When it comes right down to it, we humans are pretty simple. I don’t mean that as an insult to our species or anything. Each of us are beautifully complicated, multifaceted, and uniquely talented individuals. No two people are alike. But, despite all of our complexities and individuality, as it turns out, what makes us happy is relatively simple.
Researchers in the field of positive psychology report that what actually makes us happy is quite different from what most of us commonly believe will make us happy. Wealth, prestige, finding the perfect mate, having adorable little children; turns out, none of these factors are strong predictors of personal happiness. Here are the essentials that researchers have found do make a difference in our level of happiness and some simple suggestions for developing in these areas.
1. Know and use your strengths: Knowing and using your strengths will increase your overall happiness. How do you know what your strengths are? Ask yourself these questions. What do you like to do? What have others noticed you are good at? What kind of assignments do you gravitate towards at work or at home? Make a list. Ask a friend. Take some of the numerous available personal assessments. One of my favorite tools to help people understand their strengths is the PeopleMap. It is a simple straight forward tool that helps individuals and teams get clear about their strengths and areas that tend to trip them up. (Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in PeopleMap related offerings.)
2. Practice gratitude: Whether the glass is half-full or half-empty is your choice, really. You decide. A strange thing happens when you begin to practice gratitude. Your gratitude grows. One simple strategy to increase your focus on the the positive is keeping a gratitude journal. Purchase or make a simple journal. Make it interesting and attractive, and reflective of who you are or want to become. Place it on your night stand, and every night before you go to sleep spend 5 minutes writing down anything from that day for which you are grateful. Like magic, your focus gradually expands towards the positive aspects in and around your life. Gradually you will notice yourself paying attention to positive things throughout the day and making a mental note to include them in your journal. Your perspective becomes your life.
3. Savor the moment: One of my mother’s favorite sayings is, “You’ve got to stop and smell the roses!” Turns out Mom’s right. In terms of experiencing happiness, life is designed to be savored, not rushed through. So, try this. Think of one daily ritual you have already incorporated into your life. For instance, every morning I get up, let the dogs out, and pour a cup of coffee. That is extremely likely to happen nearly everyday of my life. Take that event, and for a week, break it down into it’s basic elements. Using my morning ritual as an example, notice the excitement on the dogs’ faces as the door opens, appreciate the rhythm of their hair bouncing as they run, feel the fresh outdoor air, etc., etc.,. The point is, even in the most mundane of events, there is opportunity and possibility for increased awareness and for savoring in the experience. So start by noticing the elements of one of your daily rituals for a week and see what happens.
4. Get into the flow: Flow is a universal human experience. It happens when you are doing something that is challenging, that you love to do, and that you are really good at doing. Individuals’ descriptions of their personal flow experiences are remarkably similar. Time seems to stand still. Your senses are highly activated. Your abilities seem to be almost superhuman. You can anticipate and respond to the demands of the situation, almost before they are presented. Flow is described universally as a highly pleasurable experience. Have you experienced flow? If so, what are your “flow” activities? Do them as much as you can, and you will develop a positive addiction. If you haven’t experience flow, go back to the top of this paragraph and look at the elements. Now try some different activities long enough to get really good at them. You might eventually find some that trigger the flow experience for you or, at the very least, have a lot of fun trying. Trust me, you will know it when you experience it. It feels great.
5. Focus on helping others: When we focus too much on ourselves and our own needs, we tend to get a wee bit neurotic. When we focus on helping others, things open up, and we are rewarded. Allow yourself the luxury of getting lost in helping others. In what ways are you already currently focusing on helping others? What are some simple ways to expand that? What are you good at? Who could benefit from your talents? Don’t forget the people right in front of your face! Surprise your loved ones with a unexpected gift of your time and talents. Look online for a volunteer organization in an area of your personal interest. Start small or start big, just start!
So these are some essentials shown to increase your happiness. I hope you have enjoyed reading these ideas and suggestions and that you will try them and find them useful. The world is a better place when you are happy, so do the world a favor and get happy! You can change your level of personal happiness! It’s scientifically proven, really.
What do you do to increase your happiness? What ideas and strategies can you add? I’d love to hear your ideas, feedback on this article, or any suggestions for future topics.