#72: 5 Tips for How to Be Happy in Life, Again

#72: A Mindset to Be Happy With Yourself

Sometimes, we wish there were a “user’s guide” to being happy with ourselves. It seems elusive. What makes us happy? And how can we be happier? You’ve been thinking about how to be happy. Or more specifically, how to be happy in life. Or maybe even how to be happy again. You may have felt it some time in the past, but where is it now?

First, let’s get more concrete with this idea. What is happiness?

Happiness is a warm puppy.

As younger people, we might have said that happiness is what we experience when we get something or have an experience. For example, when we are with a warm puppy, this might prompt us to feel happier. The puppy is youthful. It brings promise of growth and a future. It is still a small creature, waiting to grow.

Or maybe we felt a rush of joy when a friend wanted to be with us. In both situations, we have something or someone outside of ourselves associated with this feeling of happiness.

Yet when we are older, we might feel this same happiness sitting alone in nature. Or, we may feel it when looking over photographs and thinking about memories of the past. While happiness has been studied and found to be interdependent on other people in our lives, the general feeling is within us. And this means that we have something to do with it.

In fact, there are some people who do not feel happiness around warm puppies. And while we might feel good sitting in a serene, natural place, someone else might feel afraid in that same setting. It isn’t the external situation that determines our happiness. If happiness does not come from things or experiences alone, we might be able to instead describe it as a way of being. Happiness is the way to live, not the destination.

Do you know anyone who seems to perpetually experience a joy and zest in life? Its as if that person lives every moment perpetually happy. If happiness is a way of being, what does it take to live this way?

Image depicting the phrase "choose joy"

You already know how to be happy.

Intuitively, we each have some kind of inner compass. You might call this a conscience. Or, maybe you would call it your “inner wisdom.” And many of us call it the Spirit. Regardless, there is some part of us that has a sense of what will bring an overall sense of well-being and satisfaction in life.

Researchers have taken happiness and redefined it as overall well-being or life satisfaction. And from the field of positive psychology, we can break it down into five parts summarized with the acronym “PERMA.” Perma stands for positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments or achievements. And when we describe it in these ways, happiness is not so elusive or vague at all. In fact, it is a way of living we can create.

There is no secret about how to be happy in life.

If you’ve been thinking that someone out there has all of the answers about your happiness, you’re looking in the wrong places. The idea that someone else knows the one big secret that will bring you personal happiness puts the control and responsibility for life in someone else’s hands. Instead, you have within you the ability to identify what matters most to you, what strengthens you, and what enhances your positive well-being.

Because happiness is a way of being, rather than a goal to be achieved, you are capable of living in a manner of happiness. And most likely, this involves other people in your life. This might mean connecting with other people, or giving them service. Or allowing others to serve us. Whatever our method of connecting with others, being together with people we love can generate positive feelings and a wonderful sense of happiness when we are together.

No one can tell you how to be happy with yourself except you.

Even though connections with other people may lead to feelings we call “happiness,” no one can tell you how to be happy with yourself except you. This depends on what you value most, and whether you are living those values. And, when you are aligned with your own beliefs, you can get a feeling of satisfaction with your life. To figure out what you need to do to be happy with yourself, spend a little time thinking about what matters most to you. There is a wonderfully effective values inventory available to help you out. You’ll find it here in the podcast notes.

Take the time to determine what you value most. Then, make space in your life to live those areas to the fullest. This will give you a way to decide whether you are happy with yourself. With how you are living life, day to day. And if you are still not clear on how to be happy with yourself, or how to be happy again, there are five things to try which will help you on the path. Stop looking for happiness

These five things tell you how to be happy again.

