Being Happy

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What is happiness? It’s hard to say, but it’s not what many people think it is. Happiness doesn’t magically come to you with a new pair of shoes, a lean body, a bulging bank account or 5 hours of sex every day. Nor does it materialise after you retire, get married, have a child or quit your job. It’s a little bit more complicated than that.

Happiness is not defined by external circumstances — it is an attitude, something that comes from within. There is no one answer, but here are some things that have improved my life immeasurably — & can do the same for you.

Be true to yourself

Commit to being yourself. Stop trying to impress or please other people — this is a quick route to misery & discontent. After all, when it comes to your life, who matters most? You. Don’t feel obligated to like the same things your boyfriend does, or to go into a career that your parents want for you. You are the one who has to live with the consequences of your choices, so make sure everything you do is in line with your loves, your desires, your ambitions.

Learn to love & accept yourself, regardless of your financial situation, perceived intellect, education level, body size or style. Learn to accept & forgive yourself, no matter what mistakes you may have made in the past. All of these things are trivial & don’t matter. If you were suddenly awarded a master’s degree or a size 0 frame, it wouldn’t change who you are or how you truly feel inside. Recognise all these things as unimportant; diversions from what really matters. Getting comfortable with who you REALLY are inside is what counts. Once you have that, anything on top of that is just gravy, baby.

Don’t label yourself: it only restricts & limits you. Learn how to improve yourself & commit to making yourself a better person. Be open to adventure, be wild, make glorious messes. Act with integrity. Be honest. Speak with intention — don’t dumb yourself down or gossip or make fun of other people. Let go of any guilt, stop worrying, release yourself from the expectations of others. Live the life you want to live.

“Be good to yourself, because nobody else has the power to make you happy!” — George Michael

Use affirmations

The idea of an affirmation is that it is something you say regularly which helps to combat any negative self-talk you have. The best way to plot out some affirmations for yourself is to take stock of your life, decide what isn’t working for you & then go about fixing it. So, let’s say your major problem (in your opinion) is that you don’t have any friends. The affirmation you come up with might be something like, “I am popular with a vibrant social life!”

Now, the problem with affirmations is that a lot of people have the wrong idea about them. They seem to think that just sitting down & repeating something over & over is going to change their life. Well, it’s not that simple. If you actually want to move towards your goal (having lots of friends), you need to go deeper & also take action.

As much as we like to think we are ruled by our intellect, we’re not. We are ruled by our emotions. So you can’t just say something & hope that it will change you — it might, but it will be a very slow process. There is no point in saying something (“I am a famous actress!”) when your emotions are saying the opposite (‘Oh my god I’m a failure how am I going to pay the bills this week this is so ridiculous HELP!’). Your emotions are always going to win that battle.

So if you want to make affirmations work for you, you need to feel what you’re saying. How would you feel if you were a famous actress? Elated, happy, confident, powerful? Okay then — concentrate on those emotions as you say your affirmations. Feel them build up inside you so that they are so strong & powerful that they make you feel like you’re going to explode. The more that you feel that feeling, the faster you will draw it to you.

When it comes to taking action, think about the differences between these 3 possible ways of behaving.
1. You feel lonely because you have no friends, so you sit around feeling bad about it.
2. You feel lonely because you have no friends, so you sit around telling yourself you have them — but still don’t really believe it.
3. You don’t feel as lonely because when you say your affirmations, you feel the love that is coming to you — & when you leave the house, you smile at the people you meet.

Of course, option 3 is the one that is going to net the fastest & most positive results!

Another thing to keep in mind is that you need to use affirmations that resonate with you. When I say ‘resonate’, I mean something that gets you excited, sends chills up your spine, makes you want to leap up & start kicking ass! We are all different so what works for you may not work for me. For example, saying “I am a dancing child of light” does nothing for me. However, “I am a fabulous, determined ass-kicker” might. Your affirmations don’t have to have soft edges or flowery words — feel free to swear or be as aggressive as you like. Just make sure it’s something that juices you up!

