Be happy, damn it!
We all want happiness, but how do we make ourselves feel it? Tricky question; trickier answer. That’s because happiness is not just in our heads; it’s in our bodies, manifested in ways we have little control over. When we find a present at our door or hear our child laugh, our heart beats faster, we get warmer, our fingers might even tremble—and ultimately our brains release endorphins, feel-good chemicals.
It gets more complex yet: the tendency toward happiness is in our genes; in fact, research says it’s 50% genetic. But it’s only 10% circumstance, so if you believe in the math, we have 40% control. But it takes practice because we have to retrain our brains and bodies, especially if we’ve faced trauma, like, say, cancer.
We’ll start with easy warm up exercises to work your happy muscles; then graduate to harder ones
Simply smiling produces an immediate buzz. Smiling has been shown to signal “happiness” without sending a message to the brain. But it’s a short-lived buzz. So let’s move on to happiness workouts that if you repeat often, will help you feel good more often, and rebound from down times quicker.
Do something small and kind for someone; watch their reaction and see how it affects your own.
Think about what other people have done for you. Obviously, there’s your best friend who made you a meal or sat with you through chemo. But what about the guy who let you cut in front of him when you were late for work; I know I remember the one who didn’t let me in. Which one’s most worthy of your thoughts?
Not as easy
Stop complaining! I have to tell myself this daily, because I slip. But think about the energy it takes to fester, how crappy you feel once you’re through your burst. If you have to keep telling yourself “stop,” then do it. Consider it a small victory every time you succeed.
Don’t worry. Yeah, right! Same thing as stop complaining. Keep practicing. I found some guided imagery recordings by a woman named Belleruth Naparsteck that help. She talks you through how to “let go” … to help free ourselves from obsessive thoughts, anxiety, etc. I listen when I go to bed; her voice is so soothing that sometimes I fall asleep before she’s done. But it shuts off the complaining and worrying voices. Little by little some of it’s seeping in. http://www.isabellacatalog.com/c/Health-Journeys-CD-Collection.cfm?tid=708051944 By the way, Belleruth also has recordings to help get through chemo and to help heal through cancer.
On to exercises that are a little tougher …
Combine exercises that fall under the categories of mindfulness, creativity, and positive psychology.
Mindfulness is living in the moment, in tune to your surroundings. Take a walk; feel the breeze on your face, hear the leaves or gravel crunching under your feet.
Creativity? Write a poem, bake cookies (or if it’s the weekend, make a fancy drink with some kick and an umbrella in in it).
Positive psychology is noticing the good in you and the world around you. Keeping a gratitude journal is good practice. Write down what you’re grateful for daily. When you go to sleep, think about what you jotted, and take in the good feelings.
Reminiscing boosts older people’s morale as reported in one study. Another study found that nostalgic experiences trigger happiness, reinforce our sense of being loved and protected, and boost self-esteem.
Repetitively replaying happy moments reinforces positive emotions. But analyzing your happiest life events has the reverse effect.
Exercise can help lift depression as effectively as medication according to a few studies. In one study, four months of aerobic exercise worked as well on depression as four months of Zoloft, or as a combination of exercise and Zoloft.
People are happiest in their marriages when they respond to their partner’s successes—not to each other’s disappointments.
Happy people care less about others’ successes. They don’t feel like they have to keep up with the Jones’ when they get a new car or raise, and aren’t impacted by unfavorable social comparisons (e.g., observing a peer who is worse off).
If you find yourself slipping as you work to stay grounded in your happy place, don’t give up
Contrary to popular belief, most people who repeatedly try to kick habits succeed. One study found a 63% success rate for self-cure of smoking and obesity. Another found that 43% of people who kept off 30 pounds for at least 5 years reported that maintaining their new weight was easier than losing it.
More on getting happy: