Dwell in Possibility
How can finding happiness help you? Happiness is good for your health and protects against illness (Journal of Happiness Studies). Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness) identifies three pathways to happiness:
- Feel Good seek pleasurable emotions and sensations
- Engage Fully pursue activities that engage you entirely
- Do Good search for meaning outside yourself
Emotional well-being is at the root cause of what is important in our lives. Positive emotions are linked to a lower risk of disease (Psychosomatic Medicine). When people feel happy, they often feel physical sensations ― a rush of passion, a flutter of joy ― that correspond to brain signals to nerves in the heart, circulatory system, skin and muscles. These sensations correlate to chemical changes in the brain and are felt as pleasurable. According to Rick Hanson, contentment, calm and confidence can be developed through everyday practices that transform our brains into sources of resiliency and happiness (Buddha’s Brain, Hardwiring Happiness).
Sonja Lyubomirsky (The How of Happiness) estimates that happiness is 50% inherited and 40% under our own power to control. Only 10% depends on circumstances. To promote positive and prosocial emotions, and improve resiliency to hard times, increase your positive thoughts and actions. While the road ahead may be fraught with difficulty, you can be happy by learning to cope. Adaptive coping is a key life skill. We are not what happens to us, instead, we can be what we choose to become.
Locus of Control
Happiness, Health and Longevity
By engaging in positive activities (e.g., hiking, sports, socializing, or reading quietly), people feel better and become healthier. Health deteriorates over time if we don’t take a break. Vacations are important to health and longevity. In a study of 12,000 men at risk for heart disease, the more frequent the vacations, the longer the men lived. Those who did not take annual vacations were 32% more likely to die of a heart attack (Journal of Occupational Health). Pleasant activities contribute to more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions and depression. Among the benefits to be found are lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones and smaller waists (American Psychosomatic Society).
Barbara Fredrickson (Positivity) discovered the 3-to-1 positivity ratio: for every one negative experience in life, engage in three positive experiences to offset the negative impact. To overcome adversity, seek various forms of positivity: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Consider these science-based tools to decrease negativity and increase positivity:
- Be open to awareness and acceptance
- Create connections engage with and befriend others
- Cultivate kindness make a positive difference
- Develop distractions get your mind off your troubles
- Dispute negative thinking nip ruminative negativity in the bud with fast facts rather than dwell in doom and gloom
- Find nearby nature visit trees, water or sky
- Learn new practices and apply your strengths use them every day
- Meditate mindfully attend to your breath
- Meditate on loving-kindness may they be happy
- Ritualize gratitude notice the gifts and beauty that surround you
- Savor positivity accentuate the good and drink it in
- Visualize your future let dreams be your guide
Happiness Comes from Giving Not Getting
Christine Carter presents three fundamentals for leading a good life:
Practice kindness: Make kindness a central theme in your life. By helping someone else, you get happiness back.
Feel what we feel: We live in an age of anxiety, and the world offers a host of ways to numb or avoid our feelings. To truly feel love, joy, gratitude, we must also let ourselves feel unpleasant feelings of fear, grief, and frustration. If you want to be happy, practice feeling, listening to your heart. This is the way to know who you are and what you want.
To be happy, we need to forget about achieving: Focus on the journey. Instead of wishing you were somewhere else, enjoy where you are right now. You are always already right where you need to be. You are writing the story of your only life every single minute of every day. Write a story in which you are happy.
Taking the Wider Perspective: The Arc of the Universe
The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu encourage practices to cultivate emotional well-being and happiness. Adversity, experiencing sadness and suffering, can bring you closer to life. An important practice in achieving well-being is found in the development of the ability to reframe negative experience. For example, does your difficulty embitter or ignoble you? Believing in the inherent goodness of human beings, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu recommend the development of pillars of the mind: perspective, humility, humor and acceptance, and pillars of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.
Human beings are inherently resilient, and we are wired for healing. In difficult times, our existing coping styles may prevent us from bouncing back to normal functioning. To better cope with the tendency to become absorbed by feelings of insufficiency and insecurity, known as the negativity bias, it is helpful to learn new coping skills, including the capacity to understand and embrace our vulnerabilities, and to be kind to ourselves (Braving the Wilderness, Brown; Self-Compassion, Neff).
According to the multigenerational Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948, when people became happy, their nearby friends experienced a 25% greater chance of becoming happy as well, and next-door neighbors experienced a 34% increase. Research finds that people’s own happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected (British Medical Journal). High-quality connections are life-giving. Every interaction with others ― big or small ― has the potential to create or deplete vital energy, which governs whether you are going to achieve greatness, mediocrity or failure. Positive energy is activated through high-quality connection, which in turn, increases the capacity to think and interact effectively. To build nourishing relationships, at home and beyond, try these five strategies:
Enhance Your Mind
Even if you have never practiced mindfulness meditation, you can prime your brain for happiness. Researchers studying mindfulness meditation at the University of Wisconsin found that participants had increased electrical brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, associated with joyful and serene emotions. Mindfulness is also linked to happier and more resilient relationships (Journal of Marital and Family Therapy).
Be present, attentive and affirming. Listen actively, paraphrase and check out what you have heard for accuracy. Interact with others in ways that reinforce feelings of worth and value. To maintain respectful engagement, convey a sense of presence, be genuine, affirmative, and incorporate effective listening into your communication practices.
Support Other People
Do what you can to help others succeed. Enable others to achieve. Utilize teaching, advocacy, flexibility and nurturing to establish a positive connection by aiding the performance of others. A survey of almost 20,000 employees at 34 companies showed when performance reviews emphasized what an individual was doing right in the job, it led to a 36% performance improvement, while emphasizing weaknesses led to a 27% decline (Corporate Leadership Council).
Believe you can depend on people to meet your expectations, and let it show. Convey through words and deeds a belief in the integrity, dependability and good motives of others. Share valuable information, use inclusive language, give away control and responsibility, and solicit and act on input help. Trust ultimately strengthens personal connections and organizational cohesiveness (Energize Your Workplace).
Allow time simply to relax, allow your mind to wander, with no particular outcomes in mind. Laughter is strong medicine for mind and body, providing a powerful antidote to stress, pain and conflict. Laughter relaxes the body, boosts the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins and protects the heart. Humor lightens burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused and alert (HelpGuide.org).