What is Happiness Anyway? 29 Suggestions for Daily Living For a More Fulfilling Life
What is happiness anyway??
A friend once challenged me, resisting my suggestions for re-training negative thinking into positive thinking to help her get out of her rut. She seemed to be of the belief that it was “easy” for me to suggest certain ideas because I was a happy person, with the assumption that my happiness came naturally, was easy, or that I was simply lucky. Far from the truth. Her comments inspired me to really think about what I do to be happy. I would also like to say that I do not believe that happiness is the goal. What is happiness anyway?? Happiness is elusive, and when we spend our time chasing it, we lose out on getting the most out of days?? For me, the goal is to live a more fulfilling life every day, even on the unhappiest of days.
Here is what I came up with.
- “Life is not fair.” The sooner you can accept this, the happier you will be. My father used to say this all the time. Not in a cold “get over it” kind of way, but in a lovingly, teaching me the reality of life kind of way. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Sometimes really bad things. I remember attending a standing-room only seminar by Bernie Siegel, MD, author of “Love, Medicine, and Miracles.” He asked the people in the room to raise their hand if they felt that life was not fair. As my fiancé had just been diagnosed with cancer at age 27, my hand went right up! And so did the hands of everyone in the room. His point – we are ALL dealt with rough times, so it can be viewed as fair. We can live more fulfilling lives when we accept that it simply is not fair and not dwell on how unfair it is.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is the quickest way to zap your happiness. You may be so happy with your belongings, your achievements, your successes, and as soon as you compare yourself to someone you perceive as having/being/doing more, your joy is zapped. In an instant. Just like that. Gone.
- Smile. I love the saying, “The greatest accessory you can wear every day is your smile.” Smile when you don’t feel like smiling. I’m not suggesting ignoring or suppressing your feelings. I’m just suggesting that smiling gets more of a positive reaction out of others when you might be feeling crummy and need it most.
- Don’t take things personally. Yeah, much easier said than done! But trust me, if you can work toward this, you will be much more fulfilled in everyday living. People’s reaction to you is really not about you. It is about THEM. Each person has their own history, experiences, hurts. When they behave, they are behaving based on their own histories, their own hurts. Not you. If you need some work in this area, read, “The Four Agreements.”
- Be goofy. This is the best. Dance as if no one is watching. Sing as if no one is listening. My dad used to run around my high school track, and I remember being SO embarrassed. Not because of his running, but because of everything else he was doing besides running! Dancing, spinning, punching like a boxer. And he skied the same way. Goofy. With his arms outstretched, wearing his multi-colored clown wig, listening to his Walkman that was duct-taped to his chest. I keep a photo of him skiing in his clown wig in my wallet to remind myself every day to be a little goofy.
- Be around people who make you feel good. Ever notice how you feel differently depending on your company? Make a point to spend time with the people who make you feel good about yourself, and less time with the people who bring you down.
- Exercise. This is probably the most effective way of elevating mood. There are countless studies demonstrating the proven mental health benefits of exercise. Find something you enjoy doing, and make the time in your day to do it. The simplest is walking. For an instant mood boost, go for a walk in nature, and better yet, with a friend. Studies demonstrate that walking in nature with others is associated with less perceived stress and improved overall emotional well-being.
- Remember that the toughest days are not forever, and they will pass. You may have to repeat this to yourself all day, “This will pass. Tomorrow is a new day.”
- Keep a gratitude journal. All you need to do is spend two to three minutes a day thinking about new things you are grateful for in order to benefit from this exercise. Try to do this for a month, making sure that the list is different every day. Be specific. For example, instead of writing that you are grateful for your spouse, write about something specific that your spouse does for you for which you are grateful. Writing something different and specific every day is effective and powerful because it helps train the brain to see the world differently, and to look for the positive.
- Accept help. You do not need to be Super Woman or Super Man, or Super Mom or Super Dad. If someone offers to help in some way, whether it be a ride for a child, or a meal if you are struggling, accept the help. We cannot truly give to others without judgment if we judge ourselves for accepting help. Allow others the opportunity to give to you, and receive the help with grace.
- Be still. This is especially important in today’s world of multi-tasking, activities, electronics, and stimulation of our senses coming from all directions. We need to take a moment out of our lives to simply be still. Sit in your favorite chair, turn off distractions, and just close your eyes, but not with the intention to fall asleep. You can listen to music and/or light a candle. Notice how you feel after even just five minutes of being still.
- Give to others. One of the best ways to feel better is to give to others. The benefit is twofold. Someone is benefiting from your kindness, time, and/or generosity, and you are left feeling better. In addition, doing for others helps take the focus off of our own sorrows. I don’t see this as “charity”, but rather an understanding that we all have struggles, and to give when you can to help make someone else’s day a little brighter. Your day will be brighter too. There are so many wonderful ways to give to others, but an organization that has a very special place in my heart is Heartworks.
