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How to Find Happiness the Easy Way


How to Find Happiness the Easy Way
Image by HAMED MASOUMI (license).

Note: This is a guest post by Lori Jewett of Between Us Girls.

We have all launched ourselves on the road to happiness. We are obsessed with the pursuit of it, but all too often, we become discouraged. We struggle and bumble our way along, but somehow happiness continues to elude us.

Part of the problem is that the term, happiness, is kind of vague. We set off on our search for it before we know what it is or how to obtain it. Many of us have created a monster with our relentless pursuit of happiness. We’ve chosen this broad and mighty goal “HAPPINESS” and then we set about trying to achieve it by eliminating all of the negative aspects of our lives, identifying our one true passion, divining our life’s purpose and setting out to achieve our life’s dreams…all before lunch. Then we wonder why it isn’t working.

And yet, it is true that the pursuit of happiness is worth the effort.  Research has shown that positive emotions have not just the benefit of momentary pleasure, but of long-term well-being also.  Positive emotions bring us pleasure, counteract the damaging effects of negative emotions, build resilience and promote long-term physical and emotional health.  (See my prior post on The Power of Positive Emotions) We don’t want to give up on happiness, but we do need to find an easier way.

As we all know, when we have a big goal, it helps to break it down into smaller pieces. If we think of happiness as an overarching emotional state that is created by the presence of other, positive emotions, the process of achieving happiness becomes less daunting.

Joy, contentedness, love, interest, and satisfaction are some of the positive emotions that lead us to feel happy. The more we experience these positive emotions, the happier we’ll be.

Easy so far, right? But how do we cultivate positive emotions? That’s easy too, if you’re willing to let it be.

When we engage in activities or spend time with people (or animals) that we like, we tend to feel positive emotions. You might experience joy when you tickle your baby and make him smile, or feel interest when you read the editorial section of the paper or feel content when you snuggle up with your husband to watch a movie. There are many things in our lives that generate positive emotions. Simply put, the more time you spend engaged in activities that induce positive emotion, the more positive emotion you will feel and the more likely you will be to achieve an overall sense of happiness.

To get you started I’ve included a very generic list of ideas for ways that you can invite more positive emotion into your life. You will, of course, put your own, personal spin on these and identify the specific people or activities that will bring about positive emotion in you. These are just ideas to get you started thinking:

Exercise.

Okay, no groaning now. Exercise, beyond making you more fit, also brings about the release of endorphins. This is a “feel good” chemical that is produced in your body. Now come on, who doesn’t want to feel good? You might like lifting weights or running or prefer to join a local basketball league. Any moderately strenuous physical activity counts.

Spend Time With Others.

Time spent with people (not just any people, but upbeat, positive people) can bring about feelings of joy, love, interest etc. Go out with your friends, visit with family, chat with the mailman. Don’t feel like talking? Just smile at people once in a while…when they smile back, which they will do most of the time, see if it doesn’t make you feel good.

Don’t forget your animal friends either. Playing with the dog, watching the birds or rabbits in the back yard or even chatting with your son’s pet hamster can make you feel more content or even make you laugh. (Yes, I do talk to my son’s hamster and my daughter’s as well…is that a problem?)

Quiet Your Mind.

Formal meditation, prayer or even just sitting with your eyes closed for a few minutes can bring about relaxation and a sense of inner peace.

Spend Time in Nature.

I’ve written ad nauseum about the benefits of time spent in nature over at BetweenUsGirls. Suffice it to say that nature, whether a hike in the woods or simply gazing at the river from your office window, can bring about relaxation, feelings of connectedness, and even spark creativity. While there is much research to prove that time in or near nature has a positive impact on mood, I am sure that you don’t need proof. It isn’t often that I run across a person who hasn’t experienced the soothing effects of nature for his- or herself.

Express Yourself.

Creative expression of any kind (art, crafts, cooking, decorating, writing) can bring along a great deal of positive emotion. Your work doesn’t have to be good…you just have to enjoy doing it.

Have Fun.

This might mean making more time for your hobbies, taking up a new hobby, spending more time with friends or quick-and-easy activities like seeing a movie, going to a concert or texting back and forth with someone who always makes you laugh. Anything that engages your interest or makes you laugh or smile.

Volunteer Work.

Quite often, doing things that help others, brings feelings of joy and accomplishment. Making someone else feel good often makes us feel just as good.

