Note: This is a guest post by Lori Jewett.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.