By Marilyn Tam
The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself ~ Benjamin Franklin
Are you chasing after happiness and don’t seem to be able to catch it? What does happiness look like? For some people it’s a bigger job, higher salary, a new house, a fancy car, an adoring partner, losing twenty pounds of body fat or any number of things that society have deemed would make us happy. Yet the secret of happiness lies within each one of us.
If we waited for outside circumstances to be a certain way before we are happy, we are bound to be disappointed. A good example of something not living up to the hype would be the lives of at least 70% of all lottery winners; they are more miserable than before they won, and have lost their money, relationships and health within a few years after winning.
The secret is that happiness is a choice. Unexpected and seemingly negative circumstances happen to everyone. How we deal with these experiences determine whether we are happy, healthy and resilient enough to learn from the situations and move forward with hope and inner peace.
In college I was turned down when I applied to enter into the field I wanted to be in ever since I was 11 years old. It was shocking to have my life’s dream be closed to me because at barely 21 years old, I did not have the 10 years of experience World Health Organization, WHO required as a condition for employment. I paused, took the time while searching for what I would really want to do next to get additional education. Because of that I gained the training and experience to secure a career with more creativity, responsibility, and most importantly still fulfill my desire to make a positive difference.
Beware of destination addiction… The idea that happiness is in the next place, next job, next car, next thing or even the next partner. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are. ~ Anonymous
Here are seven things you can do to become happier.
- Acknowledge the reason(s) for being unhappy. There are times when it is natural to feel sad. We grieve the loss of loved ones, for broken dreams and other meaningful reasons. Everything is temporary and although things will never be the same again, there is a future we can shape.
- Make someone else happy. Helping others enhances our self-esteem and sense of life purpose; both of which are key factors in increasing our happiness. Make a habit of being considerate and giving to others; it will reward you with an increased happiness set-point.
- Meditate. In meditation our cognitive processes are literally rewired so that we are calmer and happier. Our brains are actually malleable and respond to our mindful efforts to improving our moods and attitudes. Eight weeks of daily meditation have been shown to increase our happiness. Dedicate time, even if it is only ten minutes each day, to quiet meditation, it will improve your sense of wellbeing.
- Give thanks. Make it a habit to find reasons to be grateful. Especially when you are feeling down or sad, change your mood by searching for and giving thanks for the good things in your life. Looking for the existing positives will increase your feelings of happiness by putting your focus on the things that bring you joy.
- Stretch, exercise. When we move our bodies, positive endorphins are activated and soon we’re feeling better! Spend regular time stretching mindfully and moving; your body and mind will thank you.
- Smile. Our facial expressions influence our moods. When we are frowning, we feel pain deeper and are sadder. Just moving your facial muscles into a smile will trigger an internal process of shifting your mood to a happier one. Soon, you will feel better and the smile will come naturally from within.
- Go out into nature. Nature is healing. When we are connected with nature by being around trees and plants, earth, mountains, rivers, lakes, or ocean, we are soothed and comforted. Even photos of natural scenes reduces our stress and enhances our wellbeing.
This is not a prescription for being Pollyanna. You can help mitigate and release grief. Life is a journey, things happen for reasons that we may not understand at the time. Hold a longer perspective and face each day with equanimity. Trust that life is unfolding as it does for good reasons, and you will be happier each day. It’s your life you get to choose, choose happiness.
Marilyn Tam’s latest book, “The Happiness Choice” shows how you can live a life of happiness, health and success. It’s her way of giving back to the world for all the blessings she’s received. The Happiness Choic