Some people who desire to know God go about studying Him in an odd fashion. Instead of taking in the nature of God by examining the whole of His character, they focus on one narrow dimension: “Thou shalt not…“
In much the same way, traditional psychology has long studied the nature of happiness by dissecting one part of the populace: the most depressed, miserable people in the world. In fact, up until the late 1990s, psychological studies focused on negative-to-positive research themes at a 17:1 ratio!
You won’t become an expert on birds by watching whales.
I’m secure enough about who I am today to acknowledge this truth: I have had personal happiness as well as torments. At times, my joy or sorrow were situation-based. When things were going well in my life, I rode on a crest of happiness like a surfer rides a wave. And when my life seemed destined to the crapper, I let myself get flushed with it. The problem with living in this manner is that it makes us either beneficiaries or victims of life. At best it makes us passengers in the journey, and, at its worst, powerless over the destination.
I have come to a couple of conclusions based not on my own perfection as much as my failures as someone who has tested both fair and fetid waters, and found them insufficient for sustained joy.
Happiness is a choice. You make a lot of choices each day, but the most important one you make is what kind of day you’re going to have! Here are some realities about your day … someone will be an ass to you. You might hit traffic or not find a seat on the train. You may spill coffee your clothes before you ever to work. Your boss or a coworker may dump an assignment on you that you don’t want. And you know what? YOUR happiness is YOUR choice. If you let those situations steal your joy, you’re going to have a really bad day. If you determine that you’re going to find happiness in your day, you’ll find it.
Happiness is in the moment. Our society is obsessed with instant gratification. Gotta headache? Take a pill. Wanna drop 20 pounds? Drink this shake for a week.
But some people have the opposite problem: they delay gratification for too long! For example, let’s say you want to get into a great college. You spend high school missing out on time with your friends and doing fun things because your whole focus is on getting into a great college. Finally, the school of your choice accepts you! Congrats! But then you realize that in order to get a good job post-college, you have to bust your tail for four more years. So you put in the work to keep your grades at the top of your class. Finally, you graduate at the top and find a good job. Congrats! But wait! There’s competition at work. To climb the ladder, you put in the extra hours and put off taking vacations. While others are enjoying a little success, you keep reinvesting today’s success for tomorrow’s. Finally, you make partner! Congrats! But wait…
You see where this ends up. When we get too consumed with the next big thing, we fail to celebrate the happiness of the here-and-now. And sadly, even when we amass tons of successes, we aren’t happy. Why? We falsely believe that success brings happiness. And it doesn’t. Happiness, though, can bring success, because success happens when we enjoy and savor the moment and not the possibility of what may exist years down the road.
Happiness is a learned behavior. If you want to develop strong biceps, exercise your arms. If you want to improve your heart’s conditioning, do more cardio exercises. If you want to sharpen your mind, do crossword or Sudoku puzzles. If you want to build your happiness, exercise your happy muscles. Yes, I said happy muscles. While happiness might not be an actual muscle, you can build your happiness just like you would any muscle in your body.
The chief engine of happiness is positive emotions. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina scientifically identified the ten most positive emotion as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.
If you want to build your happiness muscle, practice more joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Can’t do all 10 today? No problem. How about you focus on a few of them? Here are some easy ideas:
1. Gratitude. Say thank you–and mean it. Look for things you appreciate in others. Look for things you appreciate in nature. And express the positive emotion of gratitude.
2. Awe. Take some time to view things of beauty. Get up in time to see the sunrise. Enjoy the color of fall leaves or the gently falling snow. Observe the geese making their journey to their south, and marvel at how they are made with an internal GPS that requires no downloads or batteries.
3. Love. Even Scrooge found love in the end of A Christmas Carol, and it wasn’t romantic love but rather a love of life. Don’t have someone to love? How about a pet? How about movie? How about your favorite meal? What you love is not as important as that you love. Love creates positive emotions. Love something today.
What do you do to build your happy muscles?