We can all be happier, live longer, and foster a more caring environment in our homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods if we make a few positive changes in our lives. This is one of the main points in my book, The Up Side of Down. We need to take responsibility for our lives and for our happiness. The choice is ours…
I have seen happiness defined as “a sense of life going well when you take everything into account.” This definition includes feelings about our past, visions of the future and everything about our life. I have always thought of this as contentment, but I’m beginning to believe that there is no difference. Happiness usually follows when we prioritize things that mean the most to us – that give us a sense of fulfillment.
Happiness is not set in stone by our genes or circumstances that happen in our lives; it is not fixed. Happiness lies in our hands or within our reach. Happiness comes from our conscious choices and our actions, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. We each affect the happiness of those around us because it is contagious and has a ripple effect. (Scientific research reported by Action for Happiness, Greater Good Science Center and Sonja Lyubomirsky for her book, The How of Happiness.)
Also backed up by a significant body of research, is the confirmation that our relationships and mental health have a much greater impact on our overall wellbeing than our beauty, possessions or income. It has also been found that a focus on materialism has contributed to anxiety and depression in young people, greater inequality, more family breakdown, longer working hours, growing environmental problems and crippling levels of debt. How could we be happy?
Most of us recognize that financial wealth is just a means to an end, not the end in itself. We care about material objects and money because they are seen as an indicator of how well our lives are going. But the truth is that, despite popular opinion, wealthy people are no happier.
It doesn’t, however, have to be like this. The good news is that by focusing our time and energy on things that have been shown to consistently bring happiness; we can live rich, rewarding lives. These things include loving families, close friendships, good self-awareness, strong community ties, doing things for others, keeping active, and having some kind of greater purpose to our lives.
The movement, Action for Happiness, is based on the evidence that we can affect our own happiness. On their website, they have identified 50 practical actions that people can do in their everyday lives. These include simple things like finding things to be grateful for each day – think of one or more things that were good, beautiful, or made you happy. Mark Williamson says, “If you write it down it can have a profound effect on your outlook, and if you do it on a daily basis, it reframes the way you think about your day.” Oprah has similar quotes. Other ideas on the list are to try out something new or different, and to look for the good in others.
10 keys to happier living: GREAT DREAM (also from Action for Happiness)
G iving – do things for others
R elating – connect with people
E xercising – take care of your body
A ppreciating – notice the world around you
T rying out – learning new things
D irection – have goals to look forward to
R esilience – find ways to bounce back – strategies for dealing with bad time, ability to cope
E motion – take a positive approach
A cceptance – the comfortable with who you are
M eaning – part of something bigger
These 10 steps are not only about what we can do for ourselves, but about the people we reach or influenced (parent/children, teachers/students, managers/employees, coaches/teams).
By choosing to live in a way that emphasizes the things that really matter, we can increase the level of happiness we feel in our lives. In other words, we need to stop aiming for lives filled with wealth and focus on helping people lead “richer” lives.
It’s okay to be realistic and see life as it is, but it is best when we can focus on the good part –