Six Steps to Happiness

Recently I wrote about the importance of feeling the full range of emotions, including the negative ones. And that it is key to recognize the anger, frustration or jealousy and then to work through it so you don’t hang on to it. There is science that shows the more we hang on to the negative feelings, our brains actually change so that we’re more consistently a negative, grouchy person.

The more certain neurons in our brain fire and communicate the stronger their pathway becomes. Click here for an easy read article that summarizes a couple of studies.

The good news is that the same is true for positive feelings and optimism. The more we choose – and yes, it is a choice* – to be positive, optimistic and grateful for what we do have rather than focusing on what we don’t have, our brains will change in this way, too.

*I’m not talking about clinical depression when it is not a choice. I’m talking about the relatively healthy minded person, which is most of us, and how we choose to see and interpret the events in our life.

In other words, you can decide if you want to be happy or not. When we’re happy, it not only makes us feel good and enjoy life more but it does so for those close to us.

So how to move toward more happiness?

1. Pay attention to your emotions. As I talked about in my last article, recognize what it is you are feeling and if it is negative (anger, irritation, jealous) give yourself some time to think about it before you do or say anything that might make the situation worse. Take some deep breaths, take a walk, talk to a friend – do something to work through the hard part so you can get to a more stable place to logically figure out your next steps.

2. Try to see the good in a situation or person and try not to dwell on the not-so-good. Choose one thing to substitute the negative with. For example, you go to the bank and the line is really long and it takes forever to get your errand done. After you get through it, instead of hanging on to how long it took and being grumpy about it, remind yourself that the good news is that the task is done and you can move forward.

3. Take time every day and throughout the day to think about what you are grateful for. A healthy body, a loving family, a sweet dog, a good meal, a job, a sunny day are all examples of easy-to-think-of-things that we should be grateful for. Focusing on appreciating makes us feel good and think happy.

4. Move your body and get outside. Our endorphins kick in when we move around and there is no substitute for fresh air and sunshine.

5. Be accepting of yourself. In a study happiness, it was found that self-acceptance was an important practice to get to happy. We are under so much pressure to succeed and in the process we compare ourselves to others constantly. When we learn to accept ourselves just as we are, a huge shift occurs and opens us up to plain happiness and contentment.

6. Meditate. If you’ve never done it before don’t be scared or think you can’t. Everyone can meditate and it does so much good! I’m not even talking about trying to sit for a half hour or anything. Five or ten minutes a day will change you for the better. Promise. For starters, try a mantra (Google “meditation mantras” and choose something that speaks to you) or try Loving Kindness Meditation (click here for guidance). This one aims to self-acceptance so you get double credit here.

Bottom line, if you want to be happy then choose it. And get there by working on habits and practices that get you there.

Photo Credit: Jabari Timothy