Believe it or not, psychologists have discovered that you can train yourself to be happy! Happiness of course, promotes the perception of well-being and brings with it the good feelings of joy, well-being, relaxation and emotional peace. Cognitive retraining—or retraining the mind, takes some practice and dedication, but the more you work at it—and I mean every day—the more happiness will become your second nature. Try working on one or more of these suggestions every day. Read them over in the morning and be aware of how you will implement it throughout your day. Believe me, they work! People will begin to think something wonderful has happened to you that you haven’t told them about. You can tell them it has—you have chosen to be happy and figured out how to do it. And if you’d like to give them a wonderful gift, you can teach them these techniques, too.
Increase Your Social Time
When my kids were small, a common practice among elementary teachers was to keep a child in from recess if they were unruly during class. This might include fidgeting, talking when they were supposed to be listening, passing notes, or laughing when the subject was serious. Of course as worthy as these behaviors might have been of a consequence, I always protested the specific punishment of removing recess. Not only does recess provide a chance to burn off physical tension (which may have caused the fidgeting in the first place), but recess is also a very important opportunity for social interaction. Research has shown that we adults, too, are happier in direct proportion to how much we socialize. It goes back to the benefits of having a network of supportive relationships; feeling camaraderie, making new friends, laughing your head off having a good time with others. Often we get into a daily routine and we feel off balance if we break with the daily tran tran of work, home, supper, clean up, ready for bed, start all over the next morning. I’m not asking you to go out and party everyday, but I am asking you to be willing to start increasing your social schedule slowly, starting with adding a new activity on a monthly basis. It can be any activity where a group of people are gathered. A book club, a museum lecture where there is a reception afterwards for discussion and connections, a town fair where you have opportunity to run into people you don’t see regularly that often. Once a month. That will not upset your routine applecart, but it will increase the lightness—and happiness level—of your heart.
Postpone or Transform Your Worries.
Are you a worrier? Are the people who know you best always telling you to chill out or to let it go? Excess worrying can turn into a repetitive cycle of obsessing over the same negative thought. The more we cling to these kinds of thoughts, the less happy we feel, in general. One way to obtain happiness is through worry management. Two ways to stop worry from becoming an overwhelming source of unhappiness in your life are to a) set aside specific times to address your worries, and b) use a problem solving strategy to transform worries into solutions.
Worry time: When you set aside a specific time each day to address your worries—say from 7-8pm—it sends a liberation signal to the brain, freeing it up for other worry-free activities, like playing, partying, reading, or going for a nice peaceful walk. Write down your worries, don’t just hold them in your head, because if you do, you will automatically review them in an attempt to keep yourself from forgetting them. Make a list, write them down, and put your worry time at the top of the page. That is the only time you will allow yourself to put energy into them. Soon your worries will be contained in that one hour—or however much time you decide to give it, and you will feel a tremendous sense of relief the rest of the day.
Finding Solutions: Think about how little sense it makes to set aside time to worry about the same things over and over again. Wouldn’t it be nice to start to eliminate your worries altogether? While some problems take longer than others to resolve, you can begin to take at least the first steps by following a standard problem-solving procedure. Start by identifying the problem and writing down exactly what it is. This step alone will clarify what is really bothering you about a situation. Then explore various solutions that might improve the situation. Write down as many ideas as come to mind, regardless of how offbeat they might sound to you at first. The idea is to brainstorm and use your creativity to come up with many different possible solutions. Next, choose one of those solutions that you can start to implement right away. The one that is the easiest and the most likely to bring about real change of the problem. Give it some time to work, and then if it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board (or in this case your list of many possible solutions) and try another one. Remember that worries are there for a reason. In resolving them you can bring yourself back to the serenity you were meant to enjoy.
Become an Organizer
Have you ever noticed how much clearer you think when your surroundings are organized and neat? No one is asking you to become an obsessive neat freak, but there is research to indicate that people feel better about themselves and their lives when their surroundings provide calm. Clutter is chaotic, and what is on the outside gets absorbed on the inside. Take one room at a time, and start to declutter and put everything in its place. Start with the room you spend the most time in, and take it one corner at a time. For example if it is the bedroom where you have your desk, start with different sections of your desk—the top, the top drawer, the other drawers. Then, move on to your bureau, your closet. Finally clean the flooring, the windows, the curtains. Once you have one room under control you can move on to the next. The bathroom, or the kitchen. Always have trash bags available so you can get rid of things you have not used in a while; clothing that no longer fits if it is too worn to donate, facial creams whose jars are only half full, kitchen utensils that are broken. Your home will take on a spacious, airy personality and your personal calm will increase, too.
Take out Your Pen and Write
Psychologists have found that writing gives us a way to work through difficult emotions and painful memories so that we can feel happier. Therapeutic journaling was found to be useful in a number of settings, including universities, prisons, and centers for alcoholism. It is effective with individuals like you and me, too. Relief doesn’t happen immediately after exploring your negative emotions on paper; sometimes it takes a few hours or even a few days before you begin to feel your heart lighten up. Naturally if you feel sad or anxious for more than a week or two, you might want to consider some counseling by a professional who can help you work through these emotions on a one to one basis. But why not give “self-help writing” a try? Buy yourself a really nice journal; one that you will enjoy turning to each day. You should also find a way to keep your journal absolutely private so that you’ll be uninhibited about exploring your feelings from beginning to end, in an uncensored way. Write it all down, everything that comes to you as you explore confusion, anger, stress, sadness, or grief. Write out all the feelings you have regarding a big decision you are about to make, or one that you might have regretted making. If you enjoy the process of writing, you can write your stories out in narrative form, making yourself the protagonist, and exploring the conflict in terms of where it came from and how it might be resolved. Experiment with journaling as a self-therapy tool to get through difficulties and unpleasant feelings. You may find it works even better than unloading all on a good friend. After all, even friends have their limits! A journal won’t stop listening until you close the cover.
Make Happiness a Priority
This may sound like a no-brainer—of course we all want to be happy—but in reality often we cling to negative situations and repeat the same negative thoughts and behaviors that made us feel miserable in the first place. We do this automatically, and before you know it, a whole day goes by—and then another and another—in which that feeling of happiness stayed just beyond our reach. One prominent happiness researcher found that when we consciously make emotional-well-being a priority, we are more likely to engage in experiences that make us feel good, and avoid situations that don’t. For instance, if you know that watching funny movies makes you feel good when you’re coming out of the movie theater and that tear-jerkers make you cry—why would you choose the later? Why not, instead, rent a bunch of comedies and have a few friends over for “movie night”, where you can multiply the laughter several fold? Each day upon waking, think of three things you can do during the day ahead that will make you feel happy. Would a lunchtime walk in the sunshine bring a smile to your face? A trip to the bookstore to browse the novels? Scaling stones at the water’s edge or throwing a stick for your canine companion? While life guarantees there will always be circumstances beyond our control, there are also circumstances that we can control. Improving your mood can be one of them.
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- I hope you love these articles as much as I love writing them for you! Please come back and visit, and read the great archive of past posts. Tomorrow on my radio show, “The Art of Living Well”, I am talking about the joy of motorcycling! Tune in at 7AM 88.7 FM or Stream in live www.wnhu.net mille grazie!