Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions. – Dalai Lama
Lasting happiness (along with success) is one of the most sought after feelings in our culture. Drama, negativity, and criticism are easy to find, so much so that the road to lasting happiness often feels elusive, and far-reaching… or fleeting at best.
“If I could just get that promotion…”
“If I could just loose this 10 pounds…”
“If I just had more time to spend with my family…”
…then I’d be happy.
It’s the age-old cultural equation of Hard Work + Success = Happiness. And not until then, by gosh!
But here’s the secret: this formula is completely upside down! Research shows that happiness is the very thing that fuels creativity, motivation, resilience, engagement, even productivity. In other words, our brains work better when set to Positive rather than Neutral or Negative.
What Is Happiness?
Most of us probably don’t believe we need a formal definition of happiness; we know it when we feel it, and we often use the term to describe a range of positive emotions, including joy, pride, contentment, and gratitude.
Happiness is the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky
That definition by psychology researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, captures the fleeting positive emotions that come with happiness, along with the deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life – and suggests how these emotions and sense of meaning reinforce one another.
Flavors of Happy
Let’s broaden our scope, because happiness can come in different sizes and shapes. I like to think of them as “flavors” of happiness. Here are a few of the primary flavors:
Grateful, playful, loving, in love, safe, content, excited, delighted, great, strong, empowered, alive, well-being, satisfied, relief, open, accepting, energetic, enthusiastic, confident. (I’m sure you have your own list!)
Happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, says that genes and environment define happiness UNLESS you make conscious changes to your mind and habits. Oh, the empowerment in that! Happiness is a choice, really.
So why do we avoid happiness?
As good as happiness feels there is strong programing around it!
Our childhood creates our capacity to feel happy. We have an inner thermostat that determines the amount of love, success, and happiness we allow ourselves to have. When we exceed our default thermostat setting, we tend to hit the kill-switch and sabotage ourselves so that we can return to the old familiar zone where we feel safe and secure. This suppression of happiness is called an “upper limiting problem” – and indicates you are having trouble going beyond the current setting for happiness.
But when you make active changes to your mindset and habits, you are no longer held hostage by your genes, childhood, or environment.
Daily Practice Steps to Increase Our Experience of Happiness:
- Practice FEELING all your feelings. Like coffee beans at the perfume counter, Happiness happens when the palate of other emotions is clear. When you feel through all your feelings there is room enough to notice the sweet perfume notes of Happiness in your life.
- Establish a daily gratitude practice. This is not an “attitude of gratitude”, rather a real practice. Write down three new things you are grateful for each day. This will reset your mind’s thermostat toward noticing the positive – even if those things are “little”.
- Move your body. Just 15-minutes of light mindful exercise every day will reboot your emotional system.
- Meditate. Start with just two minutes of watching your breath go in and out each day.
DO these steps for 21 consecutive days and you’ll create new habits just like that! Voila – a lasting, positive shift in your mindset will create Happiness, and bring the boost of creativity and energy you need to deal with those other goals. Happily.
In the end, happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It is the belief that we can. – Shawn Achor