“Am I happy?” Some questions have their answer firmly embedded in them. It’s kinda like, Well, if you even have to ask… This can be super convenient if we don’t stumble over the simplicity of it, but sometimes the most obvious things in life are the ones we miss.
When I’ve been happy, I don’t ask myself if I’m happy- I’m busy just enjoying being happy. If I’ve had to pause and ask myself if I’m happy, if that question has somehow bubbled up to the surface, if it continually pops up in my quieter moments, well, if you even have to ask…
I don’t even know how to define “happy.” You’ve never wondered if you were happy and reached for a dictionary. You’ve got your own lived definition. I think the best I can do is that, for me, it typically is the absence of other negative feelings- it’s when I don’t feel anxious, stressed, sad, angry, lonely, bitter, or jealous.
That’s actually a huge disservice to happiness. (Sorry, but as I said, when I’m happy, I don’t think about being happy.) How do you define it? Like most people, I kinda know it when I feel it. But I really know it when I don’t.
Oddly enough, we’ve formally studied depression, anger, loneliness – basically, the absence of happiness – for centuries. Plot twist! It has been relatively recently, only in the past couple of decades, that we have turned a scientific eye toward studying happiness itself. Turns out that happiness isn’t just the absence of other, negative feelings, but happiness actually is a thing in and of itself! Best of all – happiness is a HABIT!
If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, you know the power that habits can have over us. But that power can also be used for GOOD! Below are some research-tested ways to make a habit out of happiness.
Cultivate the habits of…
- Sleeping Well. Most adults need between 7-8 hours. (I know, I laughed, too.) We are so busy, we believe we can’t afford to get 7-8 hours of sleep. The reality is that sleeping is when our brain does important stuff and we can’t afford to NOT get good sleep.
- Eating Right. This can be a tough one because eating is one of many people’s Unhappy Coping Mechanisms. Remember, we are a walking chemistry set. Our brains need GOOD food to help it make Happy Chemicals. Junk food makes us feel good for a bit but then we crash. Go with complex carbs like veggies, beans, and whole grains. Foods high in protein boost our dopamine and norepinephrine levels and give us energy, help us concentrate, and help us feel happy. Highly-processed foods, deep-fried foods, and especially skipping meals, make us feel blue.
- Being Grateful. A two-part study showed that taking time to quiet yourself each day and rehearse just five things you are grateful for will boost the Happy Chemicals in your brain.
- Helping Others. Another study of happiness showed that helping someone else feels good! More Happy Chemicals! (And it helps us from fixating on our own problems for a bit.)
- Exercising. Don’t let this one intimidate you! According to research, it can be as simple as a walk around the block during your lunch break or after dinner. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and many symptoms of depression.
- Getting Outside. You can combine this with exercise or literally just sit outside a while. Fresh air, sunlight, and getting into nature have all been shown to boost our Happy Chemicals.
- Acknowledging Unhappiness. Nobody expects you to plaster a big fake stupid grin on your face when you find out that you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. There is a big difference between acknowledging an unhappy feeling and choosing to camp out there. Choose to lean into Life’s setbacks and turn them into motivation for something positive.
- Calling in the Professionals. You’ve just read a lot about Happy Chemicals in your brain. One happiness researcher claims that happiness can be up to 50% genetic. If you are cultivating happy habits but still not feeling it, that might be a signal to call in the pros. Talk to your doctor about your overall health and don’t be afraid to set up a counseling appointment to explore other approaches.
Happiness isn’t just something that happens to some people and it is way more than just the absence of negative feelings. Happiness is a habit, one you can start TODAY! Am I happy? Glad you asked!