When it comes to living happily ever after, there’s good news and there’s not-so-good news. The good news – happily ever after is possible – at least that’s what I believe.
The not-so-good news – we’ve got to put in some effort; there’s no yellow brick road guaranteed to lead us there and Emerald City does not hold the answers.
Dorothy, the cowardly lion and the rest of them already tried – treking all the way to Emerald City only to find that Oz, the Great and Powerful didn’t have what they thought they needed to be happy. They had it all along!
It’s the same with us. I truly believe that we already have what it takes to be happy – it just needs a little effort – well . . . a lot of effort.
So to pick up from where I left off, here are three more life-long habits worth developing.
Habit #3: Smiling
I’ve tried it. Believe me. It works. There’s this thing called ‘facial feedback.’ According to the guys and gals who dabble in positive psychology, the expression on our outsides, reflect the expression on our insides, AND, influences them as well. Happiness makes you smile and smiling makes you happy.
It doesn’t even have to be a real-real smile! (Although a genuine smile works better). Happiness researchers found that even a fake smile can lessen stress and make you feel happier.
A word of caution though, it’s definitely not a good idea to totally deny negative feelings. Just put them on hold for a while – long enough to let yourself concentrate on getting your mouth to smile. Think of Wonderland’s Cheshire cat if you must. Sounds silly? Doesn’t matter. Try it.
The first time I tried, it felt so ridiculous, that I actually smiled at the way I must have looked. That was just long enough to break a fall into full blown depression – at least for a while. I’ve tucked that trick into my utility belt for use in case of future emergencies.
Now a real smile (what experts call a ‘Duchenne smile’), has the added benefit of making the people around you feel better too. Be honest, when you pass a workmate in the hallways and he or she looks you in the eye and genuinely smiles at you, doesn’t it give you a lift?
Even a photo of a smiling face can do the trick sometimes. So pencil ‘three smiles a day’ into your schedule. Practice smiling for people, even if they don’t respond (or look at you like they think you’re crazy). You might be surprised by the result.
Habit #4: Connecting
“Family relationships and our close private life are more important than any other single factor affecting our happiness.” Richard Layard
If you’re like me, there are times when you are totally laid-up. Friends and relatives pop by or call – at first – but eventually, contact trickles off. You begin to feel forgotten, like your existence never really mattered and you’re forced to face the reality that the world easily spins without you – doesn’t even miss a beat. Translation – toxic situation – a speeding train headed away from happy-town.
The thing is, we are biologically geared for social contact – designed to feel happier when engaged in social interactions. Counter-measure: reach out to family, friends, workmates, heck, even strangers! (social media is wonderful that way).
So this is what we can do:
- Make the effort to stay in touch with the people who matter.
- Make friends with shared interests and beliefs (join a club, organization, online community)
- Don’t be the passive listener or empty blabber. Dig into meaningful conversations (small talk won’t quite do the trick).
- Share ‘happy-tales’ and positive experiences too – no need to be bashful. That way, you get to relive the experience, vamp up your pleasure and theirs too. A two-for-one deal, no more like a three-for-one.
- Find reasons to get close friends together – don’t wait for birthdays or holidays. Plan a ‘lime’ (hang out)!
Being part of a happy group of friends – Sweet! It can only strengthen your support network.
And if you happen to be laid-up, don’t let that limit you. Alone doesn’t necessarily mean lonely. With all the technology around, you can be part of almost anything without leaving home!
Habit #5: Giving
Compassion is “the best kept secret to happiness and health.” Psychology Today.
Do something for someone; volunteer your services. Make it all about kindness, caring and the willingness to help.
Follow Morgan Freeman’s (character God in the 2007 movie Evan Almighty) advice and practice ARK – Acts of Random Kindness. It’ll make people around you happy and that will make you even happier.
The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. And the way to be happy is to make someone happy and we’ll have a little heaven right here. (children’s song).
Ok, before you even start to object, let’s remember that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not our offenders. It is not about letting abusers off the hook. It’s about letting go feelings of anger and resentment that can knock the bottom out of your happiness.
And I mean more than just using the words “thank you.” I mean practicing an attitude of gratitude, constantly reminding ourselfves of all the things and people that we are thankful for.
You may even want to try keeping a ‘gratitude Journal,’ a simple, single entry each day; something you are grateful for (no comparisons, no repetitions). Just taking the time to think about and appreciate what you have, can increase optimism and overall happiness.
I personally like the idea of a ‘gratitude jar.’ Just a slight variation. You put the entries in a glass jar so that as the days go by you can see your favors piling up – a tangible way to ‘count your blessings.’
So it turns out, ‘Happy-ever-after’ is not in a pot at the end of the rainbow. There is no final destination to reach, after which we just cruise around, no effort required.
And I don’t mean to sound all philosophical, but really, endurable happiness is a lifelong journey. It takes persistent effort to develop and maintain the positive habits that sustain happiness.
Interesting Short Talks
The Hidden Power of Smiling
Social Interaction and The ‘Bliss’ Molecule
Oprah’s Gratitude Journal
Ten Scientifically Proven ways to be Incredibly Happy – Jeff Haden in inc.com
Gratitude: the Antidote for painful Feelings and Fuel for Happiness – Jo Ritchie in TinyBuddha.com
Does Smiling make you Happy – Julia Layton in Science: How Stuff Works.