12 Steps to Finding True Happiness

>> Saturday, August 7, 2010

What everyone wants from life is continuous and genuine happiness. ~Baruch Spinoza

I'm sure we've all said it or at least thought it...I know I'll be happy when I lose 25 lbs, I know I'll finally be happy when I get this job, or I'll for sure be happy when....and the list goes on.  What we fail to realize is that external things really won't make us happy. Well, they might for a little bit but fairly soon the happiness starts to fade and we are off searching for the next thing to make us happy.  I believe for us to find and experience true happiness; which is more of a fulfilling experience we have to look within ourselves.

I've been listening to the audio book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California.

In the book she outlines twelve intentional activities that can help us create a life of true happiness.  I want to share those twelve things with you here today and my thoughts on them. If you want to find out more about the research supporting the advice you'll have to buy or borrow the book.

1. Expressing Gratitude - This is more than just saying "thanks".  It's an attitude of gratefulness.  She suggests keeping a gratitude journal and once a week expressing our gratitude for 3-5 positive things in our lives.

2. Cultivating Optimism - One way to do this is to write about your future story where everything turns out the way you want it to, for 20 to 30 minutes.  This future story could be anywhere from 1 year to 10 years away.

Another way to practice this is by replacing a negative thought pattern with something positive. You don't have to believe it to say it, but keep saying it and you will begin to believe it.

3. Avoiding Over-thinking and Social Comparison - I do this often; thinking about a situation compulsively and what I "could have" or "should have" done differently. Thinking about how so&so is so much better at something than I am.

There are several ways to avoid this type of behavior
  1. Distract yourself
  2. Think of the bigger picture - will this matter in a year?
4. Practicing Acts of Kindness - Genuinely do something kind for someone.  This can be as simple as a compliment or a random act of kindness. For RAK ideas check out Kind Over Matter.

5. Nurturing Social Relationships - Set aside time each week to just be with the people that are important in our life. By be I mean really being present with them and focusing on the time together - try not to allow ourselves to become distracted.

6. Developing Strategies for Coping - Write in a journal for 15 minutes a day about any painful experience in your life. This can be anything - a major trauma or just something drama in your life. By writing in a journal it helps to clear our minds and make sense of it. I actually try to practice this one daily and I can assure you that it does help over time. Sometimes I have to keep writing about the same situation to really get to the truth of it but it does help eventually.

7. Learning Forgiveness - This does not mean we have to forgive and condone their behavior, it's simply choosing to it let go. One way to practice this is try looking at the situation from the other person's viewpoint. Be empathetic. This is a difficult one for me and I consciously try to practice breathing and reminding myself to "just let it go".

8. Increasing Flow Experiences - This is anything that keeps you involved in the present moment. Something where you lose track of time; "get into the zone" as some people call it. When you find an activity that does this for you - do it and do it often. One thing I like to use to increase Flow is scrapbooking. I can get started on that and before I know it a few hours have gone by and I've really enjoyed every moment of it.

9. Savoring Life’s Joys - This is an easy one that she suggests we practice two or three times a day. It's about enjoying the simple things in life - stopping to smell the roses, really enjoying that cup of coffee. Sometimes the small stuff does matter - as long as it's positive.

10. Committed to Goals - This can be any goal you want, it doesn't matter how big or small - as long as it's important to you. Then pursue it with passion!

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality - For some people practicing religion is an important part of their life and it helps them recover, improves their health and generally makes them happier. Religion and spirituality are not equivalent though; you can certainly practice spirituality without practicing religion. One simple way would be spending time each day reading a book with a spiritual theme.

12. Taking Care of Your Body - Here are two strategies she suggests - there are more in the book.
  1. Physical Activity - Find something you enjoy doing and just do it for 30 minutes nearly every day. This isn't supposed to be a punishment or torture for you...the key is enjoy it. I love to swim. If I could swim every single day this would be the physical activity I would do the most.
  2. Meditation - I can honestly say this practice made a huge difference in my life. In my happiness level and my general outlook on life has been improved through daily meditation.
Do you practice any of these Happiness Activities in your life daily now? If so, what ones do you practice or what ones have you received the most benefit from?


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