“Remember, being happy doesn’t mean you have it all. It simply means you’re thankful for all you have.” ~Unknown
My psychiatric doctor had prescribed valium and lithium to me, which I recall as my first antidepressant.
That cave that I knew as depression was where I found myself, desperate and helpless. Dark, hopeless, fearful depression. I felt exposed and raw from the cold subway seat. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t stop crying. My panic set in that this was all I could do for the rest of my life.
This was an instance of one moment in my entire life. It was okay. There were many more episodes. Gradually, I became tired and sick of feeling sick.
The day is still fresh in my mind. After being in depressive again, I felt the need to be grateful. It was true! I felt grateful. It felt great! It was clear that I had the ability to change my thinking and feeling.
Finally, I resolved to make my life happy on a regular basis. There would be some hard times but I resolved to make my life as positive and fulfilling as possible. Happiness is a inside job. It’s a process. It is not hard to be happier. And I’m here to tell you, it can be done.
Maybe you’ve never been that down. I don’t think so. But if you’re feeling low or blue, there is help for you.
So let’s look at the science of happiness.
Sonia Lyubormirsky with colleagues has discovered that it is possible to increase happiness. Research shows that 50% of happiness comes from genes. It could explain why you are always happy and your sister is not, or how difficult it can be for you to get through the day. This set point can’t be altered.
The next thing to consider: 10 percent of our happiness is due to life circumstances—our gender, our age, where we grew up, our occupation, significant events in our lives, whether we are married or single, etc.
It is possible to believe having more money and a better car makes you happier. But it will only make you happier until a certain point. Then the effect of “hedonic adaptation” takes over. That is the tendency we all have to get used to what we have, causing our happiness levels to go back to the way they were before we got that “new thing.”
If you’re worried about survival, then having enough money would be critical. But studies show that the rich aren’t any happier than the rest of us. In fact, it’s been reported that they claim they have more headaches and worries. Happiness is an internal job.
The good news is that 40% of our happiness can be attributed to intentional activities. Here is the place we can choose. It is possible to change our mental state and take control of it. These 40 percent are where you have the most control of your happiness. While we cannot change the set point of our happiness, we can alter it! It’s up to us.
We can make intentional choices to improve our lives. We can practice acts of kindness, learn to forgive, connect with others, take care of our bodies (through both physical activity and meditation)—and these are just a few.
A daily gratitude practice is a great place to begin. Each day, list three things for which you’re grateful. Each day, choose different things. Write down Why?You will be grateful for them. They make you feel grateful. Why?It is vital.
This practice has been shown to increase positivity in companies like Google, according to studies. This can be a habitual, daily practice. This may sound absurd at first, but science proves it is possible. It will change your outlook.
There is a whole science to happiness, and it consists of daily, (what I like to call), “happiness hygiene habits.” You do these things like you brush your teeth. You will be happier if you do these things. Choose what is most effective for you, and then make it a habit.
Harvard Health Publishing reported, for example, that exercising your body by walking, dancing or practising yoga is as good as antidepressants. The release of neurotrophic and growth factors (proteins that cause nerve cells to develop new connections) is stimulated by low intensity, sustained exercise. We feel happier when our brain functions improve.
In my down days, I saw the truth and decided that I would have to make changes for myself if I want to live better. Understanding what helped me shift my negative mindset to a positive one was crucial.
Happiness isn’t something you go after and then once you get it, you have it for good. It’s an ongoing process of daily maintenance using the tools that the science of happiness has uncovered.
These tools include:
1. It has been a great motivator for me to set realistic, manageable, and personal goals.
I make my goals into projects that excite and inspire me. Extrinsic goals are not what I want. I am happier when these pursuits are pursued. They also keep me young. My goals are no longer about power, money or ego. I value and truly “own” my goals; they are not handed down by what society dictates or what my parents, neighbors, or anyone else externally thinks are worthy
2. Positive moments can be a source of joy.
It is an amazing sunrise, with the moon glowing brightly. I feel awed and grateful. Take in the beauty. Enjoy the positive.
3. The power of connecting with others can make all the difference.
Reaching out to good friends, (even when I don’t want to) has helped me stay more connected and therefore more content.
4. Sharing with a close friend what’s going on in my life helps to take the weight off my shoulders and I get to share my secrets.
You’re only as sick as your secrets. It’s a way to show compassion and share your knowledge. It is as therapeutic to listen to your friends.
5. Practicing random acts of kindness (letting someone go first in a line or writing a “thank you” letter) has shown me compassion.
These little acts of kindness get me to think about being of service. Serving others shifts the emphasis from me to them. Where can I make a difference in someone else’s life?
6. It has been a source for strength and hope to increase my spiritual connections.
My daily connection to the Universal Source is made possible by meditation, prayer, contemplation and other forms of mindfulness.
7. It has helped me stay positive by recognizing my negative self talk.
Catching negative talk such as: catastrophizing (“This is terrible”), all or nothing thinking (“It Always turns out like this”), negative predictions (“My finances will be in ruins”), labeling (“I’m so stupid”) and so on has been a big turnaround.
Catching these thoughts is not always easy, but I’m on the lookout for them now. I stop and change the negative thought to something positive. Our negative thoughts aren’t the truth of the situation; they’re lies and distortions the ego tells us. It’s all in how we perceive it.
8. Being mindful of the small things is key to maintaining a positive mental state.
My mood can be lifted by something as easy as dancing to my favorite music.
9. Finally, I have found that living in the present and not worrying about the future or bringing back the past has helped me be happy.
The “now” is where true peace lies. The present moment awareness can be simple, but it is not always easy.
All of these activities and many more make up the 40 percent option point. Happiness hygiene is a way to improve your well-being. These habits have been proven to make low-level pessimists low-level optimists.
It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as I can do it. This means you too.
About Antonia Banewicz
Antonia Banewicz, a teacher and trainer with more than twenty years experience (MA Interpersonal Communication), has been a professor at NYU as well as Columbia University. Her life experiences include therapy and twelve-step programs. She also holds two certifications, Mindset Coach (Science of Happiness) and Science of Happiness (Mindset Coach). Brighter Better Days, where she is also a Happiness Coach, was founded by her. Her training and experiences can be accessed here.
Participate in the discussion! You can click here to comment.
Tiny Buddha published The Science of Happiness 9 Feel-Good Tips to Boost Your Mood first.