How To Be Happy, Hint: It Takes Practice
There’s an incredible amount of cultural emphasis placed on being happy right now. It seems to be the new normal, as if it’s a fundamental right, to be pursued at the expense of all else. But the drive to be happy, and the expectation that being happy all the time is a normal achievable thing, can create a huge amount of pressure and highlight an unsatisfying contrast between the lives we have and the lives we think we would like to have.
In fact, recent research suggests that as human beings, we’re hardwired not to be happy. Back when survival was key and our number one priority was finding food rather than being food for dinosaurs, sitting back and just feeling good about life wasn’t going to help the survival of the species.
In all that is written about being happy, the one thing that is true is this: happiness is not something that happens when you are thinner, richer, more attractive, having more sex, being successful. Rather, success is something that happens when you are already happy. Happiness is the fuel that gets you there.
Which is all well and good but achieving that state of happiness is challenging at best. When pressures from work, family, friends, or even our own issues, can create a permanent state of anxiety or stress, feeling good about life sometimes feels impossible.
The good news about happiness, as is true for all emotions, is that experiencing it takes practice. Our emotions are actually habits, some good, some bad. Just like choosing to have that extra glass of wine over declining, or eating junk food over something healthier, some emotions, not all, are a choice we make. And we make that emotional choice over and over. Our emotional responses become a comfortable pattern, a habit. The question is whether our emotional habits are helping or hurting us.
As an example, when you wake up in the morning, does your mind automatically switch to a negative pattern? Maybe you think about an argument you had the day before with your co-worker or your spouse and you instantly start beating yourself up about it. Perhaps you start thinking about all the things you have to do today and how you never have enough time and you feel exhausted, and all of a sudden these thoughts are leading to feeling not good about your life, your situation and yourself.
Exercising emotional fitness and achieving happiness, is just the same as exercising your body. You choose the exercise, and you repeat it regularly and consistently to see results. Happiness is a muscle you need to work often.
So here are a few tips to get you on the way to feeling happier, even if it’s just by a little bit, every day.
Be Conscious of your Thoughts. Thoughts trigger emotions, which trigger behaviours, which can then trigger more negative thoughts – this pattern is called a Looping Thought pattern. A thought about not doing a good job on a work project, for example, leads to a feeling of not being good enough or fear of reprisals, which can trigger a negative behaviour like over-eating, drinking, or smoking, which then leads to more thoughts about not being good enough. Tip: Just for one day, try to make a list of every negative thought you have about yourself, your home, your friends, your family, your job. At the end of the day, or the next day, ask yourself: is this true? Are you surprised by how many negative thoughts you have in a day? What would be a better thought to have? Next time you catch yourself having those negative thoughts, pause and reflect. Choose better thoughts.
Mind Your Language. Just as with your thoughts, be conscious of your language, particularly the words you say to yourself about yourself. How do you talk to yourself? Would you speak to a best friend or family member the way you speak to yourself? Our minds are listening to everything we say and they act accordingly. If you constantly say to yourself, “I can’t cope with my boss, my job is killing me” - is that true? Or is it the case that you can cope, you can deal with your boss, your job may be tough but is it really killing you? Be mindful of every word you say to yourself and out loud. Actively work to change your mindset and your language.
Be Proactive and Create Happy Moments. Happiness is about moments, not a constant state. It's about actively choosing to create those happy moments - whether it's sitting on a beach listening to the waves with someone you love, or surrounded by friends and family celebrating something special - rather than waiting passively for them to happen (though sometimes they do and that's always wonderful). Happy moments are like pearls you thread on a string to create a necklace – life is made up of these perfect, singular moments. They become key memories to look back on, to sustain you when life becomes difficult or even just a bit humdrum. And it's about choosing which happy moments and memories you want to create - which is of course as unique and individual as you are. Tip: what happy moments could you create for yourself? What would most make you happy? Start planning opportunities to be happy, however small, and more importantly, make time for happiness.
Practise Gratitude. Practising gratitude is more than just saying the words “I am grateful for this, I am grateful for that”. Feeling grateful for all you have in life can take you from a dark place to a happier one, in an instant. The key is in the word feeling. To really reap the benefits of gratitude it has to be felt, rather than just spoken. Tip: Close your eyes. Think of something you are truly grateful for. Picture it just in front of you – this someone or something you love. Where can you feel that feeling in your body? In your mind? In your chest? Now amplify it. Imagine that feeling of gratitude expanding from its original place in your body, growing larger, filling you right up. Spend a few moments experiencing that feeling. Tell yourself “I am so grateful for… “ and as you say the words, feel them and mean them. Practise this once a day or more often if you like.
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Dawn Quest is a Rapid Transformational Therapist and Coach based in Tunbridge Wells. She offers RTT and coaching sessions in person and via video link, for a wide variety of emotional and physical issues.