Though you may never have thought of happiness as something you could work on, take my word for it – never has finding ways to cultivate happiness been more important. That’s not to say you should focus on happiness to the exclusion of all else, get stuck in the unrealistic, feelings-minimizing ‘stay positive’ mantra when things are going to hell, or toss your meds into the sea. What it does mean is that you can do a lot to buoy mental and physical health simply by applying a few happiness-boosting techniques to your repertoire.
What’s notable about happiness is, even if you weren’t born with an innate sense of it, it’s a learnable skill. You can cultivate it, and with practice, get better at it, bringing more happiness into your life – which is something just about everyone is after right now. As we head into another season of uncertainty, I urge everyone to brush up on their happiness skills, to help you become more buoyant and resilient and better able to roll with whatever crosses your path. Here are a few ways to get started on your happiness habit:
Happiness has a few basic rules.
Happiness, whether it’s your natural bent or something you have to work a little harder at, is a conscious choice, and granted some days deciding to be happy may be tougher than others, but it’s a good goal to shoot for, and if nothing else, will keep you generally headed in a happier direction. What makes you happy may be different from what makes your partner or your child happy, but your happiness should never be at the expense of others. While destroying your buddies at Candy Crush might have its fleeting charms (for you at least), that momentary victorious feeling will do little to create a lasting positive impact on your day-to-day, so focus your energies on creating happy feelings and more meaningful memories with a longer shelf-life.
C’mon get happy – fast.
The quickest way to get into a happy groove is by practicing gratitude and appreciating the good stuff in life that often gets overlooked. Find joy in the small, sweet moments and stop taking them for granted. Savor the truly simple stuff, like (safely) hugging someone you love; relishing a sunset; taking delight in a home-cooked meal; getting lost in a novel you’ve been meaning to read; gardening, painting, knitting and so on. The idea is to seek out easily accessible pleasures that bring you peace, comfort and calm, and becoming more aware of what those things really are. As you get more familiar with what brings you those moments of happiness, the more readily you’ll be able to tap into to these happiness go-to’s and keep your happiness tank topped up.
Happiness has little to do with stuff.
When it comes to the pursuit of happiness, psychology research says that real-life experiences deliver longer-lasting satisfaction than material goods. Studies show that when people make major purchases, they initially report happiness comparable to what experiences like travel, concerts, and get-togethers with loved ones can deliver. Over time, however, the satisfaction with the object fades, while happiness derived from these kinds of experiences increases. This is because the mind “adapts” to the object and it loses its exciting veneer. You may even start to compare the object to what other people have and find it comes up short.
Conversely, the recollection of an experience, and the relationships that grow from it, become a meaningful part of the story of your life. That delivers a deeper satisfaction – revisiting it through memory or conversation can rekindle the happy feelings. What does that mean in practical terms? Spend your time and/or extra cash on doing and being – and put a little less into acquiring and having. While you’re having those happiness-inducing moments, remember to fully be present in the experience and forget about taking selfies. Just “be here now” as they used to say. You’ll remember more if you’re noticing every detail with your five senses than if you get wrapped up in trying to document everything.
Fast-track happiness with more fun.
Being an adult is serious business, especially when living in times as heavy as these. Believe me, I get it. However, that’s all the more reason to make space for fun. Not only does a bit of fun let you stretch your wings physically and mentally, it also encourages curiosity and creativity to flow. Cutting loose and having fun (without relying on drink or drugs) releases stress and triggers the release of feel-good endorphins. Fun also helps you bond with others. That could be the start of a life-long friendship, or the deepening of one, so get out there!
Kick up your heels – and let your hair down.
Why does it seem that the older we get, the less fun we have? We get trapped in the belief that being a responsible grown-up is job #1, with no time off. I recommend rethinking that and making some kind of weekly fun date a high priority as a way to regularly connect with joy. A fun date can be as simple as a living room dance party (with yourself or others); a wild game of paddle ball on the beach or horseshoes at the park; or a rambunctious game of tag at the playground with your kids. It could be a night outside with friends doing an unusual (and COVID-protocol conscious) group activity, like a drive-in movie (yes, they’re back!). Or it could be something that nobody but you could dream up and makes you shine from the inside out. Most of us know something that still registers as pure fun – and now’s the time to reconnect with that kid side of you and gift yourself that essential regular dose of happy.
Take a powder – every night.
Simply put, good sleep is an important, and often over-looked, piece of the happiness puzzle. When you’re short on sleep, foul moods, short tempers, and concentration troubles are rarely far behind – basically, the recipe for unhappiness. The thing is, when you sleep, your body uses the downtime to recharge, do repairs and carry off the daily cellular debris that needs to be removed in order to keep your brain (and the rest of you) healthy. Good sleep also keeps hormones on an even keel, which in turn keeps mood in a better place, enabling you to wake feeling refreshed, energized, in a happier headspace and ready to take on the day.
Move yourself to a happier place.
If the thousands of people who have been daily walking, jogging and running in circles around the 2-mile Central Park Reservoir track since the pandemic started are any indication, a movement habit helps keep spirits up. No matter where and how you move, as long as you’re doing it on the regular, the happiness benefit is real. Your body sees to it by triggering the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins that help boost mood and feelings of well-being, supporting happiness on a chemical level. So, just in case you needed one more reason to move your body, add happiness to the benefit list.
Send happiness-killers packing.
Just about everyone can agree that our daily work-from-home routines are, at best, odd. Non-stop Zoom calls, texts, emails, notifications and social media are mental health hazards that can drain happiness at every turn. OK, the work-related stuff is pretty hard to avoid (if you wish to remain employed) but if you want to upgrade your happiness, you’ll need to put yourself on a social media diet and drastically reduce or delete your social media apps. If they’re not making you feel good, the fewer you use, the better.
Got Slack? Then use it for business and pass on most (if not all) of doom and gloom gossip and office chatter. The same goes for people too. If there are folks in your life whose attitudes and outlook on life drag you down, steer clear. You don’t have to drop them completely, but cut your exposure and spend more time connecting with happy, loving people who spread their joy around. Happiness is contagious and so is its opposite – so which team do you want to play on?
Go to Happiness School.
When it comes to happiness, class is in session and it’s at your convenience on Coursera. Entitled “the Science of Well-Being,” the on-line course is based on a Yale ‘happiness course’ by Dr. Laurie Santos, which became the most popular class in the school’s 316-year history, having registered thousands of students. What’s more, the online version of enrolled over 3 million students looking to learn happiness. It’s mission? To actually teach a variety of actionable skills and techniques to help make life much happier. Imagine that – and sign us up!