Being happy is a worthy endeavor. This may sound narcissistic at first glance. On the contrary. Happiness is not only good for you, but it is also good for others.
And it just so happens that today, March 20, 2020, is the International Day of Happiness! How timely.
I actually started this article over a year ago, set it aside, then decided today was the time to finish it in view of all that is going on right now with COVID-19, the plummeting stock market, quarantines, the social isolation, the toilet paper scarcity, and the empty shelves, not to mention all of the other disappointments such as vacations and travel plans being canceled and stresses from overwork for some. The trials abound.
Finding Happiness-No Matter What
I have found that I can be a really slow learner with some things and this is one of them. Not too long ago I looked back on my life and saw that for most of it I was not happy enough-when I should have been, when I had ample reason to be. What a waste! Don’t make the same mistake!
May I be so bold as to say if you aren’t happy, it is because you do not yet know how, or you may have not developed the habit to do so, or maybe you are just choosing to live stupidly. I still raise my hand in guilt. That’s because of two reasons: 1) I can be an Eeyore by nature, albeit a fun-loving one, but prone to look on the dark side if I am not careful, and 2) happiness is not just something you achieve and then you have it forever. It actually takes effort and practice. Some people are better than others at being happy. For some, it has been learned, but for others, it may be that they are genetically predisposed to being naturally happier and more optimistic. But that does not spell out hopelessness for you.
That said, I realize some people may need professional help and I highly advise getting help as soon as possible or immediately if there are any suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others. For the rest of you, please read on.
So, how do we do this happiness thing? And is it really possible? But first…
Reasons Why We Should Endeavor to Be Happy
Here are some reasons I came up with:
- Life is more pleasant this way. Right? Who doesn’t want more of that!
- It makes better use of your allotted time on Earth. It’s a waste to live a blah day, to take things for granted, to always want more, to sulk, and to always be waiting for this or that.
- It’s an ethical duty! Dennis Prager is a talk show host who dedicates his show every Friday morning to what he calls the Happiness Hour, where all they talk about is happiness. He claims happiness is a moral obligation, stating that happy people make the world better while unhappy people make the world worse. When I first heard this I was surprised and taken aback at such a bold statement. But then after thinking about this concept a bit, I was won over.
- It increases the happiness of those who love and care about you. Most of us yearn for the happiness of others, so it can sadden them when they see us unhappy.
- It makes us more delightful and charming to be around. I confess that a few nights ago I was decreasing the happiness of my husband while I was having a pity party over the news of something being canceled that had I been eagerly anticipating.
- It is pleasing to God. 2 Corinthians 5:9 says, “Therefore we have as our ambition to be pleasing to Him”.
- It is healthier. The body cannot achieve good health with such things as stress, negativity, self-pity, hopelessness, and resentment. And happiness is not possible if one lets those things take hold.
Next, we should discuss the elephant in the room…
…what are the things that endanger our happiness:
Worry, fear, stress
Discontentment, jealousy, envy
Fatigue, physical or emotional pain
Expectations or perceived expectations of others
Feeling overwhelmed or overworked
Social media, watching the news
Living with difficult people
Working with difficult people
Happiness Interrupters are close cousins to Happiness Robbers.
Decline in health
Sudden shocking, devastating bad news
Conflict with others
Being unjustly mistreated
Trying to make more than one person happy or meet their needs when those are at odds with one another
RX for Joy & Happiness: 20 Boosters
Focus on what is there, not on what is missing. Dennis Prager, who I mentioned above has an interesting short little video that explains this concept well called, The Missing Tile Syndrome. I highly recommend it. Deliberately focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have.
Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the now. In each moment joy is possible, and things to be thankful for can be found. LIfe may be far from perfect, but it still has things for which to enjoy. Even in the darkest trials and bleakest situations.
The cup of coffee. The eyes that can see. Colors. The beautiful green of the trees against the blue sky, or the moody shades of gray in an overcast sky or stormy sky. The ability to walk and talk. Soft towels, a warm bed, the shelter of a home, friends, running water, electricity, books to read, available food, spiritual truths. Enjoy these things and dwell on them.
