The Keys to Happiness

I was talking with a good friend the other day about how some people just can’t seem to be happy, regardless of their circumstances, and others seem to generally be happy, regardless of circumstances.  We both agreed that happiness is, at its core, a choice.  As I reflected further on this statement, I found an article on Becoming Minimalist that followed right along with many of the things we discussed.  I will again try the “copy and paste” approach, but you can read the original article here.  As before, my comments are in blue.

12 Intentional Actions to Choose Happiness Today


“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” —Abraham Lincoln

Happy people realize happiness is a choice. They are not held hostage by their circumstances and they do not seek happiness in people or possessions. They understand that when we stop chasing the world’s definition of happiness, we begin to see the decision to experience happiness has been right in front of us all along. Research in the field of positive psychology continues to reinforce this understanding.

But simply knowing that happiness is a choice is not enough. Fully experiencing it still requires a conscience decision to do so each day.

  • I’ve said it several times, and I will continue to repeat–it is not a one-time deal, choosing to be happy.  Not in your job, in your marriage, or any other task or relationship.  It takes a conscious decision on a regular basis to CHOOSE joy instead of dwelling on the negative.  

How then might each of us begin to experience this joy?

Consider this list of 12 Intentional Actions to Choose Happiness Today. Embrace one new action item… practice all of them… or simply use them as inspiration to discover your own.

1. Count your blessings. Happy people choose to focus on the positive aspects of life rather than the negative. They set their minds on specific reasons to be grateful. They express it when possible. And they quickly discover there is always, always, something to be grateful for.

  • Thankfulness is a fundamental requirement for contentment.  We cannot be content if we are always fretting over what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do.

2. Carry a smile. A smile is a wonderful beautifier. But more than that, studies indicate that making an emotion-filled face carries influence over the feelings processed by the brain. Our facial expression can influence our brain in just the same way our brains influence our face. In other words, you can actually program yourself to experience happiness by choosing to smile. Not to mention, all the pretty smiles you’ll receive in return for flashing yours is also guaranteed to increase your happiness level.

  • It’s remarkable how this works.  It’s actually possible to improve your mood merely by this simple action of choosing to smile.  This is not some fake grimace, people.  Even people going through some pretty dark hours should be able to come up with something that can bring a smile to their face, even better if you can offer that smile, no matter how small, to someone else.  Then you also reap the benefits of the high probability that the smile will be returned, even by a complete stranger.

3. Speak daily affirmation into your life. Affirmations are positive thoughts accompanied with affirmative beliefs and personal statements of truth. They are recited in the first person, present tense (“I am…”). Affirmations used daily can release stress, build confidence, and improve outlook. For maximum effectiveness, affirmations should be chosen carefully, be based in truth, and address current needs. Here is a list of 100 daily affirmations to help you get started.

  • While I’m not generally one of those mystical “hug yourself” kind of people, I definitely think it’s a good idea to ponder the things that you do like about yourself.  Everyone has things about themselves that they don’t like.  Most of them are not in your power to change, which makes dwelling on them even more futile.  But you should be able to find some things that you DO like, physically, mentally, emotionally.  It’s a good idea to “accentuate the positive”, and play to your strengths.  If you have trust issues, but find that you are fiercely loyal when you do make a true friend, that’s a GOOD thing.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to be a little more trusting, but in the meantime, affirm what you have.  If you are afraid to try new things, you might want to step out of your comfort zone, but acknowledge that a certain amount of healthy fear keeps you from going off and really wrecking things because you didn’t think before acting.  There’s generally a positive side to every coin, as long as it’s not taken to extremes. (Incidentally, that’s pretty much how I feel about politics.)
  • Everyone has been disappointed or frustrated by not reaching a goal that they had set for themselves.  But here’s the point: you haven’t reached your goal YET.  And sometimes it takes a great deal of maturity and self-understanding to admit that a goal that you’ve set may not be appropriate for you now, even if it was when you first set it.  I’m not saying to give up when the going gets tough, because it will.  Guaranteed.  But when you hit that inevitable wall or rough patch, you need to give yourself the mental boost to say, “No, I haven’t succeeded, but that doesn’t make me a failure, it just means I haven’t succeeded yet.”  And if upon reevaluation you determine that the goal is not for you (often these goals were pressed upon you by someone else, such as a parent or spouse, rather than one you set for yourself), it’s time to either redefine your goal, or let it go and replace it with something that suits you better.

4.Wake up on your terms. Most of us have alarm clocks programmed because of the expectations of others: a workplace, a school, or a waking child. That’s probably not going to change. But that doesn’t mean we have to lose control over our mornings in the process. Wake up just a little bit early and establish an empowering, meaningful, morning routine. Start each day on your terms. The next 23 hours will thank you for it.

