Several years ago I read a book by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positivity psychologist and researcher. Her book, The How of Happiness (2008), suggests a number of things that happy people do instinctively. The 12 things she suggests actually increase an individual's level of happiness. Although all 12 suggestions are wonderful, I picked out my favorite five. If these peak your interest, check out her book or blog.
1.Be More Optimistic: We all know those people that truly do make lemons out of lemonade all the time. Sometimes they make us crazy when we are struggling to find the sunshine in the recent hurricane. But what Dr Lyubomirsky found is that people that are optimistic most of the time can genuinely spin their failures into life lessons. Optimistic individuals understand that often failures are open doors that we may not understand until in the future when we look back and realize that if it had not been for that job loss, break up, disastrous event, these other amazing thing would not have happened. Steve Jobs speaks about this very issue in his commencement address to Stanford University in 2005. He explains that "it is impossible to connect the dots looking forwards, you can only connect them looking backwards."
2. Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People. When you start to compare yourself with anyone (positively or negatively) it will ultimately be disastrous. If we focus on being "better" than someone we are coming from a point of ego and superiority. If we assume we are not as good as someone else, we often exaggerate our failures and minimize the things we have done well. This happens because we feel we aren't as perfect as we should be. If you don't remember much about this post, please remember this: NO ONE IS PERFECT! And there will always be someone that knows more or less than you. But that has nothing to do with what your goal in life is. Focus on how you have grown and changed in your lifetime - you are the only person you should compare yourself to!
3. Express Your Gratitude. When I was actively involved in Al anon (a 12-step support group for friends/loved ones of Alcoholics) we had an exercise called a Gratitude List. Every night before bed I wrote a list of five things that I had been grateful for on that day. Even if the day had been total crap, I forced myself to write in my journal about five people, experiences, or moments that I was grateful for. On those really hard days, I might just write down the names of five people in my life that I loved, or that loved me. Sometimes I had to pull really hard to think of things. But as many great people have said, sometimes you need to fake it until you can make it. So I started to look for good moments during the day, instead of waiting until night time and looking back. If I made it to an appointment on time, I'd remember and write it down. I stopped trying to be grateful for the huge things that weren't appearing at that time (like winning the lottery or marrying Prince Charming) and focused on each little moment that connected the bigger moments in my life. By writing it down before I went to sleep each night, I found I went to sleep with a sense of peace and positivity. And with each passing day I became more grateful for the little things and didn't notice that I was lacking the big things.
4.Practice Random Acts of Kindness. We've all seen the bumper stickers about practicing random acts of kindness. But how many times do you actually do it? Lyubomirsky has discovered that when you do something kind and random (like paying the toll for the person behind you or buying coffee for a stranger) there is a chemical reaction in your brain. It releases Serotonin - the "happy, feel good" neurotransmitter solution that is adjusted in all of those anti depressants that are SSRI's (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Dr Sonja is suggesting that the "pay it forward" concept really does make you happy. So when you are feeling down in the dumps in the line at Starbucks, offer to pay for a cup of coffee for the person in the line behind you. Times are tight; you don't have to buy the expensive Venti with extra shots and whipped cream, but buy them a cup of regular coffee. You never know, maybe they will sit down and share it with you. And maybe, just maybe, they will pay it forward like Jonathan Stark did. Oh, make sure you see how Mr. Stark's experiment was shut down before you head to Starbucks!
5. Forgiveness: Learning to forgive the people in our lives that have hurt us is vital to living a happy life.This makes a lot of psychological sense to me. Unhappy people are often harboring grudges. When you don't release your grudges it's like carrying around a large, heavy, bag of emotional bricks - all day every day. Not only are you exhausted (it takes a lot of energy to carry all of that rage and disappointment) but when you are angry with someone you are focusing a lot of energy on that person or the situation you were put in. But more than likely, you are only punishing yourself. The individual that you feel wronged or hurt you has probably emotionally moved on and isn't wasting time worrying about what happened to you. So, who is being hurt by the anger? Only you.
But remember, releasing anger, living in a place of happiness is a journey that isn't begun and completed by reading an article. Life is a journey, not a destination. Every time you get upset, or can't let go of something someone did to you, don't beat yourself up. There isn't a race to find bliss. Take it a step at a time. Hopefully, with each day that passes you can become calmer, more at peace, gentler, and happier.
So what are the things that you do that help you to let go of your anger or pain? Please leave comments about the things that help you crawl out of an abyss of anger and hopelessness. You never know when your comment will help someone struggling with the same issue (remember Tip number 4 - Random Acts of Kindness).
Until later...Dr Karen signing off and looking forward to your comments and thoughts!