What’s better — optimism or pessimism?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. While optimism has been scientifically proven to be better for your health, when it comes to very high-risk activities (like flying a plane after having a couple of drinks), it can be useful to think pessimistically — to use it as a protective tool.

However, on the whole, optimism is the way to go. We are not all “born optimists” — a lot of it depends on how we were raised & what messages we were surrounded with as we were growing up. The good news is that even if your father wore a sandwich board that said “The end is nigh!”, you can learn optimism. All hope is not lost!

So, how do you know whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist? The general measure tends to be how you react to failure. Pessimists think that their failures are personal (their fault), pervasive (it’s always like this) & permanent (it’s never going to change). Optimists, on the other hand, tend to believe that maybe other circumstances contributed to the bad thing happening, that this one bad thing is just a fluke & that it will change soon. You can get more information on that by looking at this optimism chart.

Mirei said in a comment recently that it was possible to be an optimist without hugging puppies! I couldn’t agree more. Some of the most successful people I know aren’t even particularly nice! They’d rather kick your ass in a race than sit around chanting. But they are optimistic about their circumstances & their life — & it has helped them do as well as they have.

If you need further encouragement to make the switch to being optimistic, consider these facts. Pessimism in early life is a very consistent predictor of poor health in later life, & psychiatrists have found that training clinically depressed people to think optimistically relieves depression better than medication!

“If you are a pessimist… then you are about eight times as likely to get depressed, you are less likely to succeed at work, your personal relationships are more likely to break up, and you are likely to have a shorter and more illness-filled life.” — Dr. Martin Seligman

An article in The Archives of General Psychiatry (Nov 2004) states that major depression is a known risk factor in cardiovascular death โ€“ this isnโ€™t new news. Optimists have a 55% lower risk of death from all causes (“all-cause death”) and a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular death than pessimists. Optimists are simply healthier people. (Link.)

To learn how to think more optimistically, check out optimism & happiness, how to become more of an optimist & become an optimist & nurture it!

Set goals & get motivated

When we set goals & come up with things we want to achieve, it helps to give us direction. Otherwise it can be all too easy to drift aimlessly. Our life turns into a dull routine where all we do is go to work, eat dinner & fall asleep. Without goals or ambitions, we run the risk of waking up at age 60 & wondering where our life went — or spending years doing something that makes us miserable, simply because we don’t know how to escape.

Think about your favourite people throughout history: actors, writers, musicians, artists & scientists. If they didn’t have goals or motivation, you would probably have never heard of them. Maybe they would have died without having contributed anything to remember them by. If you want to be exceptional or achieve something significant, the very first step is to work out what you want.

Have a read of How To Set Amazing Goals & Motivation to get on the right path!

Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us, but why? Well, it helps you live longer, assists in developing new brain cells, enhances your mental capabilities, lowers cholesterol & blood pressure, & helps you lose weight. But the most important thing in terms of happiness is that it stimulates endorphin in the brain & reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Some studies have found that regular exercise is more effective than antidepressants in terms of minimising depression! Even better, exercise is free & doesn’t require a prescription!

Sometimes exercise can seem like a drag, but it doesn’t have to be some dull regimented thing that you suffer through. Jump on your bed or boogie as you vacuum, walk faster when you’re out shopping or climb trees. Anything that raises your heart-rate makes you feel really really good, so do it as often as you can!

Eat well

I always thought that the concept of eating properly was a bit of a myth. I mean, I guess it had health benefits — like less heart disease — but I never really thought that it changed how you felt day-to-day. What I have discovered, though, since going raw, is that what you eat absolutely impacts on your emotions & mental state.

In short: Eat your greens! Drink lots of water! (Far more than you even thought possible!) Try to avoid crazy processed foods (aka, anything neon or in 5 layers of plastic) & eat as many fresh things as you can. The end results — beautiful skin, a fabulous mood, increased energy & a happy body — are so worth it.

