Are you really as happy as you would like to be? A lot of people feel less happy than what they imagined they'd feel when they reached their current stage in life. In fact, many are still waiting to be happy someday...when they find the love of their life, when they finally get the promotion at work, when they lose enough weight, when they have a baby, when that baby gets out of the 2-year old or teenager stage, when they make enough money they can afford all the things they want, or when they retire and finally have time to do what they want. What represents happiness to you? What are you waiting to happen?
Sometimes our beliefs about happiness get in the way of finding real happiness. Do any of these statements about happiness feel true to you?
1. "I should be able to be happy all the time."
2. "If I seek pleasure and avoid pain, I will be happy."
3. "If I am rich, smart, attractive, popular, thin, or talented enough, then I will be happy."
4. "Some people are just born happy. There is nothing I can do since I didn't seem to inherit the happiness gene."
5. "Happiness is something that just happens. It's what life gives you or doesn't give you. Some people are lucky."
6. "There's something a little self-centered about regularly being very happy."
7. "When someone seems really happy, they must be faking it."
8. "It's not right for me to be so happy when there is so much pain out there in the world."
While some of these statements may feel true, they aren't true. The reality is that life is hard sometimes, and bad things do happen, even to good people. You can't avoid pain forever, and no matter how good your life is, if you live long enough, you will experience it. There is always someone who is more rich, smart, attractive, popular, or talented than you , but that doesn't mean they're happy. While it's true that genetically we all were born with a particular "set point" for happiness and some people are fortunate to be more prone to being happy, even they aren't happy constantly. And happiness isn't something that just happens to a few lucky people. In fact, there are many things you can do to raise your happiness set point, and feeling very happy won't result in you becoming selfish or non-caring either.
A former professor at the University of Minnesota, Dr. David Lykken, did research on 1500 pairs of twins, and he concluded that 50% of our happiness is due to genetics, and 50% is due to life circumstances and what happens to us. Later research broke it down even further. It still indicated that 50% of our happiness is connected to the genes we inherited, about 10% is impacted by the circumstances in our lives (assuming no unexpected catastrophe is happening to you), and 40% of our capacity to be happy is affected by intentional activity we do in our everyday, normal life that can boost our happiness level. Essentially, what that means is that we have a lot of power to create greater happiness for ourselves!
So, if it were possible to become happier, is that something you would like to have happen in your life?
I've been a therapist for over 30 years now and a Life Coach for 3 years, and I've worked with hundreds of people who desire to be happier. I've developed a heart for helping people create genuine happiness and joy in their life. Right now, though, it seems to me there is a lot of unhappiness in our world today. In my therapy practice, I've noticed many of the people I've worked with over the last 4 - 6 years have experienced an increase in anxiety and depression and a decrease in feelings of well-being, mostly because of the pandemic & politics. (And some of my friends who are therapists have noticed the same trend.) Considering all that, I decided to do a Blog on my coaching website every week from now until the end of 2022 on the topic of becoming happier.
What I've learned through the years is that there are many things you can do to boost your level of happiness. Basically, those things fall into 4 categories: (A.) Things to start doing; (B.) Things to stop doing; (C.) Long-term strategies that take time to see results; and (D,) Short-term strategies that won't solve any problems you're facing but will, in the moment, help you feel happier and calmer. This Blog will focus mostly on (D.) or short, quick, concrete, practical things you can do that will not only help you feel happier, but will also "re-wire" your brain so you raise your happiness set point.
So, here goes... #getHappier: Week 1 - "Take In."
In his book Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson talks about intentionally having a positive experience to develop and expand pathways in your brain associated with happiness. It means taking a mindful approach to your day and noticing anything that is pleasant, beautiful, or good, and then focusing on it for 5 - 10 seconds so your brain can take it in and really absorb it. What kinds of things? Simple things. Notice the deliciousness of tasting a fresh, ripe summer-time peach from the Farmer's Market, or hearing the music of a Robin or a Mockingbird as you step outside in the morning, or feeling the warm sun on your face, or smelling the Lilac, Jasmine, or Lemon blossoms, or seeing the puffy clouds floating across a vivid blue sky, or feeling loved and welcomed when your dog greets you at the door. Doing this one time a day is not going to boost you to a 10 on a 0 - 10 scale, with 10 being the highest level of happiness. But doing it 5, 10, or 15 times a day will have a cumulative effect, and you will soon notice that you feel happier more regularly. Dr. Hanson says, "Each day is like a winding path strewn with pearls and diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, each one an opportunity for a positive experience. Unfortunately, most people hurry by without noticing them, and even when they do see jewels, they rarely feel anything about it." (Page 73) What Jewels have you been missing? What will you notice when you start paying attention?
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of feeling down as I listen to the news and see all the polarization and negativity that's out there. Over the next 20 weeks, I'm going to be "practicing what I preach," and I hope you will join me each week as we experiment with raising our levels of happiness. And only God knows the potential that could have for positively impacting our world!