I take a Happiness class every Friday and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you. If you want to learn even more about Happiness, read Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, “The How of Happiness,” or look for Dr. Martin Seligman on U-Tube.
If you have questions or comments, please raise your hand so that I can acknowledge you. Fifty percent of your happiness is genetic, set at birth. You either have a sunny personality or you don’t. Ten percent of your happiness is determined by your circumstances. Either good things are happening in your life or they’re not; which leaves the forty percent of your happiness that is under your own control. You can make choices that will lead to greater happiness and those are what I’ll be talking about today.
There are 16 ways to increase your happiness: 1. Gratitude, 2. Nutrition, 3. Physical Activity, 4.Savoring, 5. Getting a good night’s Sleep, 6. Optimism, 7. Focusing on your Strengths, 8.Smiling, 9. Gardening, 10. Enjoying Nature, 11. Making Human Connections, 12. Service & Kindness, 13. Work, 14. Meditation, 15. Goals, and 16. Mindfulness. All of these are important although some may resonate more with you than others.
Gratitude is key. Melody Beattie in “The Language of Letting Go” says, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.” Keeping a gratitude journal will increase your happiness a great deal. Once a week, write down five things that you are grateful for. They don’t have to be big things. You can be grateful for socks or lip balm or toilet paper. Try to focus on different things each week. Then, write down something that upset you during the week – not everything that upset you, just the main upset. Now re-frame it. How can this upset be a blessing in disguise? For example, I was upset that my car battery died and I had to fix it even though I had no savings in reserve. The blessing in disguise is that my car is functioning much better now and the mechanic gave me a great deal.
Another way to show gratitude is to write thank you notes and thank you letters. Notes can be sent to anyone who has done something nice for you. Thank you letters should be written to people who have had a major positive impact on your life. If at all possible, read this letter to
them in person. This will boost your mood for at least a month. Over time, focusing on gratitude will have you automatically looking on the bright side.
Good nutrition will help you feel good. I think most people here are familiar with healthy eating
so I won’t talk much about this. So far as happiness goes, the most important thing is to get your
Omega – 3 fatty acids. You can get them from eating fish or flax seed, or you can take a
3. Physical Activity
Physical activity will boost your mood. It doesn’t have to be a major workout. A thirty minute walk in your neighborhood each day will boost your mood. Physical activity has been shown in studies to be as effective as many anti-depressants at alleviating depression.
Savoring will improve your whole life, not just your mood. I think of it as upping your game. Don’t just take a bath; use scented Epsom salts, candles, and soft music. Relax into the moment and savor it. Take the time with your meals to enjoy them – savor each bite. Keep a journal of
all the good, nice, and pleasant things you experienced during the day. Like gratitude, savoring is a way of focusing on the positive.
Getting a good night’s sleep is very important. It’s hard to be happy when you’re grumpy and groggy. Use good sleep hygiene: Go to bed at the same time every night. Have a nightly routine that starts an hour or two before bedtime. For example, turn off all electronics two hoursbefore bed. Have a light snack. Make sure the temperature in your room is a little on the cool side. Make sure your room is very dark. Relax each part of your body and breathe deeply. Only use your bed for sleep or sex. Don’t read or eat or watch TV in bed.
I’ll quote Elizabeth Kunz on learning to be more optimistic: I was miserable on and off in my life till age 39, blaming outside things, like my job or my relationship. And then it hit me: I am the leader of my life, and I can choose to believe what I want. It’s such a simple idea, but it was a pivotal breakthrough. Now, whenever I have an anxious or negative thought, I use a technique that I learned from my love of gardening – one that I also teach to the girls I mentor. I think, Is this thought a weed that is taking up space and needs to be plucked? Or is it a flower that I need to
tend and love and let thrive? I focus all my attention on the thoughts that are beautiful blooms and yank out the negative ones.
Focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses to be happy. Enjoy doing what you’re good at and find ways to compensate for your weaknesses. For example, a friend of mine is excellent at making human connections but terrible with anything computer related. So he focuses on creating illuminating classes and has a secretary. My older brother is just the opposite – he’s very comfortable with computers and awkward with people. So he works for a major computer company where the only people he ever has to talk to speak computer as well.