  • Ok, this may seem weird to some people, but I have found that my mood for the day can be quite dramatically affected, negatively or positively, by the song that wakes me up in the morning.  And if I do something that I enjoy early on in the day (snuggling baby, enjoying a cup of coffee while appreciating the view from my patio, etc) it tends to make the day generally more positive.

5. Hold back a complaint. The next time you want to lash out in verbal complaint towards a person, a situation, or yourself, don’t. Instead, humbly keep it to yourself. You’ll likely diffuse an unhealthy, unhappy environment. But more than that, you’ll experience joy by choosing peace in a difficult situation.

  • This has to be one of the hardest lessons to learn.  And relearn.  And relearn.  Does anyone else need to keep relearning this one?  While it’s ok to occasionally decompress by venting to a trusted friend, it’s almost NEVER productive to attack someone when it can be avoided, and it’s almost NEVER productive to continually rehash the things that infuriate you about someone else to a third party.  While I usually prefer to avoid conflict when possible (which can be a good thing and a bad thing) I do catch myself ranting about the people who aggravate me to my close family members and friends.  This goes right along with dwelling on the negative instead of the positive.  Try (desperately) to find something about that individual that you like.  Come on, you can do it.  When you catch yourself trashing them, either out loud or internally, try to sidetrack yourself by latching on to that one redeeming quality you found.  You’ll discover that your interactions with that person will be far less negative, solely because your internal attitude has changed.  Give it a shot.

6. Practice one life-improving discipline. There is happiness and fulfillment to be found in personal growth. To know that you have intentionally devoted time and energy to personal improvement is one of the most satisfying feelings you’ll ever experience. Embrace and practice at least one act of self-discipline each day. This could be exercise, budgeting, or guided-learning… whatever your life needs today to continue growing. Find it. Practice it. Celebrate it.

  • I am a perpetual student; I always have been.  I love to read.  I love to learn new things.  I love to meet new people who do something I don’t know anything about, and pick their brains.  In my humble opinion, one should never stop learning.  You can never learn everything there is to be learned, and if you stop trying to learn, you’re only waiting around to die.  Probably with a higher chance of Alzheimer’s, the more sedentary your brain becomes.  Personal growth not only improves your innate awesomeness, it gives you that sense of accomplishment.  🙂

7. Use your strengths. Each of us have natural talents, strengths, and abilities. And when we use them effectively, we feel alive and comfortable in our skin. They help us find joy in our being and happiness in our design. So embrace your strengths and choose to operate within your giftedness each day. If you need to find this outlet outside your employment, by all means, find this outlet.

  • This part is all about knowing yourself, which should be right at the top of your to-do list for your continuing education.  Know what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at and what you’re not.  And I need to shout this from the mountain tops: You WILL change.  Your likes and dislikes change, your abilities change.  This is how two people who seemed to be a good match end up divorcing: because they both change, but they don’t change TOGETHER.  
  • Don’t let the fact that you are working in a job that is not your dream job keep you from happiness.  You have two options here.  One: change your job.  Yes, it might be hard.  You might have to make some sacrifices, maybe go back to school, but it is SHORT TERM and well worth it.  Two: in the event that it is completely and utterly impossible to change your job, or you are unwilling to do what it takes to do so, find something outside your job that brings you joy.  Even if it’s something you do only very rarely, use it as your carrot.  If I am not happy doing what I’m doing in this exact moment, I can look forward to doing something that will make me happy sometime in the foreseeable future.  Set a date, if possible, so you know how long you have to wait.  Although retirement may be a BIG relief, don’t decide you can’t be happy until retirement, and be a jerk to everyone around you in the meantime.  Find something that makes you happy RIGHT NOW, and plan on doing it even more when you retire.

8. Accomplish one important task. Because happy people choose happiness, they take control over their lives. They don’t make decisions based on a need to pursue joy. Instead, they operate out of the satisfaction they have already chosen. They realize there are demands on their time, helpful pursuits to accomplish, and important contributions to make to the world around them. Choose one important task that you can accomplish each day. And find joy in your contribution.

  • This is a great point.  Even on the days when I don’t physically feel up to doing much, if I just get at least one tiny thing accomplished, I keep from feeling like the day was a total wash.  Don’t underestimate the power of small contributions, or ones that affect only one person.  Even if your kid never SAYS how much they appreciate having clean underwear, rest assured that you’re making their world a better place.

9. Eat a healthy meal/snack. We are spiritual, emotional, and mental beings. We are also physical bodies. Our lives cannot be wholly separated into its parts. As a result, one aspect always influences the others. For example, our physical bodies will always have impact over our spiritual and emotional well-being. Therefore, caring for our physical well-being can have significant benefit for our emotional standing. One simple action to choose happiness today is to eat healthy foods. Your physical body will thank you… and so will your emotional well-being.