Get in control of your life

“Between stimulus & response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth & our freedom.” — Viktor E. Frankl

While sometimes we can’t do anything about the way other people behave towards us, make no mistake — you are in complete control of how you respond. People are free to be as rude, insulting & callous as they like, but you don’t have to be! Take the higher ground! Getting angry & having a whinge about how people are “so awful” doesn’t do anything to empower you or make you feel better!

By that same token, don’t allow anyone to bully you into anything you don’t want. Resign from that job you loathe, leave the girlfriend who’s pressuring you to get her pregnant, tell your mother to stop interfering in your life. You are in control of what you do, who you love & how you live, & you don’t have to take any shit from anyone! Ever!

Get involved

You don’t necessarily have to be the most popular person in the world, but a little involvement in your community can go a long way towards making you feel better about yourself. It doesn’t have to be your local, physical community either — jump into your favourite Harry Potter group online, join a book club or volunteer to teach German lessons at the place down the road. You’ll meet cool people & you’ll also feel like you’re contributing something good to the world.

It’s really important for us to feel connections with other people. It can help us feel less alone & allow us to meet people with whom we have things in common. Being totally isolated for long periods can be really hard on the psyche — there’s a reason why solitary confinement is the harshest punishment (before death, anyway)! Even getting a part-time job that causes you to interact with lots of people on a regular basis can make you feel really good.

Anyway, don’t just keep to yourself! You’re too awesome to be a hermit!

Avoid negative people

We all know (or have known) someone who suffers from a major case of the negatives. They are a total drag to be around, always raining on your parade & turning the most inconsequential event into a huge downer. The good news is that you don’t have to have anything to do with them!

Read my article on Negative People for more information!

Live simply

Imagine you’re plotting a graph. One line stipulates the level of desire you have for material possessions. Another indicates how much “stuff” you have already. Zen teachings say that in order to be happy, you can do one of two things: increase how much stuff you have, or decrease your desire. The typical Western way to deal with this is to feel like we need moremoremore, but of course, as we consume, our desires grow too. If you want to get out of the rat race, living simply is one of the best choices.

There are many different ways of living simply. No Impact Man is one example of how to downshift your life — he, his wife & daughter made a commitment to not buying anything (except for absolute essentials) for a year. He even goes so far as to compost his poop! Of course, composting your excrement is a personal choice, & not the sort of thing that appeals to everyone! Your idea of living simply might just be to take stock of what things you’d be okay not having, & then start to live in that direction.

Gratitude

Those of you who regularly participate in Things I Love Thursday already know the effect that expressing gratitude has on your life. It’s quite amazing — if you sit down & take some time to think about the things in your life for which you are truly happy, the positive after-effects last all day. While sometimes looking at a picture of a puppy will make you smile, when we find examples from our lives of things that are going well, it is a more solid anchor on which to base our happiness.

One of the coolest things about Things I Love Thursday is that often in the comments, people say “Ooh, I’ve been looking forward to this all week & making a list to post!”. That’s fantastic, because ideally gratitude should be something we focus on really regularly — every day, if possible. There are lots of ways to do this, such as starting a gratitude journal or making thankfulness a part of your daily routine. You could try listing off five things for which you’re grateful before getting out of, or into bed, or thinking about it while you brush your teeth. If you have a partner or friend who wants to try it out, make it a habit to randomly say, “Okay, tell me ten things you’re grateful right now!”

Another fabulous thing about gratitude is that it really helps bring us into the present moment. While some of the items on your list might have happened a while ago, they are still obviously having a positive influence on your life right now — which helps us focus on this very minute, this very second, this breath, this heart-beat. !

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another. (Link.)

Traumatic memories fade into the background for people who regularly feel grateful, Watkins’s experiments show. Troublesome thoughts pop up less frequently and with less intensity, which suggests that gratitude may enhance emotional healing. Thankfulness helps the brain fully process events, Watkins speculates. Grateful people achieve closure by making sense of negative events so that they mesh with a generally positive outlook.

For more information, check out gratitude is good for you & make a gratitude adjustment!

“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” — Viktor E. Frankl

P.S. If you’re not sure how happy you are, you can take a test! How happy are you?

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