A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to be happy. I looked at her stupefied. What kind of question is that? Who doesn’t want to be happy? How dare someone insinuate that I might be responsible for my own emotions!
I quickly realized my resistance to her question had a lot to do with how I thought of happiness. I had always thought happiness was something to be "found," or at least that it was contingent on circumstances. If I had a great hair day and found $5 on the street, I could be happy. My own intention to feel good and at peace with myself somehow was not part of the equation at all.
But once I got past being appalled by my friend's question, something stuck. I recognized the power of thinking of happiness as a choice. I could simply decide to be a happier person by accepting the notion that I was in the driver's seat in terms of navigating my own moods.
No matter where you are on the contentment spectrum, I found that there are at least seven good reasons to start thinking of happiness as a choice. So here they are, along with seven behavioral tweaks that will help you put this philosophy into practice.
1. People aren't mind-readers.
In order to be happy in interpersonal situations (which inevitably are present in all aspects of your life), you need to ask for what you need. I used to think that my needs were written all over my face. But guess what? They’re not!
Give up waiting to see if that special someone will surprise you with flowers on Valentine’s Day. Instead, let them know how much it would mean to you to get a bouquet. Deciding to ask for what you need (or want!) is more empowering than you can imagine.
2. Certain environments are more conducive to happiness than others.
So get outside for your lunch break already! Or at least get a plant. When I finally get a free minute, my Id directs me to plant myself on the couch to catch up on reality T.V. During my happiness experiment, I took some of my free time to be outside. I found that being in nature is its own kid of meditation. Try to carve out time each day to get out. Take a midday walk or drink your morning coffee alfresco.
3. Self-worth isn't something that's determined for you.
Throughout my life, I have been inclined to squash my feelings because I felt like I was too needy. That is, until I started to think I was worthy of being happy. Looking at things in the outside world, no matter how wonderful, could ever bring me happiness. I needed to believe I deserved happiness, and allow it into my life as a result.
So make a commitment to build your confidence. Find support if you need it to break yourself of the habit of breaking yourself down. Create a mantra of self-love and repeat it each morning. Although this does take work, it was the best investment you will ever make. It is shocking how your perspective changes once you chase away your hang-ups.
4. The body-mind connection is real.
Especially when it comes to how we nourish ourselves. This doesn’t mean stuffing down Doritos and soda because they taste good in the moment! In fact, I have found it to mean the opposite. Once I embraced healthier food choices, my mood totally changed. Try swapping out your second cup of coffee for a coconut water and your afternoon candy bar for a green smoothie. Treat your body with respect from the inside out and it will become a lot easier to maintain an upbeat attitude.
5. Multitasking breeds dissatisfaction.
Why? Because multitasking doesn't really exist — it basically means doing many things all at once, each with a great amount of distraction. The alternative — doing one thing at a time, with more presence of mind — is a much better choice.
As a mom of twins and a businesswoman, I catch myself trying to two (or three or four) things at once. I have stealthy muted work conference calls so that I can simultaneously help my kids with their homework. The end result: I felt stressed and ineffectual on both ends. Say no to things that are not a priority. Being fully present allows to you find joy and satisfaction in the moment.
6. Comparison is a fertile source of self-doubt.
You don’t need to quit Facebook or Twitter cold turkey — but be aware of the time you are spending on social media watching other peoples’ lives. Our culture of online voyeurism can lead to envy and insecurity. Ditching virtual friends for real relationships allows for meaningful interactions that can never exist in cyberspace.
7. Not everything has meaning.
Not every light is green. There are times when things don’t go my way. This is where I needed to realize no one is out to get me, I am not alone in the world, or anyone of the other self defeating things the voices in my head might try to tell me. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still OK to get annoyed when you get a parking ticket or when your kids take a sharpie to your new couch. But not assigning too much meaning to let downs or unmet expectation will allow you to let go of a tremendous amount of baggage!
Sometimes, even when all the stars are aligned and things are going great, we still can get caught up in negative thinking. But don't get down on yourself about that. The expectation that happiness is an inborn reflex will only bring dissatisfaction. Happiness isn't automatic. It's a practice.
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