These 13 Small Shifts Will Boost Your Happiness, STAT

Written by Gary Jansen

Image by W2 Photography / Stocksy

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Sometimes we feel like we have to make big changes to boost our happiness or feeling of fulfillment. This can be overwhelming and stop us right in our tracks. According to Gary Jansen, the author of the new book MicroShifts, making subtle changes such as smiling a little more each day can move us toward greater happiness right away. In this excerpt from his new book, he shares 13 small steps we can take to transform our lives (and others) for the better.

Few of us wake up in the morning and say, "I'm going to be a bad person today." We might not consciously think about being any type of person when we stumble out of bed. But what if we did? What if, over the next week or so, we tried to be a better person? I know this can be tough. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it. But what would happen if we did it anyway? I think we could change the world.

1. Be kind to others.

All the ideas being thrashed out in the previous pages are essentially about kindness. Nevertheless, this needs to be said. Being kind is so crucial, so essential, so important, it deserves its own MicroShift number. Be kind to everyone and everything.

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2. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Did you ever hear the story about the priest who gave the same sermon every Sunday for a year? One of the parishioners finally asked the priest why he kept repeating his talk over and over again, to which the good pastor replied, "I'll write a new sermon once you all start listening and living out the old sermon." Well, the Golden Rule is centuries and centuries old, and yet we still have problems living it out. Treat others the way you want to be treated. It's that simple.

Do you like being lied to? Probably not. Then don't lie to other people. Do you like to be thanked when you do something for someone else? Then make sure you thank anyone who helps you throughout the day. Hate it when someone won't let you merge on the highway? Then don't cut off others or be inconsiderate when you drive. And for Pete's sake, be honest. As TV's Judge Judy says, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining."

3. Say hello.

Make eye contact and say hello. Of course, use good judgment as well. Many people have learned to be careful about their hellos. One can often invite unwelcome attention. As someone who works in New York City, I get it. But that postal clerk who must repeat the questions about whether your package contains anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous so many times?—she probably hears that question in her dreams. Say hello to her. And say hello as if you mean it.

4. Say hello right back.

If you're at work, school, or some kind of social situation and someone says hello to you first, don't look down, don't look behind, don't look away, don't look at him as if he might be wacko. Just say hello. Again, if the person looks like trouble, you have to decide whether or not answering is the right thing to do. But most of the time an individual is just looking to reach out. A hello is a request to connect. Maybe he has good energy and he's willing to share some with you. In contrast, maybe he needs a quick shot of your good energy. Either way, consider every hello a potential gift. Sometimes you're the recipient; sometimes you're the giver. I often say good morning to everyone I meet on the street as I'm walking in my neighborhood to take the train into New York City. Half of those salutations go unanswered for whatever reason, but the other half that are returned make me feel really good about life. It's just a couple of simple words, but it feels good to hear them come back to me.

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5. Smile.

As Mother Teresa once said, "Peace begins with a smile." When you start paying attention to saying hello, pay close attention to whether the smile on your face reflects a sincere intention to spread the gift of goodwill.

You know how you kind of clutch inside when you run into angry-looking people? Well, don't be that person who makes other people want to flee. If you're shy and it feels outrageously bold to send a smile toward someone you don't know, practice. Start by giving yourself a goal of smiling at, let's say, three people a day. Then four. Five. Six. Challenge yourself to raise the number. And if, like me, you have weird teeth, then email me and I'll coach you on perfecting the closed-mouth smile.

6. Be polite.

Say thank you when someone does something for you regardless of how small the act is. If a waiter pours water into your glass, say thank you. Greet security guards in stores and office buildings with "Good morning" or "Good evening," making eye contact when you do. If someone holds the door for you, take a moment to show your appreciation.

7. Respect your elders.

We've kind of lost this tenet of basic civility. When you speak to people who are much older than you, address them as "ma'am" or "sir." And keep your attitude in check, even if the old person in question is a crab. Have respect for people who, more often than not, know a lot more than you do. Respect the fact that they've been granted the gift of long life, and if their lives are valuable enough that God has seen fit to continue them, then the least we can do is realize that their experience should count for something in our eyes too.

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8. Be nice to animals.

Pope Francis makes this point beautifully: "Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another."

9. Don't lie (or, seriously, try not to lie).

Most of us have told lies or stretched the truth to save ourselves from punishment, embarrassment, or various types of negative consequences. If you mess up, just admit it. Almost always, people can tell when they're being lied to. If we admit our mistakes, most people react with forgiveness or, at the very least, understanding.

10. Be patient with yourself and with others.

This practice will keep your stress levels down considerably. And unless you're catching a train or you're late for a flight or having a baby, really, what's the hurry? Chill out and savor the moments of your life.

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11. Listen to people.

We're all busy, but do your best to really listen to people. When someone is talking, let him or her know that you're listening. People need to be heard. Listen and—this part is important—refrain from offering your opinion unless it is requested. When you do respond, make it about what they have said rather than something similar that happened to you. When you make the conversation about you, you're engaging in "parallel communication" in the same way that toddlers engage in parallel play. They may be playing beside each other, but they are too young to connect, intersect, and interact. Make sure that you are reacting to the other person's story rather than sharing your own story. Sometimes, it's not about us. Sometimes, it's all about the other person.

12. Cultivate forgiveness.

Notice that I say cultivate forgiveness. The total act of forgiveness is often a macroshift because it can take a long time if the hurt is deep. To forgive someone is a process and can take years and years. People will hurt you. Some you can forgive easily; others, not so much. Usually (but not always), unless they are sociopaths or psychopaths, they don't realize that what they did was hurtful. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt without letting others walk all over you. Sometimes just asking yourself if you can forgive another person is enough of a step to move you toward some form of healing.

13. Either keep your promises or stop making them.

A promise is an oath, a spoken or written agreement between two parties. Stick to your word or simply stop making promises if you don't think you can fulfill what you intend to do. In general, I'm an optimist and a romantic, so I tend to overestimate what I can live up to. I stopped making promises I couldn't keep when I realized that my lofty ideals needed to be more grounded in reality.

Based on excerpts from MicroShifts by Gary Jansen with the permission of Loyola Press. Copyright © 2019.

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