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Very little is needed to make a happy life;
it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. ~Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Habits of Happiness

You know how some people seem to be happy no matter what happens to them? They have cheerful outlooks, positive attitudes, thriving relationships and appear to enjoy things more, even when they don’t always go their way.

We can learn to make a habit of happiness: There’s no great trick to it but rather a few simple steps and adjustments, starting with an understanding of the nature of true happiness. 

Photo:huyen nguyen

Let’s start with the difference between happiness and pleasure. Pleasure is about feeling good, mentally or physically, and, like other fleeting emotions, it comes and goes. Happiness, on the other hand, is a deep, underlying sense of serenity and fulfillment, of pervasive well-being that brings a calm, inner peace, an acceptance of the world and a transcendence of daily life. This most sincere form of happiness is based on an awareness and nurture of the body, mind and spirit.

The happiness of well-being arises from a connection and harmony between our inner and outer lives. It’s a feeling of belonging to the world, of being part of something larger and more important than the issues, stresses, and challenges of everyday life.  It brings tranquility, balance and the ability to remain undisturbed and in control, even in uncomfortable, unpleasant or dangerous situations. 

Happiness is available when we’re able to fully digest all input and stimuli–the sum total of life experiences–extracting what is nourishing and eliminating what is not. Working together, the body and mind can fully experience clarity of mind and radiant health. What you eat, where you go, what you do, who you socialize with… all of these activities affect your perception of yourself and the world around you. With a rested body and mind, you are able to receive happiness. The mind can help to relax the body, and the relaxed body sends signals of calm to control tension. A healthy mind is crucial for a healthy body; a positive attitude is the foundation of positive emotions.

Our values, beliefs and morals help define and express our inner selves. By cultivating values such as compassion, love, forgiveness, acceptance, trust, kindness, empathy and altruism, we enhance our well-being and the world. Starting within, you can create a wealth of positivity by being engaged, creative and connected through practices such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga. 

Be with others who make you smile. Hold on to your values. Accept the good. Imagine the best. Forgive the rest. Do things you love. Find purpose. Listen to your heart. Push yourself, not others.

Incorporate some of these habits of happiness into your day and you’ll start to experience joy in everyday life:

1. Change Your Perspective

Bad things happen to all of us and they give us plenty of reasons to be unhappy. But why be unhappy about things we can’t control? If we let external forces control our emotions, we are opening the door to negativity and unhappiness. So instead, start with an understanding and acceptance that bad things happen and sometimes there isn’t anything we can do about them. 

Sometimes you will be stressed. Sometimes things will happen that you have no control over. Understanding and accepting this reduces stress, allowing you to get back to things that make you happy. When you complain or whine, pessimism becomes a self-fulling prophecy.  Holding on to anger, resentment and other negative emotions are roadblocks to happiness. By letting go of these emotions, you free space for positive emotions. 

Happy people have just changed their internal dialogue so when there’s a problem, they see a challenge and opportunity. Remember, getting consumed by things that you have absolutely no control over is a waste of time that will make you miserable. Try focusing on solutions and reflecting on what you’re grateful for. When you learn that you have control, simply by changing perspective, you are better suited to cope with and overcome challenges.

shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, elicit a surge of feel good hormones  like dopamine and serotonin

2. Go Outside, Get Sunlight + Fresh Air

We have all experienced how being in the outdoors can clear the mind better than any medication or workout could. Being outdoors feels good and has a calming effect which reminds us to slow down, take deep breaths and soak into the present moment. The sun is a mood enhancer; sunlight increases the levels of serotonin, the ‘happiness hormone’ helping us feel better and have more energy. Sunlight decreases the risk of those at risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and UV rays from the sun help produce vitamin D (vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression.)

A recent Stanford study suggests natural environments have a restorative, relaxing power on the brain and can reduce risk of mental illness and negative thoughts. Researchers have also shown that switching off technology and immersing yourself in nature can increase creativity and problem solving skills, and being outdoors and walking encourages thoughts to flow.

Spending time in forests, hiking and just being outdoors brings significant health benefits, and walking in the woods can help us feel revitalized, energetic and engaged. Nothing is more soothing to the mind more than being outside. When you’re a tiny dot standing in the middle of the vastness of mountains or canyons or just a green forest, it helps put things into a greater perspective.

For decades, doctors have prescribed Shirin-yoku, “forest bathing”  as preventative healthcare to improve blood pressure, boost mental health, and decrease cancer risk in Japanese medicine. Take a walk during lunch, sit outside for a few minutes. Try “Forest Therapy” and see what happens. Here is  an Info graphic on exercise and happiness.

3. Surround Yourself with Happy People

In Buddhism, there are 3 main tenents – Buddha the teacher, Dharma the teachings, and Sangha the community. Sangha is an important part of happiness; it provides support and kindness around us. Our instinct as human beings are to not only have food, water and shelter, but to have relationships, validation, growth, education, awareness, and more. We turn toward community in times of need, for advice, or as a safe harbor. Being a part of something larger than ourselves boosts happiness, mood, and self satisfaction. Studies show that we are happiest when we are around those also happy.

Photo: vonecia carswell

Being social isn’t about being seen or fitting into a group, it’s creating connections and relationships that help nurture and grow. Happiness feels good and is contagious, so surrounding yourself with people who are happy and supportive builds self-confidence and boosts creativity. Connection in a community helps the feeling of belonging, which has a big impact on happiness. Hanging out with negative people means you’re at a pity party which is exhausting and not fun. Ditch the negative ones and go dance to music with some happy ones!

