If you haven't had the chance to listen to the full podcast, here is a quick preview!
There are three objectives to my writing:
1. To be able to define happiness;
2. To consider if happiness is a choice, and if so what control you have;
3. To understand how to build happiness... habits.
There is no universally agreed-upon definition of happiness. Google suggests, "the state of being happy." Not very helpful. So then, what is happiness to you? With over a decade working in mental health - no two people have shared the exact same meaning of happiness. Some suggest happiness is:
Being at peace with your past, optimistic about your future and enjoying the present.
The balance between long-term and short-term happiness. Short-term happiness being the simple joys of life... think sun sets and seeing friends. Long-term happiness is following your purpose in life, being yourself and working actively towards a better future.
Another angle suggests that happiness is:
The absence of things that make us unhappy... anxiety, stress, grief, disappointment.
I agree with each of those (to some degree). When I think of happiness, I think of being curled up with a cup of tea and a good book on a rainy afternoon. I think of cuddling my sleeping boys – feeling the softness of their cheeks against mine. Happiness is dark chocolate, good friends, and clean clothes from the dryer.
It's clear that the meaning of happiness varies from person to person. In fact, I bet you've found that happiness even changes over time.
Whatever your happiness is – do you believe happiness is a choice? This question tends to spark disagreement even among experts. There are countless external variables that influence mood - however according to Tal Ben Shahar - "part of it is choice, part of it is innate... and the part that is choice is the choice to work hard at it." Now that I fully agree with. Happiness can be worked towards. Happiness can be something you do. Happiness can be something you can practice.
So what happiness habits do you have? Habits matter. If you've ever tried breaking a bad habit, you know all too well how engrained they are. Good habits are also deeply engrained. Below are a list of happiness habits - if some of these create added stress or just don't fit your lifestyle, ditch them. Over time you’ll know what works for you!
Smile. We smile because we're happy - and smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us happier! Also, breathe, slow and deep breathing can help reduce stress.
Exercise. While we know exercise reduces stress, anxiety and depression - it also boosts self-esteem and happiness. Consider what you eat - carbohydrates release serotonin - and choosing complex carbs can help you avoid a crash while still providing serotonin. Protein-rich foods release dopamine and norepinephrine - which boost energy and concentration.
Avoid Comparison. Comparison often leaves you feeling more discontent and lowers your self-esteem. Practice Gratitude. It can have significant impact on feelings of hope and happiness.
Declutter. Set aside 20 minutes a week - think simplicity.
Acknowledge the Unhappy Moments. Don't pretend to be happy. Acknowledge the feelings of unhappiness in the moment, then shift your focus on towards what made you feel this way and what it might take to recover. Let the moment pass - and remember - no one's happy all the time.
Plan fun. See friends - connection and social relationships can make us happy. Plan your week - having structure to your weeks can make you feel more intentional and accomplished. Take yourself our - spending deliberate time alone can help you reconnect with the activities that make you happy. Give back - compliments or helping out supports happiness. Get out in nature - spending time outdoors can help lower blood pressure and the changes of developing depression.
Plan a trip. Not only does the vacation itself reduce stress, but the weeks leading up to that planned trip can have similar effects.
Lastly, consider therapy!