Don’t take things for granted. We often don’t realize the good we have until it is taken away. Better to enjoy it now, than looking back and regretting not appreciating it in the moment.
Tomorrow, or even the next hour, might arrive with new problems or deprivations or disappointments. Something you take for granted now might be taken away. There might be a major earthquake, our country may be attacked by a foreign country, maybe something will happen to someone we love or a pandemic outbreak (just added). All of this is said not to cause fear, but rather to encourage you to focus on what you have now because it is the nature of life for nothing to be permanent; life is full of changes.
Remember God and turn to Him. The spiritual aspect of life is key. Prayer, Bible reading and study, meditating on Scripture, praising the Lord and trusting in Him is critical. And making sure you are right with Him.
Smile, laugh, and make your eyes twinkle. Your mind takes cues from the body. Even fake smiles are efficacious; studies have shown this to be true. So, even if you are not feelin’ it, move your facial muscles in the direction of a smile, and even add a special touch of making your eyes sparkle. Practice in the mirror! “Breathe, smile, and sparkle” is your new mantra.
Think happy thoughts and dwell on happy memories. Dr. Amen explains how we can do this in his book Memory Rescue. He advises that you write down your 10-30 best memories of your life and do a little exercise where you mentally put each memory in different rooms of your home to help you remember them. You can make your home a virtual memory museum!
Have fun, when it is appropriate. It can be good medicine to watch something funny, like a movie, a sitcom, or something on YouTube. The options are really endless. You could also read a funny book, look up jokes on the internet, or play with children. Plan something fun or find something to celebrate.
Focus on Others. Much happiness can be found by focusing on others’ needs and happiness. Remind yourself that life is not all about you.
Nurture relationships. We are stuck with people (!), therefore let’s make our relationships as special as possible.
Call a loved one. Especially one that you know you can count on to cheer you.
Exercise. It is a well-known mood booster. *See my little story about this at the end of this article.
Set a goal. Given yourself something to aspire to, something to look forward to, something to challenge you. Goals can add spice to life.
Keep your mouth mostly shut. One time comes to mind when something out of the blue happened that caused me to feel embarrassed and humiliated, and I felt the sudden suck of unhappiness pulling me downward. What I have learned though, is that it is best to be slow to anger, slow to speak and slow to let your feelings be hurt. You cannot get into too much trouble if you keep your mouth shut, and there is a great need to choose your words carefully during challenging times. Seek to listen and understand and try to let yourself be gently understood. Resolutions to conflict will bring about better relationships which equals greater happiness.
Go to bed. Sometimes this is what is needed and the best solution. Sometimes fatigue makes everything look much worse, so it is just better the sooner you can say goodnight. Happiness often appears in the morning.
Keep things in the right perspective. For instance, I once heard a former Vietnam POW (prisoner of war) being interviewed, I don’t remember who, talking about how great his life is and he commented that every day is a good day when the lock is on his side of the door. I think of this often when I am feeling mopey. I also often remind myself, “In the face of all eternity, this doesn’t really matter.”
Do or find a mood lifter: Go to the beach or to a park or on a hike, do grounding, journal, listen to music, dance to music, spend time with children, play an instrument, work on a jigsaw puzzle or crossword puzzle, take a hot bath, read a good book, look at old photos, cook something delicious, work in your garden, cocoa, essential oils, coloring, just to name a few.
Be careful of what you put into your body. Do not underestimate the effect of what you put in your body. As a downer, alcohol can adversely affect a person. It can also prevent the liver from detoxing, thus taxing further your body. Plus alcohol abuse can cause guilt, relationship problems, and can prevent you from accomplishing what you need to or what would make you feel more fulfilled. Then there is sugar. Sugar can make one feel irritable. And coffee can also wreak havoc.