Now, there you go. Seven very good general ideas that can be made into a multitude of specific ones for generating positive emotion. I’m sure that now that you’re thinking, you’ll come up with some other original ideas. If you do, share them with us…please!

The older I get, the more that I realize that it really is the little things that make us happy. Becoming a happier person doesn’t have to be hard work. Remember, one step at a time. Have lunch with a friend, take a walk in the woods, play with the dog, see a funny movie. Every time you engage in an activity that peaks your interest, makes you smile or gets your endorphins flowing, it’s like money in the bank. A little laugh here, a loving hug there and before you know it you’ve become the happy person you’ve always wanted to be without hardly trying.

This post was written by Lori Jewett from BetweenUsGirls.  Visit BetweenUsGirls for wit and wisdom on a variety of topics including personal growth and development, midlife struggles, spirituality, health and more.

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  • Jarrod - Warrior Development July 23, 2008, 2:12 am

    Sorry but I disagree with this. Most of the happiness being talked about is ‘I’m going to disneyland’ or ‘they love me’ happiness. Which is just as easily shattered as it is earned. Striving for positive emotions is like reaching for something that comes and goes. Happiness doesn’t have to be like that.

    There is another form of happiness which derives from peace. This is attained by dropping emotions and thoughts (both positive and negative) and abiding in space.

    The happiness I am talking about is not restricted to being found while meditating, sitting in a far off room. It can be found in any moment. Whether you are on public transport, at work or anywhere.

    You can be happy when being insulted. The words come in towards you but if you separate from your own reactions(thoughts/feelings) to these external events you are simply left with peace, which is often followed by happiness.

    Explore it.

  • Avani-Mehta July 23, 2008, 2:28 am

    Accepting and loving self is of prime most importance for happiness. I loved the points you mentioned.

  • Thomas Johnson July 23, 2008, 3:14 am

    A nice little roundup here – all of these things on the list have increased my happiness at some stage.

    Reading this article helps to identify the areas not getting the attention they deserve at the moment.

    Cheers!

  • Tage July 23, 2008, 10:37 am

    I’m a big fan of the exercise portion. It truly does make you feel good. I just got back from a 45+ minute walk while listening to an Audiobook. Now I have gotten exercise, “read” almost an hour, and feel better. Seems like a win/win.

    Also the have fun is key. Some people take life too seriously. They work their selves to the bone for what? So they can pay for the house and BMW that they can’t afford to spend time with? Simple is usually better.
    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~Da Vinci

  • taty July 23, 2008, 10:51 am

    i like this blog a lot and read the new posts as they come out.
    what i find hard about staying positive is that i tend to believe there are more negative things n my life, or that they are “bigger” than the positive ones. it’s a constant struggle to shift my focus from the negative to the positive. it’s a constant battle, and some days i just give in to negativity because it’s easier and i’m tired of fighting. i then go back to fighting it with renewed power, until it happens again and so on. it’s a cycle i’m finding hard to break…

  • Lori@BetweenUsGirls July 23, 2008, 3:54 pm

    Jarrod,

    Sorry that my perspective doesn’t resonate with yours. I think that you may have misunderstood to a certain extent. I’m by no means saying that happiness can be gained by a trip to Disneyland or any other “thing” that we can do or have necessarily. What I am saying is that increasing how often we experience positive emotions can lead to an increase in our overall level of happiness. The activities I speak of are simply tools for increasing positive emotions which has been scientifically linked to happiness and well-being.

    I don’t disagree with your point that happiness can be found through peace and that non-attachment can help to achieve this. But your comment that this is “attained by dropping emotions and thoughts (both positive and negative)” concerns me. Managing our emotions, shifting them from negative to positive is a worthwhile and achievable goal, but cutting ourselves off totally from them is neither feasible nor healthy. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you?

  • Lori@BetweenUsGirls July 23, 2008, 4:10 pm

    Avani-Mehta,

    Nicely said. Self compassion is so difficult for so many. If we could only treat ourselves with the same respect and patience that we often reserve for others, we would be all be happier.

    Thomas,

    Thanks, I’m glad to see that I’m on the right track!

    Tage,

    That is a win-win! Thanks for the inspiring quotation.

    Taty,

    You are not alone in this struggle. Our brains are set up in a way that we tend to have a much easier time remembering negative experiences than positive ones. Add to that a natural tendency toward pessimism (I suffer from this – perhaps you do as well?) and maintaining a positive, optimistic perspective really IS a constant battle!

