Most of us want to be happier!
Life is hard, life is short, life is full of responsibility and busyness and tragedies and little and big irritations.
But also, life is interesting, life is fun, life is full of wonder and new experiences and surprises and little and big blessings.
Everyone has trouble in their lives. We go through cycles of good and bad, up and down. We hope for more up than down, but sometimes you just have to get through the low times.
It’s a cliché, but really, I just want my kids to be happy. And I want to be happy. Who doesn’t? But what does it even mean to be happy? I went to the old-fashioned book called a dictionary, that I still have on my phone counter, as well as to the online Google dictionary. The main definition of ‘happy’ has not changed over the years.
- Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary, 1974: Enjoying, showing, or characterized by pleasure; joyous; contented.
- Google dictionary: Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment; having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with a person, arrangement, or situation.
Doesn’t that sound lovely? I want that! Realistically, it is too much to expect to be happy all of the time, because sh*t does happen! But there are real things that we can do to increase our “happiness quotient”.
These may be simple things, but they aren’t necessarily easy.
1. Connect With People
Interacting, having fun, socializing with people is one of the best ways to live a happier life. And not only happier, but longer, and with fewer physical health issues. Having someone to talk with, to laugh with, to cry with, to do things with makes life so much better. Helping people, performing random acts of kindness, for friends or strangers, can lift your spirits. It can make them happy and you happier!
I am grateful that I still have connections with some of the friends of my childhood. These friendships are sweet. These are people who have knew me since grade school. People whom I played with when I was 6 years old. I see them occasionally, but we live far apart, so much of the connection is on Facebook.
And I am thankful for the friends that I have made over the years. These are people from [former] work, from Taekwon-do (executive ladies!), and church. People that I can get together with for dinner, for coffee, or just to visit and talk (although that’s what ‘for coffee’ means anyway).
|So… do things with friends and connect with strangers.|
2. Look for Little Things
Look for little things that can make you happy, even in a job or situation or life that is not what you had envisioned when you were a kid thinking about the beautiful, wide-open future!
It may be something as small as the beautiful flower garden that you see every day on your way to work. Perhaps it is a phone call from a friend that you haven’t heard from in awhile. Maybe it’s the smile from the old man that you helped by carrying his groceries to his car. It may be simply sitting with your faithful dog or reading a book on the deck or making a delicious chicken casserole.
If you’re really lucky, you will find a career that you love. But even if you do, there will be days that you don’t love it! And if you don’t, you can still focus on little details that make it bearable. Even on the days that I don’t love my job, or I even hate my job, I still like certain aspects about it.
- Talking and joking and having fun with the people I work with.
- Helping my co-workers solve a problem.
- Flexible hours so I can come in earlier and leave earlier.
|So… don’t despair. Even if the horizon looks dark and stormy, look for the rainbow. You may have to wait for it, so find some little things that you can enjoy.|
3. Try Something New
Decide on something that you would like to try. It can be anything – sports, art, camping, exercise, making cookies, skiing, doing a jigsaw puzzle. If you can afford it, take a course. If you can’t, the internet is a great big resource, full of ideas and instructions. And don’t think you are too old to try or to learn something new. If you want to learn how to swim or dance or cook or play piano or fish or fly a plane or do martial arts or anything at all, just try it. You may be 30 or 50 or 70, but you can still try something that you’ve never tried before.
Some things take more of a commitment than others. Make sure you give it enough time to learn. You certainly won’t learn to play the piano after one lesson; you may need to pledge 6 months to this endeavor just to get started. You may learn to fish more quickly. I mean, sitting in a boat with a string dangling over the side… how hard can it be? (Just kidding, I don’t know anything about fishing. I’m sure there are lots of things to learn!)
I was 53 when I decided I wanted to do some martial arts training. I had been in a martial arts program with my boys about 15 years prior and I had enjoyed it, but it had only lasted a year or so. So as I was looking through the local paper, I saw an ad for 3 months of Taekwon-do for $99. I was scared to go by myself, so I took my 16-year-old daughter with me. She stopped after 3 months, but I loved it and kept going. Nine years later, I had achieved my second degree black belt. I never even imagined that I would have a black belt when I started this journey; it looked way too hard. Many of the black belts who were my instructors were teenagers! They were jumping, kicking, sparring, doing complicated patterns, and breaking boards with their bare hands and feet!
