By Veena Prasad, PhD, MBA, LPC, behavioral health counselor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Office for Graduate Medical Education
We all want to feel happy. In fact, finding “happiness” has become a billion-dollar industry with books, lectures, courses and research dedicated to that Holy Grail of feelings.
It’s no wonder so many people are interested in this subject. Happiness offers many benefits including reduced stress levels, improved connectivity with others, improved meaning in our lives and an improved sense of accomplishment.
But what does “happiness” really mean? How we define it varies from person to person. You may define it as having a productive day. Another person may define it as having a meaningful interaction. And yet another, may find it in something as simple as a loved one’s smile. Finding moments of happiness comes down to being present and recognizing those moments.
It’s also important to look at happiness as a journey, not a destination. It’s not external. It’s within us. We just have to be open to finding it, experiencing it and building on it. It’s a state of mind. It’s about focusing on the positive and taking negative experiences in stride.
While life can be full of negative experiences, it’s within your power to frame how you view them. Consider taking a positive nugget from a negative experience, perhaps an insight you gained that will provide an opportunity to grow. Focusing on that nugget can bring you toward positivity.
Keeping in mind that happiness is a journey, here are six ways to help you on the road to fostering happiness.
Feeling connected to your family, friends, colleagues, the people with whom you worship and neighbors, is very important. In fact, feeling connected is the biggest predictor of feeling happy.
Showing compassion to others even if you feel they may not deserve it can foster a positive state of mind. In the Dalai Lama’s words, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Compassion isn’t only relegated to others. It’s important to show yourself compassion as well.
Gratitude is a positive emotion that brings positive feelings in us. It’s also a positive expression that validates others by being available to them, accepting them as they are and extending appreciation to them. For example, if a colleague did a great job on a project, taking time to provide a genuine acknowledgement of their great work can make their day and yours.
An important part of feeling gratitude is taking the time to think about what you’re grateful for and why. A convenient time for this is at night. Sit with yourself, maybe during meditation or mindfulness, and take stock of all the things you accomplished during the day and the things for which you are grateful. You can be grateful for a person, an experience or an interaction. Writing these items in a journal can help solidify your thoughts and bring them into focus. If it’s easier, consider recording your grateful thoughts on your phone and listening to the recording. Afterward, you can delete it or save it if you choose. You can also talk into your computer in speech mode if that’s more convenient. Finding ways to reinforce what you’re grateful for enables you to actively think about the meaningful moments you had during the day and truly appreciate them.
Meaning and purpose.
Finding meaning and purpose in what we do can cultivate a feeling of fulfillment in us. For example, if you helped a colleague at work and they acknowledged it, you may feel a sense of joy and fulfillment. As you take stock at the end of the day, try to also find what brought meaning and purpose to you that day. Even the smallest of accomplishments can bring a sense of purpose. Perhaps you let a customer go ahead of you in line at the grocery story. Or, you picked up an item that someone dropped and could see how grateful they were. Little moments like these can add up. Before you know it, you’ll have a list of items that can bring meaning and purpose to you each day.
Feeling that you have control over your actions is very important. Even children as young as three or four want autonomy because it’s ingrained in all of us. When you feel a lack of autonomy, there are ways to carve out moments that are important to you. For example, if you’re at work and feel you don’t have as much control over your time, you can still carve out a few moments for yourself. Maybe take 10 minutes to visit with a colleague. Making that time can make all the difference.
It’s within your power to create your ideas for achieving a sense of happiness. A great resource to help with this is the PERMA model developed by positive psychology pioneer Martin Seligman, PhD. The model includes five elements for psychological well-being – positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments/achievements. Give it a try!
Even if you have little time to spend with your loved ones, friends or colleagues, try to be totally present when you do spend time with them. Being present also extends to you when you’re by yourself. Practicing mindfulness or meditating can help you reflect on what you’re feeling and bring context to your experiences.
Each of the above elements are interdependent. So please enjoy the journey and be present, because it’s in the small pockets of experiences that we have each day that we can find our own joy.
To learn more about overall wellness, listen to Ripples: A Podcast from The Wellness Home, where co-hosts Adriana Dyurich, PhD, LPC and Veena Prasad, PhD, MBA, LPC invite UT Health San Antonio faculty as guests to share their own experiences, provide tips for overall wellness and create a safe space to discuss coping with stressors.