Happiness Depends Upon Ourselves
The other day I was asked why I looked so youthful. (I am sure this person was trying to sell me something). My immediate reply was “because I am happy”. And I am. This got me thinking. Is happiness a choice? And if so, how do we become happy and how does it affect our mental health.
I am not talking about the Snow White and Seven Dwarfs type of happiness where everyone is singing and dancing all day. Rather I am saying that I believe that people who chose to be happy and have a positive mental outlook on life are more mentally resilient to coping with sadness, change and disappointment. Being happy helps us to be mentally stronger and able bounce back from negativity when we are confronted with life’s uncertainties.
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Trying to live a happy life is not about denying our negative emotions or pretending to feel happy. It is about being able to make the most of life during the good times and also cope more effectively dutimes.
Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: wrote “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.”
In addition, psychologist, Martin Seligman developed the Theory of Learned Optimism. This theory highlighted the role that our cognitive processes play in our own happiness. This theory operates on the premise that if we focus on the positive aspects of our life such as character strength, positive emotion and relationships we will become more joyful and engaged individuals. It does not deny the existence of the negative parts of life, but argues that we can learn to be happier and more resilient in our lives by focusing on the positive. In other words, happiness does not depend on circumstances. Happiness happens when we decide to be content.
So, if happiness can be learned how do we go about it?
First, I believe that we need to choose to be happy. Find out what being happy means. Ask ourselves what’s important in your life. Trying to live a happy life is not about denying negative emotions or pretending to feel joyful all the time. It is also about being able to cope the the bad times as well
Find what brings you joy. Happiness is a byproduct of an engaged connected meaningful life. Research has shown that long-term happiness and feeling content with our lives stems from a feeling of being in charge of as much of our life as possible. It’s not about smiling all the time nor does it come from money or health, but a self-belief you are on the road you want to be on.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Research has shown that when we stop focusing on the small everyday negatives in our life and instead, focus on the joyful ones we tend to be happier overall. This does not mean denying that there are peaks and valleys in life, but by concentrating on what goes right instead of what goes wrong, have longer term contentment and a greater resilience for dealing with negative moments.
Have a mindset of accomplishing more. It does not matter what age you are. A 2011 study published by the the Journal of Consumer Research found that those who set themselves up for higher goals tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who keep lower expectations. Progress in our goals makes us feel happier. And, focusing on making progress puts us in a state of flow, which has been shown to foster happiness.
Learn something new. (Look at me. Writing on mental health issues and loving it). It may sound counterintuitive to being happy, but learning something new helps build our self confidence and keeps us sharp. We, as humans, are wired for challenges and engaging in stimulating activities keeps our minds flowing and helps stave off boredom.
Live in the moment. People who are happy understand that being present and living in the here and now contributes to a positive attitude. In a TED talk Matt Killingsworth found that most people were at their happiest when they were in the present. “As human beings we have this unique ability to have our minds stray.” Killingsworth said in the November 2012 talk. “Maybe to really be happy we need to stay completely immersed and focused on our experience in the moment … as it turns out, people are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering than when they are not.” Learn to be present both mentally and physically.
Be introspective. Make a conscious effort to avoid coasting through life without assessing ourselves. Try and step back and examine if our thought behaviors are necessary for being a happier person. Are we causing ourselves anxiety? Are there better options. Introspection allows us to see not only what we may need to change but also what we are doing right. I helps us to not worry about things we cannot control.
Lastly, focus on giving gratitude. When we foster an attitude of gratitude we learn to see what is working is our lives versus what is not. Gratitude helps elicit more feel good emotions, keeps our anxiety lower, and keeps us connected to others.
Oh, and smile!