Don't Worry Be Happy

Dr. Purushothaman
January 18, 2014


Remember that song? It was quite popular back in the late '80s, and still hearing it today, makes me smile (click herhappe if you'd like to see a little cartoon and hear the jingle). Although the song had a catchy beat, I am guessing it was also its simple message that resonated with so many people, contributing to its immense popularity and widespread appeal. We all want to feel less worry and angst and more joy and happiness.
Yet somehow, despite that fact, this isn't the case for many of us. I hear it all the time and I have also felt it myself: "I will be happy when..." OR "I was happy in the past when..." Happiness, for many, is either a distant memory or a fantasy of what the future may hold "if only". And unfortunately, it often doesn't feel like a "reality" in our present lives.
So what is happiness anyway?
It turns out, happiness is quite hard to define. It's more of an internal feeling - we know when we have it and we know when we don' have it, but it's hard to put into words. In my google search under "definition for happiness," I came up with over 300,000 links. Although I didn't read them all, I found many of them worthwhile, yet very few exactly the same!
When I think about happiness, here's what comes to mind: inner contentment; an inner feeling of joy, zest, wellbeing or aliveness that exists when you are fully engaged in the pursuit of something meaningful; when you are fully connected with yourself.
How do you define happiness? Do you know what truly makes you happy? Can you remember the last time you really felt it?
Why pursue happiness anyway?
Really, in times of stress at home, in the economy and in the world, why should we even attempt to experience happiness?
Well, it turns out, cultivating happiness is not just some "feel good" concept that sounds nice. Cultivating happiness - and experiencing happiness - is a worthy goal that will not only enhance how you feel, but according to research done by Positive Psychology experts, happiness has many other valuable benefits, as well. Happy people have been shown to be more productive and more creative; to have stronger social supports; and to live longer and healthier lives! (as someone focused on health, that last one really hit home with me).
I would also add that happy people may more positively impact others as well. Although I haven't done any formal research on this, it makes sense: The better we feel about ourselves, the more we truly want to improve the conditions of others. I have seen powerful evidence for this in my own life and in the lives of many others.
So how do I get more of this happiness feeling?
Although many of us believe that happiness will come with a certain achievement, a certain amount of money, a certain body weight or size, or a certain material "thing," studies have shown that these short-term activities or achievements, although they feel good temporarily, do not necessarily lead to fulfillment or long-term happiness.
Interesting that we may be barking up the wrong tree. (No, it's not in that new dress, the skinny body, or even the sleeve of a box of oreos. Those things do feel great temporarily, but aren't going to lead to long-term happiness).
Yes, exercising or eating the right foods for your body, for example, can absolutely improve your mood and help you feel more confident. And the opposite is also true (and perhaps even more useful): If we pursue an inner sense of happiness, we may more quickly and permanently be able to sustain a healthy, fit body and a satisfying relationship with food. (When we feel great, we may not NEED that third bowl of ice-cream or the rest of the bag of crackers).
So what do we know about getting more happiness in our lives? Well, studies show that although genetics and life circumstances (gender, race, economic status) together may account for about 60 % of our level of happiness, the remaining 40% is in our own control.
As a worrier by nature, from a family with, shall we say, its fair share of serotonin deficiencies, I find this an enormous relief! There is TONS I can do (and have done) to counteract my "set point" and there is plenty YOU can do, too, to reset YOUR happiness "set point."
Want to give it a try? Pick one of the following suggestions each week and notice how it shifts your own happiness setpoint:
1) Instead of focusing on what's wrong with you and what you don't do well, focus on your strengths. What do you know you do well? USE THOSE STRENGTHS as often as possible.
2) You've heard this before from me, but it's always worth repeating: PRACTICE GRATITUDE daily. If you're a "glass half-empty" type, this may take some practice. Notice what's going right in your life and acknowledge it. (For my article specifically focused on gratitude, click here - it's one of my favorites)
3) Do things that you feel enthusiasm and excitement about. What turns you on? Do more of it! Get in the flow...
4) Help others. It always feels good to reach out to others in need. This is a huge value of mine, however, a word of warning to those of you who (like me) may give to others at the expense of yourself: You MUST be of service to others from a place of solid service to yourself first.
5) Find meaning. For some, this may be a connection to a higher source or some aspect of spirituality. For others, it may mean simply doing things that FILL YOU UP and add fulfillment to your life. What is it that truly feeds your soul? As you take charge of increasing your happiness, notice what else begins to change in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised. As always, I love to hear your thoughts! Let me know if this article resonated with you. Share with me what you've found contributes to your own happiness and wellbeing.
As you take charge of increasing your happiness, notice what else begins to change in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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