We’re on the road to happiness. Our journey begins with a single step toward getting happier, not with trying to achieve happiness in one giant leap. We get there step-by-step, mile-by-mile, getting a little bit happier each day. Or, at least, that’s our goal. Science has shown that 48% of our happiness level is hard-wired into us.
So, the good news is that we can control the other 52% of our happiness, even if we were given some gloomy genes. Gloomy? You may want to read our article on the seven reasons why you aren’t happy.
Let’s look at how taking some incremental steps speed us along our route to the ultimate goal: happiness. Three steps will get you moving in the right direction:
- Be Grateful
- Be A Friend
- Be Mindful
Three Steps On The Road To Happiness
Be Grateful. You’ve heard all the pop-psychology mumbo-jumbo about how having a positive outlook makes all the difference in one’s life. Well, science has proven it. Practicing gratitude rewires your brain, reduces depression and provides you with an increased feeling of well-being. How do you go about being grateful? Here’s a list of 25 things you can do to practice gratitude.
I’ll tell you what I do. Each morning, I write in my journal three things for which I am grateful. In the evening, I write three great things that happened that day. One of the things this does is to get you to redefine the word “great.” Just having dinner with the family can become great if you look at it that way.
Your thoughts control your reality. If you think it’s great, it is. If you think it sucks, it does. As the saying goes, “When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.” Having trouble thinking of things for which you are grateful? Let me get you started with some of the items on my list, which may also be on yours:
- My wife.
- Senses – vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch.
- Sunrises and sunsets.
- Ability to read.
- Ability to write.
- Bacon. It’s my list. Don’t judge!
- Good health.
- The seasons.
- Steaks on the grill
Be A Friend. To have a good friend, I believe you must first be a good friend. But that’s a subject for another day. Why should you have friends? A number of studies indicate that having strong social connections is good for your health – both mental and physical. Ed Diener and Martin Seligman screened 222 undergraduates for high happiness and found that the “very happy” group members were highly social, and had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy group members. Harvard has studied a group of 724 men since 1938. The project’s director, Robert Waldinger, says the results can be summed up quite simply, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” I am not talking about having 1,000 Facebook friends here. I am talking about real, analog relationships with other carbon-based units. It’s not the number of friends, it is the strength of the friendships you have that make the difference. Do me a favor. Stop right now and call or text a friend just to let them know you are thinking of them. Need some other ideas about tightening the bonds of friendship? Our friends at Happify have an online course that guides you through the process.
Be Mindful. I’ve seen a lot of definitions of mindfulness but my favorite is this: maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Now, how do we do this? I’m lucky that I took right to mindfulness but others aren’t so lucky. I taught myself how to meditate when I was in college, using the basic technique of paying attention to my breathing. The next time you are in a stressful situation, notice how you are breathing. Are you breathing rapidly or shallowly? When this happens, take a deep breath for a count of six. Hold your breath for a count of six, and then breathe out for a count of six. Repeat three times. This will help calm you down during a stressful occurrence. You don’t have to meditate to be mindful, but that works best for me. Here are some exercises from Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leaders of the mindfulness movement, that help you on the road to happiness.
Join us on the road to happiness, and let us know how you are doing along the way. Do you have any tips on how to be happier?