How To Be Happy
I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a client come in to my office and not say, “I just want to be happy” when I ask them about their goals for therapy. It is an elusive quality, an I’ll-know-it-when-I-have-it kind of feeling, that we all want, everyone else seems to have, but that we can’t quite nail down ourselves. Now, not all of this is actually true – believe me when I say that I meet many, many unhappy people who appear to have it all together from the outside – but inevitably we can improve our level of happiness. About half of our happiness is in our genes, meaning that some people are just born to see the bright side of life (Goldie Hawn comes to mind), but another 40 percent is well within our control. Here are some guaranteed ways to make the most of that 40 percent.
Make – And Keep – Friends. A strong social circle is a big one. From having someone to commiserate with when you lose your job, to having someone to go for a coffee with when the kids are driving you crazy, to feeling connected to your community by having a good relationship with your neighbours, the people in our life matter. Don’t tell yourself you’re too busy for friends, that all you have the energy for after a long day is to crash on the couch with a few hours of tv. Make the effort to get and stay connected, and you’ll reap the benefits in happiness.
Gratitude. Being grateful for what you do have in your life goes a long way to improving your level of happiness. Putting our attention on what’s good and what’s working is a surefire way to boost your happiness. What we put our attention on expands, so if we allow ourselves to notice and dwell on what’s good, we start more and more to notice what else is good. The opposite is true too: the more of the bad that you notice and dwell on, the more bad you see. While our brains may be pre-programmed to notice what’s dangerous and scary in our worlds, we can override that by make a purposeful choice to notice and be grateful for what’s good.
Savour. And along those same lines of feeling grateful, we need to take the time to savour the good in our lives. Little everyday occurrences are the magic in our lives, from watching your kids skip down the street, to the flowers they pick for you on their way home from school, to the smell of their hair after a bath, to sharing a laugh over a family dinner…this is the fabric of our lives. If you want to permanently change the hardwiring of your brain to be happier, do this every day: when something funny or pleasant or heartwarming or even just “not bad” happens, take 10-15 seconds to just sit with the experience. Think about how it feels emotionally and physically, how it sounds, how it warms you from the inside out. Then do that again the next time something positive happens. Go through this process 10 or more times a day, and you’ll find that your happiness level naturally drifts up and stays there. Having a truly crappy day? Close your eyes and just remember a positive time in the past. That will do the trick just as well as actually being in the moment. We might not all be born with off-the-charts happiness, but we can create it for ourselves with a little effort.