Serious question: What would make you happy?
A million bucks? A nose job? A house on the beach? Admittedly, any of those things would indeed make you happy for a while, but none of them are likely the magic elixir that would lead to a life of happiness.
While looking around the Mayo Clinic website, I discovered an article titled How To Be Happy: Tips For Cultivating Contentment. That grabbed my attention. A recipe for happiness? Like a cookbook? From one of the country's foremost and trusted medical sources?
According to that article, only 10 percent of the variation in people’s reports of happiness can be explained by the differences in their circumstances. What does that mean?
It means that the perky-nosed person living in the beach house with a million bucks isn't necessarily any happier than you or me. True, that’s a bit hard to believe. But, as it turns out, happiness is mostly due to a person's personality and perspective. The thoughts and behaviors that help form that personality can be nurtured and developed.
If that last statement is true, it means you could actually put yourself on a path to happiness - even without a new nose. You can work at it, practice and actually become happier. It's not something you can decide to do instantaneously, but you can definitely move up the happiness continuum if you decide to. Metaphorically, it's like exercising a muscle. The more you work at it, the stronger the muscle becomes.
First, it's a good idea to figure out what makes happy people so darn…happy. According the Mayo article, happiness is built on several pillars. The characteristics of happy people:
- They devote themselves to family and friends
- They appreciate what they have
- They maintain an optimistic outlook
- They feel a sense of purpose
- They live in the moment
Wouldn't it be great if you could just flip those switches and become happy? After all, happy people are more productive, less stressed, and unless you're Woody Allen, more fun to be around.
No, it's not that easy. Remember the muscle analogy. Just because you decide it should be stronger doesn't improve its strength until you do the work.
Let's look at those pillars, one step at a time. Use this as your recipe for happiness.
1. Work on relationships
Family and friends are the people who support you even when the going gets rough. Realize their importance to you and tell them so. Treat them well and support them when they need it. When it comes to friends and family, expect more from yourself in the relationship than you get. Don't worry; it'll even out. Work at it, and you'll build a strong framework that can withstand strong winds.
When you have a choice in who you spend time with, remember what you already know: When you're around cantankerous, grouchy, negative people, you start feeling lousy. And when you're around positive people with an upbeat attitude, you smile and feel better.
Personally, I like to make a distinction here. There are people who take a rather blithe approach to the world, as if simply everything is always wonderful. If you're that person, how will you ever solve problems, right wrongs and create positive change? How will you ever grow? There’s nothing wrong with identifying a problem, then taking a positive approach to solving it.
2. Appreciate what you have
That statement doesn't mean you shouldn't work toward new goals and strive to enrich your life. But be thankful for the place you live, the people you know, even the coffee you're sipping. Really taste your food when you're at dinner. Concentrate on how the warm water feels in the shower. When the clouds break, look at how the light edges the clouds and how the sky turns that amazing, unbelievable blue. That color still knocks me out every time I see it. Does that sound too much like Pollyanna? I don't think it's living a delusion. I think it's being aware. Too often, we forget to be amazed.
3. Maintain an optimistic outlook
This one requires a reality check in my opinion. Sometimes lousy things happen, and sometimes they're really bad. Pretending they're not isn't optimism. It's avoidance. But when things are just bopping along during your day-to-day existence, you have the ability to look at your day through whatever lens you choose.
I remember a time in my own life when I'd spill coffee on myself and blurt something like "This is going to be a crummy day!" Guess what? I was right nearly every single time. Finally, I learned that it works both ways. It really does. And even when things don't go the way you want, it's rarely something that's going to dramatically affect your life.
Work at it, and remind yourself to stay positive when you start to slip. Eventually, optimism sticks.
4. Find a purpose in life
That task probably sounds more grandiose and intimidating than it should. Sure, some people devote their life to a cause, and that's great. But this might simply mean setting a goal and reaching it. Grow a garden. Stay in touch with long distance friends. Become proficient in a newly learned skill, like playing the guitar.
It might be tough to identify just what will help you move forward here. The Mayo clinic site recommends that you ask these questions in order to start forming a plan:
- What excites and energizes me?
- What are my proudest achievements?
- How do I want others to remember me?
5. Live in the moment.
Look for opportunities to savor what's happening today. Don't wait for tomorrow.
Try to avoid dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, which is easier said than done. Work toward the future, of course, but don't lose sight of today, and enjoy it fully if you can.
Remember, changing your outlook takes time and effort. Anything worth doing does. In my book, working toward becoming happier is definitely worth the effort, especially since every step in the process outlined here feels far better than the alternative.
What would make you happy? We’d love to know your recipe for happiness in the comments below.
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