Where do we start if we want to be happier?

Abraham Lincoln once said of happiness:
Most folks are about as happy
as they make their minds up to be.”

Without realizing it, we make up our minds every day and every minute of our lives about how happy we want to feel. If we don’t make a decision and consider our happiness, we still are making a choice. That choice is to give our power to external events and people who determine how we feel.

If someone cuts us off in traffic, we are unhappy; if they give us a surprise gift, we feel good. We react, but we don’t ultimately have control. The real challenge, and one well worth pursuing, is to use our own power to be happy. While that isn’t necessarily easy, it is entirely possible.

Sigmund Freud believed that human behavior is based on the desire for two things: to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The irony is that in our attempts to seek pleasure externally, in the accumulation of things, the approval of others and in our status, we often lose the joy we were seeking in the first place.

The hardest and least traveled road is the one inward, and it is the only one that leads to happiness. If you want to increase your level of happiness (and who doesn’t?) start by considering three ideas:

1. Happiness is a choice. As Lincoln said, we need to make up our minds to be happy before it can happen. Many of us get stuck in negative emotions. We get addicted to depression and anxiety, and blame others for it. Over time, these thoughts and feelings become comfortable and habitual. The first step to change is a decision.

Think of it like a decision to get in shape. Before you can start eating healthy and getting involved in a regular exercise regime you need to make a decision and a commitment to your happiness.

There is a simply way to practice choosing happiness. Every morning when you wake up, put your feet on the floor and decide to feel good. It’s really that simple. It may seem fake or silly at first, but do it anyway. It takes all of two seconds, and it can’t hurt. Making it work for you depends on the next point.

2. Happiness is a habit. If you wanted to get better at golf, how would you do it? You probably wouldn’t play once every few weeks and hope your game improves. If you really wanted to get better at it, you would practice as often as you could. You might talk to good golfers and read books about golf. To get really good, you would have to do it habitually. Repetition is the key to getting better at anything – including your happiness.

Studies show that it takes 21 days to turn any new behavior into a habit. At the very least, try making a decision to feel good every day for three weeks. Do that, and you’ll be off to a good start, but there is more you can do.

3. Happiness is a combination of pleasure and meaning. One of Harvard University’s most popular courses is a class on happiness, taught by Professor Tal Ben-Shahar. One of Ben-Shahar’s basic tenets in the class is to encourage his students to strive for activities in work and personal life that bring physical and emotional pleasure, but also have a sense of purpose and are rooted in long-term goals. The balance between the two is key to our deeper sense of contentment with our lives.

The feeling of being happy may be different for each of us, but one thing is for sure:

The good news is that we can choose how much of it we want. The power to do that rests only in our hands. The next three columns in this series will give you specific tips and tools to practice to increase your level of joy. Reading them, however, isn’t enough; DOING THEM – EVERY DAY – IS WHAT WILL MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU IN YOUR LIFE.

Elisa Levy is a Master Muse. She conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, you can contact her at 305.296.5437 or visit MUSEologies extends a THANK YOU to Elisa for granting permission to reprint this article.

1 comment:

pattie said...

Thank you to the staff for posting and for the wonderful link!!