Research tells us that only 1 in 3 people label themselves “happy.” Happiness seems elusive for many. There is simply too much sadness, stress, pressure and difficulty in relationships for you to be “happy.” Most people are waiting for their happy day to come: “I will win the lottery.” “I will get that new job.” “I will move to a warmer climate.” “I will get rid of this jerk.” The pot of gold is just sitting there waiting, and you only need to catch the rainbow and slide to the bottom to reach it.
It’s likely that you have grabbed the gold one or two times before. There was probably a time when something went really well – you had a good relationship, or a good job, or some money in your pocket, or the promise of something good to come.
Getting the gold didn’t make you permanently happy. It might have given you an upper for the day, week or month, but it didn’t buy you the long-term happiness you are probably seeking. Life is filled with irritants, obstacles, difficulties, unforeseen circumstances and interruptions just waiting for the right time to happen. Big things like death, divorce, loss of a job or home, and little things like bad traffic, a stain on that brand-new shirt, or a vacation that got derailed, can all lead to a dearth on the happiness scale.
Is it possible to just live happy? Can you take some steps to find yourself in the one out of three? Does it mean you have to make millions or become more successful than your most successful friend? No, it doesn’t; but it probably won’t just happen on its own. You might have to make some choices to decide in favor of happiness.
If you are ready to stop moping and complaining, and start reaping the benefits of being happy, here are some steps you can take:
Practice reframing your experiences. You may see an event now and label it “bad” or “unwanted” or “negative.” Instead of reacting to everything with a negative response, choose to reframe the situation in a more objective and neutral manner. This means when the next driver cuts you off, you don’t talk to yourself (or out loud) about all of the terrible drivers out there who are out to get you. You say something like, “It’s a shame more people don’t drive politely. It isn’t worth it to me to get upset about it.” Then turn your attention to something positive. Be sure your speakers (if you are in the car for this example) are broadcasting something good – uplifting music, a positive or spiritual speaker, or a book you enjoy. Turn the volume up if you want, and focus on that instead of that other driver.
Find something that uplifts you. For some people it is positive music, for others it is meditation or yoga, for others it is a warm bath. What puts your mind in its happy place? Have a regular schedule to include whatever it is that is good for you. Don’t find yourself stuck and saying “I need to meditate.” Instead, make it part of your schedule so you are doing it regularly.
Stay away from news that depresses. Of course you shouldn’t hide your head in the sand – you want to be an educated voter, and know what’s happening in the economic markets, or realize what areas of your city have become dangerous at night. You want to be informed, but you don’t want to be inundated. You can get updates or skim the headlines, and then put it away. Some people actually make a diet of negative news. It does nothing but bring you down. Be choosy about how much you allow to sink into your subconscious.
Get rest, relaxation and exercise. The research is clear on how much sleep people need, how important destressing can be, and how much your body is fueled by exercise. Of course, don’t become upset if you aren’t getting these enough; create a working plan for you to get more. It is hard to stay upbeat and happy when you are running on three hours of sleep and too much caffeine, and just taking a walk around the block seems daunting!
Learn to breathe. The mind can’t focus on two things at once. If you are focused on your breath, breathing in and out slowly and thoughtfully, you can’t be focused on something that upsets you. Turn your attention to your breath several times throughout the day, not just in reaction to something negative, but as a practice. Breathe comfortably and easily. Allow your breath to flow in through your nose and out through your mouth. Think about the gift of breath. It’s a natural process most take for granted.
Develop a thankful ritual. Be careful with this – some people do this as a way to say, “It’s bad and I am miserable but look at the things that are going well!” You don’t want to try and fake yourself out; you want to genuinely be thankful for what you have and what’s going well. Make a list of things that really have meaning to you. Read the list out loud and pause at each one. Allow the positive feeling associated with whatever you have listed to permeate you as you read. Smile while you are reading it, and soak yourself in the happy.
Smile more often. Most people have a perpetual scowl on their faces, unless they are smiling in response to someone else. Smile randomly. Pretend you have your own secrets on how great your life is. Smile at the checkout clerk, the gas station attendant and your mother-in-law! Most people smile back in response, so you might make someone else’s day too.
Choose happy. Every second of the day you have a choice about where your mind is focused. You can be sad, mad, irritated, joyful, or whatever emotion you choose. You may think your emotions are in response to your situation, but they aren’t. The sun can be shining, you received a raise, your child got into their coveted school, and you feel happy but then someone’s negative, casual remark comes around and your happiness turns to shreds. Now, instead of your happy day, you are focused on how mean and cruel that person was to you. You do have a choice. Make yours.