Welcome to part 3, the last of my series, The Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness. If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2, please do. They are loaded with great tips as well. I broke this into three posts so readers would have a chance to digest each recommendation. Each one is important, and each one will work at increasing your happiness.
This is the more controversial of the three posts. As with parts 1 and 2, this post has a lot of good information. Some may not agree with everything, and may even have something against what I say, but give it a chance. Read it over, think about each point. You don’t have to agree with everything…these suggestions still work (although the verdict is still out on having kids) but they have to work for you, your personality and your beliefs. Here are the recommendations making up part 3 of The Ultimate Quick Guide to Increased Happiness. Please pass this on.
Explore ways to relax – meditation techniques and yoga
Although it’s changing, there is a fear in some out there of both yoga and meditation. I’ve heard it said in response to recommending yoga, that it is a “slippery slope.” To where they think they might slide…I’m not sure.
Neither yoga or meditation are religions. They are techniques…practices. Meditation is the practice of slowing down, of taking time to not worry, to not be distracted, to enjoy the moment. There are many benefits of learning the principles and techniques of mindful meditation. By learning to focus on our breathing, we can calm ourselves in stressful situations so we can react appropriately. It can also help us focus on what’s important. A technique can be as simple as taking a slow deep breath while counting to five, then exhaling counting to three, and repeating this five times, thinking about the sensation of breathing while you are doing it. Try it. There are many good books and blog posts written on different techniques.
Yoga is a mindful exercise. I would even argue that it could be one of the most well rounded, most efficient, and beneficial exercises we can do. It often employs some of the meditative techniques during and at the end of a session. Start with beginners yoga and don’t get discouraged. We all have to start somewhere.
Slow down and enjoy the moment
Be aware, and present…thinking about what we are seeing and how we are interpreting what’s going on around us. Whether you’re playing with your kids, cooking dinner, or talking to your spouse, try and focus on what you are doing right then and there. Put your concerns aside about all the things you have to do, all the things that stress us out, and enjoy what you are doing.
Try to think the best of people
If something is said or done that could be interpreted in more than one way, try and give the person the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be naive and don’t be a doormat, but when ever possible, think the best of people.
There are times when being a pet owner can be stressful, frustrating, expensive, and a lot of work, however, pets have an amazing way of lifting our spirits. The wag of a dog’s tail as you rub it’s head, the purr of a cat as it makes bread in your lap, fish coming to the surface when you feed them…they remind us that we make a difference. This is an important ingredient for achieving and maintaining happiness.
There are many people we come across who have been through a lot. Whether it’s an elder, a veteran, someone who is trying their best, or someone who is just trying to get by. It may simply be someone who has been around and seen things we haven’t. Show them the respect they deserve. Slow down. Don’t rush them. Listen to what they have to say. Learn from them. It will likely make their day…and yours.
I throw this one in because it’s mentioned a lot in articles about happiness. There are some studies which support a notion that people who are spiritual are happier. I would suggest that it is not as important that we be religious or spiritual, but instead, that we be content with our beliefs in that area. We should all explore what spirituality means to us personally and continue to ask questions until we are content with our beliefs.
Be Organized…Intentional Living
I’ve had a number of periods in my life when I’ve felt overwhelmed…bogged down by overcommitments, deadlines, and demands on my time and mental energy. The more things pile up, the more we become stressed, scattered, and fragmented in our though processes, and at the same time, we become less productive. It’s a terrible feeling, but sadly, it’s all too common. It is human nature to desire some degree of control in our lives. If we feel we’ve lost this, hopelessness sets in.
One of the best ways to combat this is to be organized. Spend some time, every day, planning. What do you want to accomplish tomorrow? What about in the next week? What projects do you have hanging over you and what is the smallest next-action step that will move you forward on each. There are many great books on this. Even a little time organizing will lead to greater satisfaction in your accomplishments, give you more control over your life, less stress, and more happiness. Think of it as intentional living.
Like spirituality, I’m mentioning this one because the topic of kids is often discussed in happiness books. It might come as a surprise that current research suggests that having kids makes us miserable. Well, okay…maybe not miserable, or at least not all the time…but couples with kids rate their happiness significantly lower than couples without kids. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there is no rebound. As far as I’ve found in the available research, there is no payback…our happiness returns to the same level as those that don’t have kids…once the kids move out! Sorry to break the mythical illusion passed down from generation to generation, that having kids is fantastic.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “I thought you were recommending we have kids.” I do, because I believe the research is flawed. It hasn’t been researched closely enough yet. Anyone who has had kids knows it is hard…in fact, it is damn hard, but it is rewarding. I believe that with kids, we have higher highs and lower lows. If you can ride out the lows, the rewards are like nothing I’ve experienced before. To watch your child take their first steps…okay, you’re still be in the zombie years then and just want to go to bed, but later…to watch them score a basket in basketball, to see the excitement in their eyes, to see them joking around with friends, to have them look up to you…you can’t explain the feeling. So I say to ignore the research we have so far, and continue to perpetuate what may turn out to be the greatest myth in human history.
Limit the things that bring you down
1. Beware the effects of the news.
If you are sensitive to what you hear and what is going on around you…and all of us are to some extent, limit how much of the news you are exposed to. This might seem unreasonable to some…like poking your head in the sand. However, mainstream news is inflammatory and designed to stimulate fear and concern, and is almost all negative. You do not need it. Believe me, if something important is happening, you’ll hear about it. You can quickly skim internet feeds if you want a brief, controlled summary, reducing some of the impact on your stress level. Also give some consideration to greatly reducing how much television you watch, altogether.
2. Limit the time you spend with people who are bringing you down.
This might sound selfish, but is it really? Think of all the people you come in contact with. Your partner, kids, family, co-workers…these are all people you can have a positive impact on. You need to have the mental energy to be there. Given the power of mindful actions, of acts of kindness, of being aware of how you can help each of these people by being present and happy, ask yourself, can we really afford to be brought down? I’m not saying don’t be there for someone in need, but I am saying be careful how much of yourself you donate to things that bring you down.
3. Limit your Debt
Debt has to be one of the greatest stressors in today’s society. Be careful to keep it under control.
There you have it…the ultimate guide to increasing happiness. Concrete tools to implement. I suggest you try as many as you can. Review these strategies regularly. Print this out. Pin it at work, and at home. Bookmark it on your computer or tablet. Go back to it. Re-read it. Keep a Happiness journal mentioned in Part 1. Start watching and being aware of your thoughts, and what is influencing them. Implement as many of these strategies, as consistently as you can, for one month. Then report back here and comment on your progress.
Please let me know what you think. Do you think these strategies make any difference? Do you think we have any control over our happiness?
Wishing you well,
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Image from Philippe Put on Flickr