  1. Take care of your physical self.

Some emotional states come from the fight, flight, or freeze response in the Amygdala or lower brain. When this response takes over, it seems to control us. Cortisol increases, heart rate increases, and we are stick in a state of real stress. To take power over this kind of mental, emotional, and physical state, we must start with the body. This means that we have to slow down our heart rate, and reduce our stress response. Only then can we welcome the sense of well-being that brings us satisfaction and what we consider happiness to be. Some ways to take control over the body are to:

    • Get grounded in the present moment,
    • Consciously slow breathing, using mindfulness exercises,
    • Get adequate sleep, physical activity, healthy nourishment, and hydration,
    • Slow everything down; if your unhappy state is coming from overwhelm and stress, reduce your commitments and take a mental health day to slow things down and regulate your mind and body again, and
    • Listen to energetic, positive music and dance; positive music can literally reprogram your thoughts into a different mood and prime you to feel more energetic, and dancing also has a positive mood-lifting effect while delivering dopamine to your brain through the physical activity.

All of these approaches to take care of your physical self lead to more positive emotions, because they help your body flush out the chemical reaction from negative emotions by processing them physically and create space for positive emotions to grow.

2. Purposely cultivate positive emotions.

When things go wrong, it can be a mental habit to think negatively. And just like any habit, those things we routinely practice grow! There are many ways to look at challenges and problems. We can either choose to see the negative parts of life as temporary, localized, and impersonal, or we can view them as permanent, pervasive, and personal. By taking that first route, we can see beyond the moment as if looking through the fog to remember that the sun is still shining above it. This will give us perspective to reframe things and feel more positivity. Hope comes from this line of thinking as well.

We can also engage in many different activities to generate more positive emotions for ourselves. For example, we might call someone we love and visit, or visit them in person. Or, we might engage in a pleasurable hobby like cooking, painting, or creating digital photo books. We might read a book or listen to great music. And, we might reflect and think about life. This reflection could be just thinking, writing in a journal, or reviewing photographs of happy times. Whatever we choose to do, intentionally engaging in the things that generate positive emotions will bring more of them into our life.

3. Engage in activities that help you feel at your best and give you a sense of “flow.”

One of the best ways to feel good is to learn what your strengths are, and then purposely use them. We spend a lot of time in life noticing weaknesses or imperfections. And this negative focus can definitely help us make improvements, But when we purposely focus on our strengths, we are much more likely to perform at an exceptional level, over when we focus on weaknesses. There are many ways to learn about your strengths. You can start right where you are, and consider when you’ve been at your best in life. What kinds of skills and talents do you notice?

And, you can enhance your awareness of your strengths by taking a strength inventory. There are many out there, and I personally recommend the VIA Character Strengths survey and the Gallup Strengthfinder assessment. These are very different from each other and will each give you some good insights. Ultimately, when you focus on strengths, you will be able to do things that bring you satisfaction and fulfillment. And you might even enjoy it!

4. Find greater meaning in life.

To find greater meaning in life, you can start with a spiritual practice to connect with something transcendent. Something bigger than you are. You can also find meaning through belonging to an organization, and through contributing service. You can draw meaning from relationships and associations with other people. Meaning comes from those pursuits that give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Many people call this their “why.” What is your why?

5. Set goals, and accomplish or achieve something challenging. And then keep doing it.

For achievements and accomplishments to be meaningful, they need to progress toward things that are challenging. Look for opportunities to stretch your skills and abilities. To keep learning and growing. When you build competence and ability, this strengthens your resilience as a human being and brings life satisfaction. It also helps to reflect on your achievements and accomplishments, to see how far you have come and where you would like to go in the future. Achieving things in life can help you see a bigger picture to any single situation and keep things in perspective. And, setting goals to keep going can be motivating.

In closing, happiness is more than just  a fuzzy idea or something unattainable. We can live happily and continue to build out areas of our lives that enrich us, fulfill us, and generate satisfaction. And doing it is worthwhile, because it makes us healthier, more resilient, and better able to withstand the rigors of life.

Thank you for joining me on the podcast this week. Here’s to being the best version of you this coming week, and to your happiness!

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