As a psychologist, I am excited for the opportunity to write about happiness. I mean, what better topic for a mental health professional to write about than being happy, right? It’s strange, though, because in writing about happiness, I have realized that this is probably one of the most difficult topics to succinctly discuss. Why? Well, simply put, happiness is complicated. And humans are not wired to be happy–we’re programmed to survive. This means our brains are programmed to look for problems so that they can be addressed.
So what does this mean? It means that if we want to be happy, we have to work at it. Just like people who have healthy bodies have good eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, happy people have good mental health habits. The important aspect of any healthy habit is for it to occur on a regular basis (of course no one is perfect, but basically these habits are happening more often than not).
here are some habits you may want to consider:
- Be Present
For many of us, the majority of the time our minds are focused on something other than what’s happening right here and now. When we’re driving, we might be thinking about what will happen when we “arrive”. When we’re trying to go to sleep, we might be reviewing our day in our head or thinking about the future.
But what about what is happening in the present time? What if we slow down and intentionally take time to notice things in the moment? When we’re driving, maybe we notice how green the trees are or see a pedestrian smiling at their child. When we’re going to sleep, perhaps we take time to appreciate a cool breeze from the window or the softness of the sheets. By taking time to notice the things around us, we might begin to appreciate them and feel gratitude and contentedness in an individual moment. Doing this on a regular basis means more positive moments throughout the day.
- Consider What You are Focusing On
That being said, when we take time to notice, we could also notice things that are unpleasant such as a nagging pain in our back, unpleasant people, or garbage in our favourite park. We have choices when it comes to these unpleasant observations. One option is to redirect our focus to something more pleasant (e.g. distract from the pain using a favourite activity or entertainment). Another option is to address the concern (e.g. pick up the garbage and appreciate the positive impact we had on the aesthetic of the park). A third option is to remind ourselves that there is both good and bad in the world (e.g. recall people who have been kind to others). Whatever you choose, use intention in managing where your mind is going and learn what works best for you to refocus it.
- Play as Hard as You Work
One of the questions I often ask my clients (especially those who are experiencing high levels of stress) is what hobbies they pursue. The most frequent answer is that people do not take (or make) time for hobbies as they are seen to be an unproductive use of time. However, research consistently shows that many of life’s activities (e.g. working, commuting, taking care of a household, etc.) take energy to complete. It is vital that we rebuild this energy. One way to do this is to pursue an extracurricular activity that you find rewarding. The more energy you have and the more pleasant experiences in your week, the more likely you are to experience positive emotions such as happiness and contentment.
For more information, check out this article:
- Take Care of your Body, Mind, Social Life, and Spirit
Our emotional lives are closely connected with how the rest of our “system” is doing. We can make significant improvements to our emotional experience by making sure that:
- Our body is active, rested, and has the nutrients it needs
- Our minds are compassionate, realistic, and balanced
- We have supportive people in our lives who respect our boundaries (which we are able to assertively communicate)
- We care for our spirit in whatever way fits for us (e.g. religion, contemplation, curiosity)