Smiling is one of those things we think of as happening after we’re happy, not one of those things we do to be happy, however, smiling sends signals to your whole body that things are good. You are safe. No one is hurting you. It makes the people you come in contact with feel good when they see you smiling and so they smile back at you and that makes you feel good: A happy cycle. I’ve been told that smiling in the mirror for 20 minutes a day will cure depression. I have not found that to be true, but smiling – even at yourself – can boost your mood.
Gardening makes you happier whether you have an estate with lush grounds or a tiny apartment with a few plants. For a long time, I killed every plant that came near me either by over-watering it or neglecting it. Finally, I have a few plants that need minimal care (I water them once a week) and I enjoy watching them grow. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that I have kept them alive and they grow healthy and strong because of me.
Enjoying nature can be as simple as taking a walk around your block or as difficult as climbing the Himalayas. Many of my friends have said that not only are they happier out of doors, but they have had their most spiritual experiences in nature. Even a city girl like my mother enjoys
long walks in the country when she comes to visit. I like to find a quiet spot outdoors and find a seat and meditate.
11. Human Connections
Making human connections takes time and effort but may result in a friend. Take the time to smile and say “hello” to people. Ask how they’re doing. Ask about their family. Ask them to come over for coffee or dessert or game night. Listen when people talk to you and think before
responding. Show up.
Service and Kindness have become popular lately. Think of the admonition to “pay it forward.” It’s popular because it feels good and makes you feel good about yourself. Visit a sick acquaintance. Bring a meal to someone lonely. Open the door for the person behind you. Let
someone merge during rush hour. It doesn’t have to be big or heroic, but doing nice things for one another makes us all feel good.
Work gives an opportunity to use our talents and skills in return for compensation. We know exactly how valued we are when we see our paycheck. When you have a job you are considered a contributing member of society. The very fact that someone pays you to do something means that you are valued and needed. Even people who are not particularly happy with their job keep it because not having a job at all is so painful. You lose both income and status. One of the hardest hits my own happiness ever took was when I had to give up my job because of my
disability. There is something very wonderful about being in the rhythm and the flow of your job.
Meditation calms the mind and body. I find it to be a deeply spiritual experience. Focusing your mind for even as few as 3 minutes leaves you feeling calmer, cleaner, and happier. There are many ways to meditate. The Buddhists who meet on Monday nights can give you some pointers. I like to use a little visualization where when a thought comes into my head, I set it on a leaf or a boat and send it down the river. I don’t judge the thought as good or bad, I just let it gently float away. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is remarkably happy, meditates for 7 hours a day.
Working toward and achieving goals brings us happiness even if it is as simple as crossing everything off a To-Do list. If a goal is difficult or long-term, making real, positive progress makes us happy.
A year ago last May I nearly died. I had atrial fibrillation and my heart had to be stopped and restarted 5 times. I had water around my heart and lungs. I had a pulmonary embolism. I had non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis. I had Type 2 Diabetes. It took months for me to recuperate, but what was clear was that my obesity had lead to these problems and if I was going to get better, I was going to have to lose a lot of weight. On December 4th of last year, at 283 pounds, I began a diet and exercise program. At first, I could barely walk around the mall once to get my exercise in. I cried because I couldn’t eat treats at Christmas or my birthday. I was angry and frustrated every time I hit a plateau. Every day was hard, but the happiness and satisfaction I felt as the pounds and inches came off were very real. Today, I no longer have heart problems, my liver is clear, and my diabetes is gone. I am more than half way to my goal weight.
How I can I describe mindfulness? I suppose that when someone reminds us to stop and smell the roses they are reminding us to be mindful, to notice the little things, to enter into the ebb and flow of life. Use all of your senses to truly enjoy the world. Enjoy the sights, the smells, the
sounds, the tastes, the textures. Breathe in and out and be . . . happy.