20 Mar 2016

8 Steps to Being Happier

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Our key objective in life is to be happy. I’m not talking about hedonistic bursts of pleasure, but rather a continuous sense of calm and contentment. It’s not selfish to want to make yourself happy; if you aren’t happy then you simply cannot make others happy. If you take care of your own happiness, you are more easily able to show kindness and compassion towards others and to open your heart and your mind to differing perspectives. Here are some practical tips to ramp up the joy factor in your life.

  1. Take a reality check. This is real life and it’s just unrealistic to expect wall-to-wall happiness – sometimes the clouds do obscure the sun. Those who are able to celebrate the good times, and bear the bad times – knowing that soon they will pass – are more likely to sustain their mood despite what’s going on ‘out there’.
  2. Honour the ‘here and now’. Cultivate the habit of milking the moment for all it’s worth when things are good and when things aren’t so good, focus on being present and experience the moment fully, while allowing it to pass. The alternative is to ‘reject’ what is happening as being ‘unfair’ or ‘unacceptable’ – but that just causes you to stay stuck in the unpleasant (and pointless) frame of resistance.
  3. Remember that what we resist, persists. When we experience painful emotions fully and observe them with genuine curiosity they are more likely to dissipate. Remember – what we resist, persists.
  4. Engage ‘paradoxical intention’. Viktor E. Frankl, author of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, was the originator of a concept called ‘paradoxical intention’. By way of example: whilst giving a presentation, you notice your mouth becoming dry and you begin to sweat. Your instinct will likely be to fret about that, which then makes your mouth dryer and your sweat glands work harder. By engaging paradoxical intention, you consciously choose to say to yourself ‘that’s great – I want a dry mouth and I love to sweat; bring it on’. That thought process has the effect of allowing you to feel what you are feeling without condemnation and, paradoxically, the physiological effects tend to dissipate.
  5. Being strong doesn’t mean being perfect. Being vulnerable, fallible and authentic is a demonstration of our inner strength and depth. In order to be vulnerable with others, we must first of all learn to truly accept ourselves as we are; to accept our anxiety, our worry without condition and with compassion.
  6. Using our thoughts to calm us down. By thinking ‘it really is okay to feel like this’, we counter the human condition of constantly seeking pleasure or happiness.
  7. Being comfortable with uncertainty. Some feel more comfortable than others with taking risks. For those who are risk averse, most situations are not ‘all or nothing’ – there are many more middle grounds than you might at first imagine and all you need to do is find a step in the right direction that feels good to you for now. Find that anchor in the ‘safe zone’. That avoids the pressure of making the ‘right’ decision that can lead to paralysis – and failing to make any decision at all.
  8. The search for meaning versus the search for happiness. If you put pressure on yourself to be ‘happy’ you are likely to feel stressed and discontented. If instead you look for actions that bring you meaning or joy, those are practical steps towards happiness that anyone can take. If running or walking in nature will bring you joy, do it. If having coffee with a friend will do the same – what are you waiting for? By taking specific actions rather than chasing the abstract notion of happiness, you develop greater control over how happy you feel. It also enables you to serve in your own happiness – rather than playing the ‘I’ll be happier when…’ game.

Happiness is all about having habits that build a happy life. Happiness is a thoroughly practical concept – rather than an ethereal one. What’s the one thing you’re going to do today that will bring you joy, create meaning or simply allow you to endure a difficult situation more consciously?

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