  • I am not a health food fanatic.  I am definitely not one who says you should never eat junk food.  But should you fall into the habit of making processed foods your mainstay and fresh foods the exception, your body will not run at peak efficiency.  Don’t put sludge in the gas tank of your high performance sports car.  Not all calories are equal.  Is it more work to make your own pizza with fresh ingredients than to pop in a couple of frozen disks?  Absolutely.  And it may not be something you’d want to do at every meal.  But any time you can improve the quality of what you’re feeding your engine, you’re going to notice an improvement.  And as an aside, those processed bits of garbage that pass themselves off as healthy snacks just because they have less than 100 calories per serving don’t cut it.  Go eat an apple, people.  And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition: ANY improvement in your eating habits is, you know, and improvement.
  • Since I found out I am gluten intolerant several months ago and stopped eating gluten altogether, I have felt so much better in so many ways.  If you want to understand this phenomenon, it doesn’t take much effort to find tons on info on the interwebz about food sensitivity and all of its potential nasty symptoms, very frequently misdiagnosed as other diseases.  I started this post first, and then realized I was writing WAY too much about the gluten thing, so I decided to make a separate gluten-free post.   I try not to proselytize for the paleo lifestyle too much, because I’m not really hard-core paleo anyway.  But seriously, you owe it to yourself to try eliminating some of the common problem foods if you are showing symptoms.  It won’t kill you to go a month without bread (or milk, or other potential allergen).  And it could dramatically change your health and happiness for the better.

10. Treat others well. Everyone wants to be treated kindly. But more than that, deep down, we also want to treat others with the same respect that we would like given to us. Treat everyone you meet with kindness, patience, and grace. The Golden Rule is a powerful standard. It benefits the receiver. But also brings growing satisfaction in yourself as you seek to treat others as you would like to be treated.

  • You’d think this would be one of those “duh” kind of statements, but it seems that we’re all so busy with all of the garbage that we’re overloading our lives with, we can’t take the time to be kind.  We’re too rushed to hold the door for the person behind us, to show patience to our overworked waitress (especially since it’s usually not her fault that your food is not up yet), or just to surprise a stranger with a random act of kindness.  It may be just a tiny thing, but you’re making someone else’s day better, and that makes your day better.

11. Meditate. Find time alone in solitude. As our world increases in speed and noise, the ability to withdraw becomes even more essentialStudies confirm the importance and life-giving benefits of meditation. So take time to make time. And use meditation to search inward, connect spiritually, and improve your happiness today.

  • Meditate, pray, whatever works for you.  The most important thing is that we seem to have lost the ability to be content while alone.  Of course we don’t want to be alone ALL the time, but if we are never taking down time, and our happiness is dependent on someone else being there, we have a problem.  Learn to be comfortable with yourself, and take time to reconnect with God, to engage in some self-reflection, to see where you are and where you’re headed.

12. Search for benefit in your pain. This life can be difficult. Nobody escapes without pain. At some point—in some way—we all encounter it. When you do, remind yourself again that the trials may be difficult, but they will pass. And search deep to find meaning in the pain. Choose to look for the benefits that can be found in your trial. At the very least, perseverance is being built. And most likely, an ability to comfort others in their pain is also being developed.

  • Lots of sucky stuff happens to us through the course of our lives, some things definitely suckier than others.  No parent should ever have to bury their child, for instance.  It’s those really tough times that leave us reeling, wondering if we’ll ever be happy again, and if there’s even any point in carrying on.  It’s OK to feel like that.  Really, it is.  We run into problems when we let it break us permanently.  We can choose to never be happy again, because life has handed us this horrible blow, or we can find other things that make us happy, even though we’re still occasionally sad.  We can choose bitterness or healing.  There is no set time frame, and I’m not one to say what’s appropriate for you, but I think if you’re still stuck in bitterland years later, you need to evaluate why you are still hanging on to that negativity.  Have you let it become part of your definition of who you are?  It’s time to redefine yourself.  Let it be something that happened to you in your past, something that has certainly affected who you are right now, but not something that is exclusively responsible for shaping who you are for all of your remaining years.
  • I especially like the idea of using your pain to learn to comfort others.  It doesn’t even have to be EXACTLY the same pain in order for us to understand and feel for someone else.  We can still empathize, even if we haven’t been in precisely the same situation.

Go today. Choose joy and be happy. That will make two of us.

  • What did you think of this list?  Did you have any ideas to add?  Which one is you favorite?

2 thoughts on “The Keys to Happiness

  1. […] Mother Teresa quote on Facebook this morning, and I think it goes along with my last post on the Keys to Happiness.  I think sometimes it is easy for us to forget that our happiness depends far more on our own […]

  2. […] I wrote in the Keys to Happiness, helping others is a fantastic way to improve your own outlook while making the world a better […]

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