    Accepting that, for you, maintaining a mostly positive attitude will be a bit of a chore is the first step. But like any skill, practice makes it easier over time. Keep at it and don’t beat yourself up if you have a down day here and there. Let yourself wallow a bit and then get right back on track.

    Having realistic expectations is the second step. If you expect that being a happy person means you are perpetually happy and gleeful, you are bound to be disappointed. Happy people experience the full range of emotions. They just don’t let the negative bog them down for too long and choose to focus on the positive. It sounds like you are already doing this to some extent.

    I have several articles on my site regarding happiness, pessimism, the power of positive emotions, lowered expectations etc. Check them out. You might find some helpful info there. Search under the “happiness” and “emotional growth and development” categories at http://www.betweenusgirls.info. Meanwhile, keep up the good work!

  • Terry Dactyl July 23, 2008, 4:12 pm

    Follow these 6 points and happiness will be a beneficial by-product:
    1. find a wife/husband/life partner
    2. find a meaningful, well-paid, tolerable career
    3. own your own home
    4. exercise properly three times a week
    5. save 10% of your income into a managed fund. When your fund reaches 1 million and you have paid off your mortgage, stop working.
    6. As regards your freetime and retirement, decide if you are a creative, political, financial or charitable person. If you are creative write a book or join a band. If you are political get involved in politics. If you are financial start your own business. If you are charitable dedicate your time and energy to your charitable beliefs. It is unlikely you will profit financially from any but the last type of pursuit.
    7. Harshly slam the over-simplistic and patronising tone of this reply and point out there are in fact 7 points not 6.

  • Alex B. July 23, 2008, 5:54 pm

    It’s not “ad nauseum” but rather “ad nauseam.”

  • Mike July 23, 2008, 10:57 pm

    I agree with Jarod Warrior, but this was okay too.

  • Laurie | Express Yourself to Success July 24, 2008, 2:46 pm

    I like having positive emotions and, yes, they make me happy. So does inner peace.

    For me, I find a quick boost of happiness when I spend time with friends (#2 on your list) – even if only a quick phone call. Having wonderful people in my life makes a big difference in my happiness levels!

  • orionstarr July 24, 2008, 2:49 pm

    I only agree with some of the points, but overall great read.

  • Rick July 24, 2008, 10:50 pm

    Self expression and gratitude for what we have. There are things that I would like that I may not have but the key is appreciating what you do have. That is so much more important than the things you desire. When you’re sitting next to your spouse or significant other, reach out and hold their hand. A gentle squeeze speaks volumes.

    Rick

  • Gerard July 30, 2008, 5:51 pm

    Lorie and Jarrod,

    I also have a problem with this formulation : “dropping emotions and thoughts (both positive and negative)”. One might infer that the ultimate objective is to be without emotions and thoughts.

    I prefer this one (not from me!) : to be free from / not to be a slave of our emotions and thoughts. To be free of unpleasant emotions and thoughts is an easy objective to agree with. In my experience, the difficulty is with pleasant ones, because we like them. One has to be aware they can carry us away and can make us make big mistakes because when we’re blinded by them.

    However, I also agree with your points. It’s important to have to have a purpose which feeds our mind and our spirituality. Not to forget kindness which starts first with us.

  • Carol Ann Wiley August 3, 2008, 6:15 pm

    I have an ex-husband who once asked me what my major goal in life was. I told him, “To be Happy”! He told me that that was NOT a goal. Now, some 30 years later, I beg to differ. To be happy is indeed a goal and not so easily attained as is evidenced by the discussion in these comments and ones I am seeing around the blogosphere these days.

    I am thinking that happiness is like a butterfly: elusive and beautiful, fleeting yet returning, taking and giving. Just as we can’t hold down a butterfly and make it stay, the same can be said of happiness.

    There are so many forces outside of ourselves that will chase our butterfly/happiness away. But there are so many forces inside of ourselves that will ensure that both will return. So I am intent on strengthening the forces inside of me to be prepared for those forces outside of me. Now that will make me happy!

  • Lore August 6, 2008, 10:02 pm

    Thank you for your post on happiness. I seem to be obsessed with the topic of late. I am naturally optimistic and my husband is naturally pessimistic this makes for interesting conversations. Carol Ann, I like what you say about Happiness as a goal. I have made it mine as well. I find myself happiest when I’m engaged in absorbing activities that cause me to forget myself, lose track of time and stop worrying…like children do when they are playing. It also helps to be living in the moment. Thanks!