Perhaps you unconsciously buy into these happiness myths, as described by Dr Russ Harris* (who created ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy):
Happiness myth number 1
That if we have food, water, shelter and friends our natural state will be happiness.
The reality is that our normal state is everchanging.
Just like the weather, you don’t expect it to be sunny all the time. And as humans, we feel a range of emotions. It’s natural to feel anxious when you are experiencing a challenging situation with an uncertain outcome, happiness when you are enjoying something you love doing, sadness when you experience a disappointment.
Happiness myth number 2
That happiness is all about feeling good and pleasurable.
So it’s not just pleasure, love, joy but also tension, conflict, difficulty. Sometimes we try to shut out all emotions and this leads to us becoming numb – we end up not feeling anything and this certainly doesn’t make us happy.
Happiness is not some goal to reach, rather, especially with your mindfulness practice, becoming more aware when you are feeling it!
Happiness myth number 3
The idea that if you’re not happy then there is something wrong with you.
We think that we need to be fixed – perhaps medication can do the trick. Most often we all put on a good show of being upbeat when we’re in company. Just a reminder to us all – it’s OK that we all experience less than happy feelings quite often.
The reality is that life is challenging. It can be tough. Feeling happy is simply one of many feelings we experience in any given day.
We can choose happiness
Shawn Achor** talks about how happiness is linked to the way we perceive the world. 90% of our long-term happiness is connected with how our brains process everything. So our minds play a big part in directing happy, joyous thoughts and the meaning we give to our lives.
This is in contrast to believing that happiness can be pursued and found outside of ourselves, through wealth, material goods, outside appearances etc.
Happiness therefore can be a choice. We are able to elicit our body’s capacity to release endorphins (feel-good hormones) by choosing our thoughts and actions.
5 Simple Happiness Habits – AKA living from the heart
1 Gratitude & Appreciation
Gratitude changes your vibrational frequency. What you appreciate increases in value so the more you nurture your gratitude, the more you become aware of it. It’s like deciding to wear some lenses that point out more of the good things that were there all along. Only now you can see them!
Some people believe that they’ve been born with the ‘grumpy’ gene or are destined to always be anxious – gratitude is a skill that can really make a difference here.
Yet it takes a daily practice. We’re not wiping out ‘grumpiness’ or anxiety. We’re simply becoming more aware that these negative habits have sometimes become just that – habits. They can be deeply entrenched.
Start with small steps such as thinking of 3 things you’re thankful for each morning when you first wake up.
Or last thing at night jot down your blessings from the day. It’s a lovely way to drift off to sleep remembering the good things. A personal notebook for this will do the trick, and is also a good place to journal about yourself as you go deeper within.
And if you’re struggling to think of good things – simply ask yourself if you are willing to actively appreciate tiny things in your day. Simple pleasures might include stopping to look out of the window to view the clouds, dancing to a tune on the radio, putting everything aside to enjoy a cup of tea etc. Notice that you can start looking out for moments of appreciation where before they would have passed you by.
And as Rob Brezny*** says:
2 Small acts of kindness
a) Leave a happy note for someone else to find eg the café, the carpark
b) Buy some extra items and donate them to a local foodbank
c) Buy a copy of Big Issue and/or pay on for a stranger’s hot drink at a coffee shop
d) Pick up some litter as you walk outside today
3 Connection with others
a) Make a conscious effort to say thank you to others. It could be a quick email or tweet message, a phone-call or text or face to face interaction.
And sometimes we forget about the people closest to us – our family who we live with every day. Notice how often we’re quick to find fault. Instead, value them and actually tell them you love them/are grateful/they did a good job etc!
b) Make a point of smiling and/or saying hello to strangers as you go about your day. Many people are willing to smile right back at you given the cue! They might also be feeling under the weather, just like you, but one of you has made a difference for a second!
Our bodies are designed to keep us happy and healthy.
When you run, dance, walk or any physical activity that you enjoy, your body produces the endorphin ‘Dopamine’. It flows through your body and you feel good!
Invest in a daily exercise habit since it reminds you that you matter. This in turn feeds into feelings of optimism and self-value.
5 Meditation of course!
Spend some time daily being still. This lets you connect deeply within. Imagine you are moving out of the attic (your mind) filled with ‘stuff’ and with each slow breath, enter into a calm, tranquil space. This is a room deep within you, your sanctuary. Sit and nurture feelings of peace and tranquility.
Happiness spreads – if you’re in a good mood, those around you may well be influenced, and likewise if you are in a bad mood, ditto!
Nurturing our happiness not only helps us feel good, but it helps to create a better world. Don’t get hung up about the word ‘happiness’ if it doesn’t sit well with you. Think of it as an open-hearted feeling, alongside qualities of good-humour, compassion, kindness and courage.
Enjoy your happiness!
*The 3 Happiness Myths from Russ Harris ACT – A collection of free animation resources
**Shawn Achor’s TED Talk
***Pronoia: How the whole world is conspiring to shower you with blessings by Rob Brezsny
Mindfulness & Meditation Courses at Place of Serenity – we explore happiness as part of our courses, it’s not about stoicism and sackcloth!
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Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Guide