychologists used to view it as a type of escapism “ living in the past.  But new research suggests that simply recalling happy memories can be almost as powerful as the moment itself.  What’s more, nostalgia keeps us grounded, helps us get in touch with ourselves, boosts our memory, and provides us with perspective.  So go ahead, pull out those old photo albums.

 6.    Belief in a Higher Power

 Once upon a time religion was thought by many to have a negative impact on behavior, making us repressive and eccentric.  But on the contrary, study after study has shown that belief in God makes us happier and healthier.  Religious believers, compared to non-believers, record less stress, are better able to cope with divorce or losing a job, are less prone to suicide, report higher levels of self-esteem, enjoy greater life purpose and report being more happy overall.

Some might speculate that going to a friendly church provides a strong social network, which in turn gives one a more positive outlook on life.  But the congregation effect is not the only explanation because believers who don’t attend church regularly report the same positive outcomes.  More than likely, it’s because believers find more meaning in life during the daily grind, believing they serve a higher purpose.  Believers are also more likely to express gratitude for the small day-to-day rewards in life.

And remember Fredrickson’s ten most frequent positive emotions?  I was struck by how many of these receive play during a worshipful experience.  Whether it’s taking in a scenic mountain waterfall, listening to a praise song, or coming together for an organized church service, worshiping will improve your positive to negative ratio in a heartbeat.
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Editor’s Note: Visit Candyce at her site, http://candycedeal.com.

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