You Can Choose to be Happy
Abraham Lincoln and Meher Baba had it right, Lincoln with his belief that, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be” and Indian sage Baba with his reminder to followers, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Of course there’s more behind the simple advice. Life circumstances can raise or lower your level of happiness, but how you feel depends not only on what happens in the outside world. It depends also (I would even say “mainly”) on how you deal with those events, how you “digest” them. You can decide to fight, to regret, to feel like a victim — or you can have a more positive attitude and accept what has happened, how your life is right now, and see what you can do with it. In that sense, happiness is mainly a personal decision.
I know it’s not as easy as “don’t worry, be happy,” but there are many conscious steps you can take to bring on the sunshine.
- Simply smile. You don’t have to wait for the funniest joke you’ve heard lately or look up tumbling kittens on YouTube. Just put on a happy face and smile. That interplay of facial muscles tells your brain that you’re happy. Research shows that, just as when you feel happy, you smile, the opposite is also true: if you smile, you will feel better. Mind and body are connected, after all. Your brain passes the message on to your endorphin centers and your body gets into the act. Next thing you know, your smile matches your mood.
- Forgive past hurts. Much of our unhappiness comes from dwelling on the past, times we suffered an injustice, were rejected by a loved one, felt demeaned or left out. Our brains are wired to respond most intensely and tenaciously to negative events. You can clear out those unhappy memories by seeing them as what they are: something from the past that doesn’t have to be in your life any more. Let them go. Forgive and move on. You’re extending your unhappiness keeping them with you.
- Find a quiet place within to consciously explore what makes you feel truly joyful. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or just lying in the sun can work for this purpose. Literally, find your bliss, over and over, until it becomes habitual.
- Expand your circle of friends and be selective. If you surround yourself with unhappy people, you’re likely to be unhappy in their company. If you spend time with people who are positive, who treat you well, and who know how to enjoy themselves, you’re going to get happy together. One of the clearest findings to emerge from research into happiness is that we all need other people in order to be well and thrive. We feel better just being around other people, and we need close relationships in order to be happy. People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support, and increase your feelings of self-worth. So taking action to strengthen your relationships and build connections is essential for happiness.
- Get active in projects that fascinate you. If you can bury yourself in something that you enjoy doing, you will soon be in a happy place. A recent study, though, found that watching television produces very low levels of happiness. Unfortunately, watching television is the most common way we spend our leisure time.
- Find excuses to move your body in ways you enjoy – dance, walk or run, join an aerobics class, take a hike in the hills, ski, or roller skate. There are many opportunities for a small dose of exercise throughout the day. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator, stand at your desk, vacuum vigorously. Study after study has proven that exercise improves your mood in the present and the good feelings you’ll enjoy from being more fit can help fight off depression in the long-term.
- Helping someone else is a great way to take your mind off your own troubles and the good deed will leave a glow of satisfaction that can last far beyond the act. It will lead you to perceive others more compassionately, will promote a sense of connection and community with others, and will boost your self-image. Do good and be good.
All of these suggestions can help, but – again — the key here is your attitude. So wait no longer and choose to be happy now.