Today is the International Day of Happiness. Does even the sound of this make you grumpy? Well then, read on. (And for those of you who live or work around the grumpy ones, you could use the reinforcement as well.)
Since life is not always a bed of roses, there are often plenty of reasons not to be happy. After all, who would expect happiness after the loss of a loved one, during a divorce, when your child is gravely ill or when financial stress is threatening to pull you under. However, as we have learned from survivors of the worst events imaginable – how we approach such tragedies or deal with mounting stress can make all the difference between merely surviving and actually thriving.
Some of the important keys (and the science behind it) have been captured in a recent book, 10 Keys to Happier Living: A Practical Handbook for Happiness by Vanessa King. She uses the acronym GREAT DREAM to capture the 10 keys she is presenting. Let’s take a brief look at each of these components. Hopefully, you will feel inspired to learn more about increasing happiness.
G is for Giving. When you are feeling bad about yourself or feeling “down and out,” it is no secret that doing something for someone else is a great way of getting out of your own head. Contributing to the welfare of others not only lifts our spirits, but lifts those receiving such kindness. Our problems often dim in the light of others’ issues. Sometimes, increased happiness is simply a matter of re-setting our perspective.
R is for Relating. For independent-minded Americans, it is a bit of cruel irony that genetically-speaking, we are still wired with a “herd” (i.e., socially driven) mentality. Yes, it is true that we can avoid people and this may reduce our anxiety, but it won’t make us any happier. On every level, we truly need social belonging and relatedness…even if we’d rather die than admit it.
E is for Exercising. I know, I know! This one can be really hard, especially given our work schedules, child responsibilities, family commitments, house and yard work, grocery shopping and the dozens of other tasks we must perform. Still – not taking care of our bodies shortens our lives and short-changes our felt sense of happiness due to mounting stress and rapidly diminishing energy. Plus, when we are out of shape, this sets us up for falls, strains and other injuries that further complicate our lives. We must bite the bullet and exercise! Not only will we feel better and have more energy, but it can actually change our view on life.
A is for Awareness. Just about everywhere we turn, the words mindfulness or meditation pop up. We cannot let the fact that they’ve become buzzwords desensitize usto their meaning. Especially when hit with fatigue from over-busy lives, it’s tempting to “zone” out in front of the TV, over eat, fail to exercise and simply go through the motions of each day. Building meaning into our lives is crucial for experiencing happiness. What can you change or add that is genuinely meaningful for you and makes you look forward to each day? Once you decide, add more of that!
T is for Trying Out. Related to awareness and meaning is the goal of trying new things. Never stop learning! This keeps us engaged and mentally active. Turns out, learning new things contributes to our overall well-being. What new would you like to learn this year?
D is for Direction. Also related to awareness, meaning and learning new things is the need to set goals or having a specific direction for our lives. For example, if you want to learn a new language, set a goal for how many new words or phrases to learn each week. If it is to start exercising, decide how many times a week to exercise and for how long? If your goal is to take a special vacation, how much money must you save each month to reach your goal? Goals give us a sense of purpose, adventure and something to look forward to. Add some spice to your life by setting new goals!
R is for Resilience. There is a vast scientific literature dedicated to resilience because this quality in humans has a huge impact on positive vs. negative life outcomes. Finding ways to bounce back from adversity is more important than money, IQ or social connections. The grit that is required to face life adversity and overcome it predicts success. Find new ways to be resilient when life throws you a curve ball. What new thing can you learn that would help you bounce back during difficult times?
E is for Emotions. Since we all have emotions and they cannot be eliminated (nor should they), we have to improve our experience of happiness by becoming a better steward of our emotions. Remember that emotions provide a call for action, giving us clues as to our needs in the moment. However, we can also direct our emotional experience by choosing what we focus upon. By deliberately focusing on positive aspects of ourselves, our circumstances and those around us, we can amplify positive emotions, making us more resilient and leading to greater happiness.
A is for Acceptance. Acceptance and non-judgment are two very important components in crafting a life that is worth living and one that brings us happiness. If we cannot accept who we are as human beings or walk around in a state of self-condemnation, not only will this bring us great unhappiness but we will also tend to reject and condemn others. This is because humans habitually project their own attitudes onto those around them. Do you focus more on what you dislike about yourself than what you like? How can you learn to accept yourself exactly as you are while diligently working on improving the things you dislike? How can you let go of judging?
M is for Meaning. Last but not least, it has long been recognized that humans are meaning-makers. We apply meaning to everything, whether accurately or not. So, why not learn to apply positive meaning to the events in our lives? Further, we can improve our sense of happiness when we contribute to and feel part of something larger, something that is bigger that us. What can you contribute to that is bigger than you?
ARE YOU LIVING THE “GREAT DREAM?”
- Giving: To what can I contribute time, money, energy or expertise? How can I help others in a way that would be meaningful to both parties? How would this make me feel and how might it increase my happiness?
- Relating: How can I improve the way in which I relate to others? How can I improve important relationships? What new relationships might I consider?
- Exercising: How might I increase my physical activity? How can I fit in routine exercise in a way that is fun and engaging? What small start can I make today?
- Awareness: How can I live more mindfully? Where do I need to slow down and pay attention? How aware am I?
- Trying Out: What new can I learn each week or month that will add meaning to my life and make me proud?
- Direction: What life goals can I set? What do I want to do?
- Resilience: How can I become more resilient? What new skills do I need to better manage life? What trips me up?
- Emotions: Do I tend to notice only negative things? Am I willing to focus on the positives instead? Will I start now?
- Acceptance: What steps can I take to improve self-acceptance and tolerance of others? Am I willing to practice non-judgment for self and others daily? Today?
- Meaning: What brings meaning to my life? What can I add that is meaningful and that would give me joy? How can I participate in something that is bigger than me?
Happiness is an art and a choice. You are the only one who can make your life worth living. Start today!