I kept going because I loved the patterns, the self-defense and the exercise. And the people in the club were so friendly, helpful and encouraging. Slowly, my belts changed from white to yellow to green to blue to red, and finally I was invited to take the black belt test. Amazing!! Now I can jump (although not as high as the young people), spar (only light contact please; don’t bang my head around!), do the complicated patterns (I still have lots to learn), and I can even break boards with my bare hands and feet!
|So… go ahead and take on the challenges of learning something new.|
4. Get Active
While trying anything new is beneficial, doing physical activity helps to elevate your mood. When I started Taekwon-do, I had been feeling pretty low for some time. Getting out to class 2 to 4 times a week made a big difference. I felt better physically, but after a few weeks, I noticed that I also felt better mentally and emotionally, more content, happier.
People have been hearing of the benefits of exercise for decades. Sometimes, you truly wish people would shut up about it, especially if you like to sit around and play computer games or watch TV. Believe me, I understand… I was working in front of a computer all day, and when I came home, I made supper, and after supper, I just wanted to sit around and watch TV or read a book. Instead, I went to my Taekwon-do class. Even if I came home from a terrible day at work, the routine and the exercises in class gave me something else to focus on, and the day’s troubles faded. After class, work issues were no longer forefront in my mind and I felt so much better.
It Does Work!
Moderate physical exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week helps you physically, mentally and emotionally. It boosts your energy, it improves concentration and motivation, it helps you sleep better, it calms anxiety, it increases productivity. Wow, so many benefits from a small investment of time.
If 30 minutes sounds daunting, start with a 10 minute walk around the neighborhood, or through the park, or to the corner store. Do it with a friend. And while you’re walking, think about your blessings, and notice some of the little things that make you smile (see #1). You will be happier!
|So… start slowly and keep going! Walk, run, jump, swim, dance, play baseball, take up curling, do Taekwon-do!|
5. Make Small Changes
Making changes is often easier said than done.
If you don’t like your dentist, or your wardrobe is all browns and beiges, or you are getting tired of your long hair, making a change may be pretty easy.
If you don’t like your job or your neighbours or your house or your brother, it’s hard, in fact impossible for some, to think about quitting your job or your life and moving on to something new. I have been in some of these situations. You may not be able to make major changes, but you can consider changing a part of a situation or doing something different.
Back to Basics
I spent years being dissatisfied with my job, but I couldn’t just quit. I was scared to change companies and have to learn a new system and new processes, and leave old friends. And I didn’t feel that I had the option to simply change careers and work in the library or some other ‘easy’, fun job, because I was the breadwinner of the family and I was making decent money at the job I had. But I could change the role that I had in my job. So after 8 years of being a supervisor/team lead, I decided to request a change and go back to a ‘worker’ role.
It was the best decision! I should have done it 5 years earlier. I loved doing the detailed work and solving technical problems. As a team lead, I couldn’t do that. I had to plan and organize and keep track and meet and decide and do performance reviews. Getting back to what I loved to do put some of the fun back into the job. I was so much happier to not be responsible for a team of people and especially to not have to do those blasted performance reviews.
|So… look for something that you can change in your situation. Get to know your neighbours better; maybe there is some common ground or you can at least come to an understanding. Paint the kitchen or rearrange the living room furniture or hire a contractor to fix the hole in the drywall that your son made when he fell into it with his shoulder. Or maybe, if you can swing it, you CAN get a new job, or move, or decide that you can avoid your brother.|
6. Do Things You Love
We all have pastimes, activities, hobbies that we enjoy – reading, cooking, baking, playing sports, watching sports, gardening, traveling, listening to music, rock climbing, relaxing in a warm bath, having coffee with a friend – to name a few. It doesn’t have to be something big and momentous, just something nice and lovely and pleasant, or exciting and distracting and fun! Make a habit of doing the activities you love regularly. Be intentional in engaging in these pursuits that you take pleasure in. It can be relaxing or exhilarating, but it definitely takes your mind off your troubles.
|So… take a break from the hassles of the world and do something that you enjoy, even for a little while.|
7. Forgive and Forget
Have I said “easier said than done”? This may be simple, but it’s not easy. And it is a key to being happier. We have all been hurt, insulted, rejected, and more by others. Or tragedies have occurred in our lives that may not have happened ‘if only…’. It may have been because of someone’s action or negligence, or even our own. It may devastate us for a day, a month, a season, or a lifetime.