- Say thank you. How many times a day do you silently think about something that someone has done for you? It could have been an hour ago, yesterday, or 20 years ago. It could have been something very small, such as picking up your child when you were stuck in traffic, or huge, such as successfully performing surgery on you! Who has had a positive impact on your life? Thinking about that person and what he/she has done for you is one way to elevate mood. But take it a step further and take the time to write a thank you note. Or go out of your way to thank someone in person.
In 1995, a year after my fiancé passed away, I found myself driving past the hospital where he and I spent the last 42 days of his life, on my way to visit a friend in New England. I thought about the nurse, Eileen, who took such good care of him, and who told such great jokes in her Irish accent and made us laugh when we needed it the most. I could not just drive by the hospital. I had to stop in and thank her for what she had done for me during that time. Hospital security was not as strict back then. All I had to do was tell the security guards was what floor I was going to. I could barely utter the number. I got out of the elevator onto the floor that had become my unwanted home for a brief time, and there she was. I don’t remember saying much other than “thank you”, and I don’t think I had to. She knew. She felt it. It was heart wrenching to step back in that hospital, but I am so glad that I did. Thank you, Eileen. I will never forget you.
14. Look people in the eye. I don’t mean this in a creepy way. I’ve just noticed that people don’t really LOOK at each other anymore. We are social beings, and we are losing connection with each other. We’re busy multi-tasking, looking at our phones, being distracted by to-do lists. I believe that this lack of connection is leading to a feeling of budding emptiness, or for some, full-blown emptiness. So look your child or partner in the eye when he/she is talking to you, and look the Shop Rite cashier in the eye when she asks you how you are doing.
15. Give compliments. Giving someone a genuine heartfelt compliment raises the positive energy level of the interaction. If you find yourself having a positive thought about someone during an interaction, why keep it to yourself? Share it, and you will both benefit emotionally.
16. Maintain perspective. Throughout our days, we can become stressed or upset about so many different things! If something is bothering you, ask yourself, “Does this really matter?” and “At the end of the day, does this really have an impact on my life or the lives of the ones I love.” Most often, the answer will be no. And if the answer is not no, then you know that it is something that deserves your energy and attention.
17. Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. Whatever goal you are striving for, try not to get caught up in how far you have to go. When it feels overwhelming, feels like it is taking too long, and/or feels like too much effort, focus on how far you have come. Also enjoy the moment and where you are on your journey toward achieving your goal. While reaching your goal might be the ultimate reward, the path that got you there is also worthy of celebrating each step of the way.
18. Allow yourself to feel. Even if it is yucky, feel it. Allow yourself to experience grief, anger, frustration, or sadness. Give yourself permission to fully experience your feelings and own it. When we shut ourselves off to our negative feelings, we are unwittingly also shutting ourselves off from fully experiencing our positive emotions.
19. Forgive. When you hold on to grudges and hold on to the wrongdoing of others, this ultimately only hurts you by carrying that negative energy. I love the saying, “Hanging on to resentment is letting someone live rent-free in your head.” When you allow yourself to forgive others who have wronged you and hurt you, you are allowing yourself to heal. It is not easy to do, so consider it a strength and a gift to yourself.
20. Say the Serenity Prayer a couple times a day! “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It is important to recognize and accept the things we cannot change. Why spend your energy worrying about or trying to fix the things you simply cannot change? Being able to recognize this will leave you with more energy for what you can change.
21. Get outside in nature!! Find some time every day to get outside, even it if it just for five minutes, and especially if you are stuck in an office all day. It is really hard to stay angry or frustrated when you are outside in natural beauty.
22. Use your imagination. Visualize a positive experience. This could be a favorite place or favorite activity. Think about each detail that you can remember, and try to involve as many senses as possible. What did you see, hear, feel, taste, smell? Using this method is also an effective way of reducing physical pain.
23. Ask for help. We simply cannot do everything we need to do and get through this thing called life without help. Some people view asking for help as a sign of weakness, or worry that it will be perceived by others as weakness. Get over it! You will be much more fulfilled in your daily life if you ask for help when you need it.
24. It’s OK to ask for what you want out of life! So ask God, the Universe, whatever you believe in. If there is something specific missing from your life, ask for it, and visualize it. You can get really creative with this! A great book to get started is “Creative Visualizations” by Shakti Gawain.
25. Be creative. This could take on so many different forms. Make play dough. Write in a journal. Make music. Make art. Write a poem. Color. I recently read an article about the mental health benefits that adults can obtain from the simple act of coloring with markers or crayons!
26. Read. Reading is such a wonderful escape. A distraction from the demands of daily living. So take time out to read whatever helps you to escape. This could be romance, suspense, science fiction, classic literature, or a book of inspirations.
27. Listen to music. If you feel that you need to de-stress, listen to some soothing music. If you need to be energized or a quick mood boost, listen to some energizing music. If you need a laugh, turn on some old classics from the 80’s and go back in time.
28. Sing or whistle. It’s really hard to stay in a bad mood while you’re singing or even better yet, whistling.
29. Hope. When all else fails, hope. And there will be days when hope is all you have left. Hope for better days ahead, hope for less emotional or physical pain, hope after lost love. I love the saying, When the world says, “Give up”, Hope whispers, “Try one more time.”