Here’s a riddle: Everybody wants it, everybody talks about it, everybody thinks about it, but not everybody has it. What is it?
The answer: Happiness.
So, why is happiness tough to attain and what can you do to experience more of it? The answer might be as simple as a shift in thinking.
The Wandering Mind
Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert conducted a study and found that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing, and this mind-wandering usually makes them unhappy.
“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth said in the Harvard Gazette. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”
Interestingly, the psychologists projected only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness was connected to the specific activity they were doing, while the amount of mind-wandering accounted for about 10.8 percent of their happiness.
Boost Your Happiness With a Simple Thought Shift
Some people have an easier time being happy than others, but recent studies have shown “that happiness – that sense of connection and ease of appreciating the good moments and being more graceful and resilient during the difficult ones – is a skill and strength we can all build,” according to Dr. Elisha Goldstein, clinical psychologist and author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.
Some people seem to think when life is not 100 percent great, it equates to unhappiness. The important thing to realize is it’s totally normal not to be happy 100 percent of the time. Naturally, life has its ups and downs and nobody is expected to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 24/7. Research has shown happiness is partially determined by genetics. But that doesn’t mean you are destined to be as depressed as Aunt Mildred or as negative as Cousin Phil — the other part of happiness boils down to choice. And what you choose is your choice. The power lies within you, Simba.
Psychologists who study happiness seem to agree that it can be pursued. We can do this by fending off negative emotions like pessimism, resentment and anger. In their place, we can nurture positive emotions like serenity, empathy and gratitude. However, the first step to happiness is to make the conscious decision to be happier.
Here are five easy ways to increase your daily level of happiness, according to Dr. Elisha Goldstein:
1. Practice being happy for other people. Sometimes when you see another person who is in fantastic shape or experiencing an accomplishment, a natural reaction can be jealousy or negativity. Instead, try being supportive of them in your mind. Even if it’s just somebody in the check-out line, try saying nice things about them in your mind. Appreciate them for taking care of themselves or smile at them and wish them well. You might be surprised at how good it feels to support and appreciate other people for the simplest of things.
2. Practice positive communication toward yourself. We are our own worst critics. The way we speak to ourselves and think about ourselves has a monumental impact on how we actually feel. A small amount of self-criticism can be helpful for growth and change for the better. But the majority of people experience this negative voice too frequently. Try to label the self-judgement you experience, and address it while it is happening by replacing self-deprecating thoughts with things you love about yourself. After all, one of the first steps to lasting happiness is loving yourself first.
3. Practice positive communication toward others. “It’s natural for us to practice sarcasm, feel contempt or manipulate other people to get what we want. All of this type of communication toward others is like poison for our wellbeing. Whenever you notice any of this poison arising, take some deep breaths and exercise restraint. You’ll thank yourself later,” said Goldstein.
4. Make time for you. It might seem hard to take a few moments out of the day when there are a million and one things on the to-do list, but it’s crucial to take time for yourself even if just for a few moments each day. Consider trying a guided meditation or perhaps a yoga class (try a free video online). Just taking that time for yourself, to relax your nervous system, to take a deep breath and stretch tense muscles, can help tremendously.
5. Be aware of the good stuff out there – because it’s there. “There’s a lot of bad news out there that dials up our nervous systems and makes us want to keep coming back to hear more, which only maintains a ‘nervous’ system. Instead, create some balance. Your brain is less likely to see all the good, so you have to intentionally pay attention to it. When you notice a good moment, say, ‘This is a good moment, in life there are good moments, can I allow myself to linger in this for a few seconds.’ Let the neurons fire together and wire together (Goldstein).”
Check out this article to discover some of the amazing benefits science has linked to happiness.