Often times your body needs more nutrients. Make sure you eat nutritious, life-giving foods. No, not donuts or potato chips. You may need to supplement. Deficiencies in certain vitamins like the B Complexes can particularly lead to feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and on edge. When you are under stress your body is in higher demand for nutrients.
So consider what you may need less or more of.
Healthy lifestyle. This piggybacks on what I wrote above. And you hear it all of the time, but it really is important. Get enough sleep, fresh air, sunshine, reduce stress, deep breathe, relax, etc.
And lastly, construct a Happiness Toolbox. This is especially needed when trials hit unexpectedly or when you just feel drab and the moody monster is lurking. I cannot urge you strongly enough to start on your own personalized Happiness Toolbox today. This is important to really do asap because when Happiness Robbers & Interrupters threaten it can be difficult to find your tools. At least start it.
Building Your Personal Happiness Toolbox:
For the pdf go here:
Or copy and paste the list below, then print it out. However, I like how it is formatted in the link above better. Or put it in Notes on your iPhone. Take some time to fill it out, preferably when you are feeling more happy and optimistic. Then stash it in a special, accessible place if it’s a physical piece of paper. I am actually doing both digital and physical.
- List 3-5 pertinent Bible verses and/or encouraging sayings.
- Make a memory museum with at least 10 of your most favorite great memories.
- Write down 20 things that you are thankful/grateful for right now.
- List 10 things that are particular mood lifters for you.
- Write down the names of 3 people you can call or talk to who will cheer you, break the spiral, or even “talk you off the ledge”.
- List 3 important perspectives toward life.
- List 5-10 major answers you have had to prayer.
- List 3-5 things you could do for others.
- List 3 physical activities that you like to do.
- Any other tool you can think of that you might find useful.
Note: If one tool doesn’t work, try another or use more than one. Oftentimes a project needs all of the tools in a toolbox. Also, feel free to tweak your toolbox as you see fit, of course. The above are well thought out suggestions… but, anyway, feel free!
A lot more can be said about happiness; entire books have explored the topic. This article was an attempt to share some things I have learned over the years that have helped me because these next weeks and months are going to be challenging for all most all of us. To really let this information transform your life, you need to give it the opportunity to sink in deeply.
I think it is important to remember that there are various levels of happiness, joy, and enjoyment. Life is an ebb and flow, nothing is constant; mountaintop experiences do not last forever. Life can be like a roller coaster or like standing at the edge of the ocean with waves breaking at your feet and once in a while a rogue wave will take you by surprise, knock you over, and churn you in its tumultuousness. So be ready, be prepared.
Also, as with anything, practice improves. Don’t be discouraged if you find your mind and emotions drifting back into the security of old habits. Newness can be uncomfortable for a while, like feeling unsteady on a bike as a rookie rider or having to think hard about every move you make as a new driver. After a while, it becomes second nature, and this is where I think positive, uplifting people tend to live most of the time. But we need to be diligent not to fall into old ways of thinking or get lazy with thought patterns.
I know I want to continue to learn how to live happier, living life at its fullest. No regret living is my aim, one full of wisdom.
*In closing, I will share a little vignette from my life. Yesterday my husband Kevin and I went on a hike. I had been working on this article. We drove to the trailhead and before we started I asked Kevin to rate his happiness level on a scale of 1-10, 10 being ecstasy. He said 5; mine was a 3.5 because I couldn’t decide if I was a 3 or a 4. (Pretty bad, huh. I told you I was an Eeyore!) So, at the end of the 90-minute hike I inquired about Kevin’s happiness level. He responded 8. Before I asked him I had calculated mine was a 6.5. Not bad, a 3 and a 3.5 raise in happiness level just from being out in nature, conversing, and exercising!!!
Please leave a comment about your thoughts on happiness, what has helped you, and any little stories you would like to share on this important topic. Thank you in advance.
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Let’s make the world a better place!
Cheers, best wishes, and prayers for your happiness quests!
Here are some other articles that I have written that you might be interested in: