Cultivate it! According to the Mayo Clinic (How to be Happy) every person has the capacity to be happy, everyone can cultivate it by modifying some behaviors and attitudes, adopting some new behaviors and attitudes, and simply commit to practicing them. It’s not about Oh I wish I were a positive person or being one of those happy-happy people who annoy people with overbearing sunshineyness. Authentically, one can learn to enjoy their life, be happy, by paying attention to your thoughts and incorporating new behaviors that ensure the lasting type of happiness.
Only 10 percent or so of the variation in people’s reports of happiness can be explained by differences in their circumstances.
This is really surprising. I mean, really?? A pile of money and living in Paris or being a supermodel are not huge factors? Everything in our lives, our culture, since we were children seems to reinforce this belief, yet it seems to be true. There is a bunch of data to back that up too. Harvard professor Dan Gilbert (Stumbling On Happiness) cites an unbelievable study in his TEDtalk–previous post– that found that after a year’s time, quadriplegics and jackpot winners experience the same level of happiness; in a mere 365 days, the extremes balanced out and both groups registered the same moderate amount of happiness in their lives. If this data is true (which I believe it is), then seems to me there is really no excuse for me to mope around, wishing things were different–no more daily pain in my shoulder, enough money to live comfortably with no worries about the future, no more stress or strife– because a full 90% of happiness seems to be determined by a realm of factors that are within my own control. This is both comforting and troubling!
Happiness is the sum of your life’s choices.
We can all do this. I can work to undo my habit of negative thoughts and fear. I can turn it around. Just reading their initial list of “pillars” of happiness is motivating:
First, there’s your immediate environment. Do you have happy people in your life? Do you feel supported and nurtured when you are going through tough situations?
Second, think about all that sustains you in your life–without you even having to think about it, even. Look around and find all the things that you are truly grateful for, and express that gratitude. One doesn’t need a backdrop of darkness to see the light in your life. Just taking a moment to find all the good that exists, the help and love you have, the wealth (not necessarily money) and good fortune you have…By focusing on this “good stuff,” your mind will have less room for negative or sabotaging thoughts. And it’s a practice one can incorporate into one’s daily routine, one that can become your new “default setting” for your attitude.
The third tip is similar to the second: cultivating optimism. The first step in this, is to be aware of your thoughts in the first place. Do you gravitate toward the negative? Toward self-pity? Toward anger or bitterness? By first becoming aware, you can stop yourself and turn it around. “Spin” it, but not in a phony way. Being realistic doesn’t mean being aware of the negative; your outlook can be balanced, with optimism giving you a healthy perspective on things.
The last two are challenging for me. Finding my purpose seems daunting. Prerequisites seem to be–confidence that I indeed have a purpose, and that I will be successful in discovering it. I think the first step toward this is to sort of loosen my grip on what I feel is my personality, my strengths/weaknesses, etc., and embrace a new idea, that I’m in the process of change, that I am moving fast toward a life that really is aligned with what I truly feel is meaningful and important. This to me seems the highest form of appreciation: to live –your daily life–in a way that acknowledges the value and meaning of my life, to consciously pay close attention to what is important to me, and live accordingly.
Living in the moment is similarly daunting. It doesn’t really make logical (or any) sense, but I seem to be habituated to living in the future, or for the future. As in: such-and-such is coming up in a couple of weeks; should I go to the grocery store after I write this?; SOMEDAY I will go to Paris; I will start being an adult TOMORROW, etc., etc., you know how it goes. Planning is important and necessary, but does that really acknowledge the life that you live at this very moment? When does future become NOW?
If I pay attention to my breathing this very moment (the breath that roots me to the most current of current moments) there seems to be a world of opportunity there. Typing on the computer, thinking about the present moment…(this is really quite meta, isn’t it?) Embracing this wonder, this mystery of living– actually, this makes me happy.