Being grateful is more than just saying thank you. When you express gratitude, it can lead to a stronger sense of happiness and well-being. It is a feeling of happiness that comes from thankful appreciation, and humbles us as we recognize an act of kindness, service, or caring. Gratitude encourages us to become aware and appreciate good things that happen, and brings a quality of being thankful with readiness to express appreciation and return kindness. 

Gratitude transforms negative emotions that can destroy our happiness. When you are grateful, it is impossible to also be hateful, angry, or fearful. Living with a spirit of gratitude gives greater happiness and satisfaction in life.

Gratitude helps us connect to something larger than ourselves. There is an affirmation that there is goodness in the world, and that goodness comes from outside of ourselves. It doesn’t stem from us, but involves a humble interdependence on something outside.

Stop to enjoy the small, amazing things and people in life, because the soul needs gratitude. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present, and a grateful heart magnifies positive feelings, and brings happiness to the physical, psychological and social aspects of our lives. 

Start with a gratitude Practice : every night, write down something that happened that you are grateful for. It wont take long before that changes your entire perspective. 

5. Sit Quietly + Meditate

While relationships are important to one’s happiness, we all need alone time to catch up with ourselves. Spending time alone gives you time to unpack worries and anxieties, reflect on what you’re grateful for and focus on dreams and desires. Meditation can be the best self care for reversing the effects of stress and maintaining homeostasis in body, mind and spirit to handle what life unfolds.

Meditation is one of the most effective ways to embark on a path of stillness and mindfulness, which gives the mind a break from all those worries and anxieties. Research shows that present-moment awareness increases effective coping mechanisms and resilience, which leads to improved well-being.

Meditation has benefits for everyone who gives it a chance. It doesn’t have to be spiritual; it is therapeutic – just sit quietly for 5-10 minutes a day and focus on breathing, take inventory of your feelings (physical and mental), and visualize calm. Try it. You wont be disappointed.

6. Exercise Regularly

There are so many benefits to exercise — stress relief, physical fitness benefits, weight management, etc. When you start exercising, the brain recognizes this as stress, so heart pressure increases, and the brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect yourself the brain releases a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF has a protective and reparative element to memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. 

Exercise also reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. At the same time, this physical activity helps production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.  They are chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and stress relievers, and make you feel great! Endorphins are responsible for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many workouts. That’s why we often feel so at ease and things are clear after exercising.

7. Posture and Breathing

Photo by Le Minh Phuong

Sit up straight, relax the shoulders, and take a deep breath. Try that a few times. Feel that?

Posture and breathing have a profound effect on outlook of life. Breathlessness is often a response of flight or fight hormone and the nervous system triggering the neck and chest muscles to tighten. In just a few moments on the computer, you could be hunching and taking weak, shallow breaths which take life force energy out of you. 

One goal of yoga is that it may reduce some of the negative effects of stress, and stress relief is a reason that pranayama is central to yoga. Pranayama breath awareness was developed to join mind, body, and spirit in search of self-awareness, health and spiritual growth.  As you learn breathing techniques, awareness is brought to smooth, even breathing vs. erratic breathing. 

To get a full deep breath, learn how to breathe from the diaphragm while expanding the chest.

Focus on sitting up with shoulders relaxed and taking deep, long breaths as often as possible, and you’ll feel happier. Lengthening the inhalation is more activating, and lengthening the exhalation can be more relaxing. 

8. Help Others

Helping others is an important element in increasing happiness. Do something for someone else: there is no better way to feel happier than to help someone else, especially someone in need. The more we give, the happier we feel. Volunteering time is rewarding, because you’re helping people and feel good doing it. By giving to another person, you’re creating a connection and a conversation with that person. You are doing good for others and the community. It’s a humbling way to honor humanity and have gratitude for the blessings we have.

Taking a step outside and reflecting on your place in the world can help you feel more connected and give a greater sense of belonging.  When you practice compassion for others, you’ll get practice treating others with kindness. Kindness, like happiness, is contagious. Happiness and service go hand in hand, and the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you have a positive view of life. Mudita, sympathetic joy is the ability to rejoice in the good fortune and happiness of others, and it is considered a noble element of the heart in Buddhism.

9. Learn a New Hobby or Challenge

One of the satisfying things in life is to challenging yourself in ways that are achievable, but require work. You continue to work hard and improve, often leading to the outcome of being satisfied not just with the accomplishment, but with the progress made simply by having a goal.

Hobbies are fun ways to experience happiness. Modern research show that we are happier when having experiences instead of material items. Experiences tend to improve over time; experiences can be unique and involve social interaction.

Whether you love to cook, play games, paint, or anything else, the joy of learning is one of the most enjoyable endeavors you can embark upon. Focus on the joy of just experiencing something new. 

10. Take Care of Yourself

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson

When we take care of ourselves, we feel energized, cared for and contented, which boosts our self-command, which in turn helps us maintain healthy habits. Self-care must be included daily, and full well-being includes digital detoxing, healthy food options, customized fitness regimes, enhanced sleep and more.

Since body and mind are connected, it makes sense that if aren’t taking care of yourself physically, you’re going to suffer mentally and emotionally. Make sure to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact health, productivity and ability to cope with stress. Eating well isn’t counting calories or a special diet, it’s about fueling the body with nourishment that optimizes energy. Staying fit isn’t going to the gym every day, it’s about moving in ways you enjoy.

Find healthy ways to decompress and alleviate stress, and stimulate your mind by expanding knowledge in a way that interests you. Personal wellness is a journey, and it starts with a commitment to yourself. Understand your priorities, which includes saying “no” to take care of yourself. If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-care isn’t selfish.

Ramana Maharshi said, “Happiness is the very nature of the Self; happiness and the Self are not different. There is no happiness in any object of the world. We imagine through our ignorance that we derive happiness from objects.”