What do huge organizations like Google, FedEx, Harvard University and the American Army have in common? They have all acknowledged the benefits of promoting happiness in their institutions and use Positive Psychology (the study of well being) techniques to bring out the best in their communities. Advocates of this relatively new science explain that all of us can learn these proven methods to awaken self-confidence and pleasure in our lives. Below are four ways you too can begin your journey to a healthier and happier life.
Giving our selves the permission to be human and experiencing all of our emotions including fear, anger and dis-appointment is what Tal Ben-Shahar co-founder of Wholebeing Institute explains as the basis for human happiness. Often times we try to push negative emotions away. Unfortunately this is as useful as asking someone not to think of the pink polar bear in the living room. The more we avoid uncomfortable emotions the more present and the stronger they become. That is how the human brain is wired. Recognizing, then accepting them (not wishing they would go away) is what allows them to pass through us and eventually subside. Unconditional acceptance of ourselves not only gives us permission to be more human it opens our hearts to a fuller range of happy emotions.
Do Less Do Better
It’s important to ask ourselves if we are investing in the activities that will give us the highest return on our time and energy. Most of our days are stretched so thin that feelings of over-whelm and burnout has become the norm. This results in depression at worst and a loss of enjoyment with life at best. If we learn to take time for recovery between activities we will become more focused and productive on the next project. Make time to think about what matters most and explore all options before deciding on a project. Understand that it’s impossible to do everything and trade-offs are unavoidable. Quantity in life effects quality and quality effects happiness.
Make your Move
If you’re feeling un-enthusiastic about life and cant wait for the day to be over, start moving your body! There are hundreds of studies proving the correlation between physical activity and a greater sense of well-being. Among many other life changing benefits, regular exercise reduces stress, depression, improves peak performance and even sets the foundation for a happy sex life. It has also been shown that women who exercise thirty min’s per day/four days a week are 30% less likely to develop cognitive decline. It is not necessary to be training for a 5K nor does it take months to feel results. The mood changing effects of exercise are same day, according to the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology. Exercising just a little bit more than we’re used to releases those feel great neurotransmitters called endorphins. For more on the connection between physical activity and its benefits, see Spark by John Ratey, MD.
Practicing mindfulness and mindfulness mediation increases happiness and decreases stress. It is intentionally becoming aware of the present moment as it is unfolding- free of judgment. The idea is to dis-engage our minds from it’s automatic thought patterns “doing mode” by utilizing all of our senses so we can enter a more peaceful state known as the “being mode.” We can practice mindfulness while participating in everyday activities like driving to work, speaking with friends or chopping onions. When taking a shower for example listen to the soothing sound of the water, look at the soft lather forming on your hands, pay attention to how that feels on your fingers, smell the scent of your favorite lavender shampoo and savor the warmth of the water hugging your back. Consistent daily practice of mindfulness meditation will nurture inner calmness and non-reactivity of the mind. This will promote a deeper experience with ourselves and those we share our lives with. For additional information on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, see Mindfulness for Beginners by John Kabat-Zinn or The Art of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Positive Psychology practices like the four described above has made it possible for everyday people to understand and have access to scientifically proven techniques that enhance and promote a happier life. Accepting all of our human emotions, identifying what’s most essential, engaging in physical activity and practicing mindfulness are some of the significant catalysts that will set you on your path to sustainable smiles.