I have been one to hang onto a grudge and go over conversations or activities in my mind that would hurt the transgressor or result in a different outcome. Even though I know I have to forgive the other person, or myself, and then forget about it, there are times when I absolutely want to lash out and hurt them like they hurt me. But I know… dwelling on past hurts only keeps me feeling rotten, while the ‘bad guy’ is out there oblivious to my torment.
Maybe the person you have to forgive is yourself. We are our harshest critic, and we beat ourselves up for things we’ve said and mistakes we’ve made.
We know from experience that focusing on things that have happened will not change them. So at some point, we need to decide to drive the poison from our mind, and leave the past in the past. Forgive people who have wronged you. Some of them may be very difficult. And you may need to forgive the same hurt several times (the Bible says to forgive “70 times 7” times). But it will make for a happier future.
|So… let it go! It hurts you more than it hurts your ‘enemy’ if you dwell on the hurts, the slights, or the damage caused by something or someone.|
8. Change Your Mind
As Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” And Henri J.M. Nouwen said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
In other words, a smile can be the start of a change in your demeanor and your attitude and can lead to joy and being happier.
Probably more than half of being happy is your decision. I’m sure you have heard this before and it seems impossible (and rather annoying, to say the least) when life doesn’t seem to be going your way.
You can retrain your brain to be happier. Even if you’re old! Start by recognizing when you have negative thoughts, are criticizing someone or something, think something is stupid or are complaining about something that happened to you. Now, stop and acknowledge how you feel – mad, sad, hurt, frustrated. Then think of something different, something that makes you smile or a calm scene. You may have to force your mind to stop thinking about the guy who cut you off in traffic, and focus on how happy your dog is to see you every day or relaxing at the lake. It is hard, because you can be so mad, you just want to think about how mad you are! But it is something that you can learn to do by being aware and conscious of your reactions.
By repetition, a habit of positive thinking can become ingrained. And you can slowly change the habit of negativity to one of positivity.
If you take time every morning to pray or to meditate on positive things and ideas, you can set your day up to be more positive overall. You can train your mind to focus on the good in your life instead of the bad. Ten minutes of positive thinking in the morning can be beneficial to your outlook for the day.
|So… change your mind. Stop dwelling on the irritations and the terrible experiences. Think about things that are good, happy and uplifting. Smile and laugh more.|
Everyone wants to be happy. There are lots of books about happiness – what it is and ideas on how to get it! We will never be happy ALL of the time, but we can strive to be happier. I can honestly say that, at this time in my life, I do feel happy most of the time. It hasn’t always been easy, but using the actions described here have helped in the journey.
I have read several books on happiness, being happy, and how to feel happier. Below are some of the books that I have read recently that address this subject (in no particular order). They have lots of ideas that can help you be less anxious, worried, and depressed, and more content and happy. You can take what is useful for you out of them and leave the rest.
- “You are a Badass: How to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life” by Jen Sincero — Get out of your lousy rut and live up to your God-given potential.
- “Do One Thing Different: Ten Simple Ways to Change Your Life” by Bill O’Hanlon — Change one thing in your habitual response and take back control of your emotions.
- “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” by Jordan B. Peterson — How to live a more peaceful, happier life by following these ‘rules’.
- “When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness” by Tim Bono — Some proven ideas for becoming happier without the support of social media.
- “The New Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz — Achieve life-changing goals through positive affirmations and visualization.
- “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging” by Brene Brown — Have the courage to live with integrity and authenticity, and be who you are.
- “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson — Embrace life’s struggles, decide what is important, and don’t bother with the rest.
- “It’s All in Your Head: Thinking Your Way to Happiness” by Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine — Change the way you think about things to change your mind about how you feel.
There are lots of books out there. What are some of your favourites?
‘Til next time…
From Your Mom