Systemizing happiness sounds pretty bizarre doesn’t it? HA!
I’ve been pursuing consistent and high-levels of happiness for many years now.
I believe that it is possible to be happy MOST of the time.
For most of my life I thought that was just about looking at the bright side of things and being optimistic.
DISCLAIMER: The advice here is for educational purposes only. It should NOT be used in place of therapy or working with a trained mental health professional. If you have a mental health disorder or you suspect you might, please see a trained professional.
However, over time I have come to realize that happiness doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it. You know, just like everything else!
So, I am finally able to publicly announce that I have figured out a systematic approach to happiness. Yes, I have!
What’s my approach? I’ll bet you are super curious to find out. I mean that IS what we all want, right? Happiness!
Ah, you’ve hit upon step #1!
#1: You gotta want it
As with any endeavor in life that requires work, you have to want something bad enough to put in that work.
Happiness is no different.
Do you REALLY WANT IT?
When you really want something that means you are willing to forgo other things that you might also like to do because you want this thing more.
It’s like when you are trying to eat a more nutritious diet. That means you have to make changes and eat less of those foods that you may have always eaten.
What are some things that stand in the way of happiness?
For example, “I'm going to be really angry at that person because they did something bad to me. I don’t care that being angry takes away my happiness because I’M RIGHT AND THEY ARE WRONG!”
Would you rather be right or be happy?
And then there’s guilt.
For example, “How can I be happy when I’ve hurt that person so much? I don’t deserve to be happy.”
Is that true?
Oh yes and then there’s FEAR! This is a big one!
For example, “I can’t be happy because I’m too worried about what is going to happen to me. If I’m happy that means I’m not worried enough and not doing enough to prevent that bad thing from happening.”
When has worrying ever stopped something bad from happening?
And there is “being realistic”.
For example, “How can I be happy when I’m broke and miserable? My life is a mess. I can’t be happy.”
Well, it is what it is. If you are broke and your life is a mess, how does being miserable help you?
So, you can see how most of the time we are attached to feeling a certain way because we think we have to or we have a right to.
So, do some soul-searching. How badly do you want to be happy?
If you are going to pursue happiness you are going to have to give up being angry, fearful, resentful, anxious, etc.
Sorry, you can NOT be happy and angry at the same time. So you gotta want it. I mean it.
#2 Pay Attention & Investigate
As you go about your day, start to pay attention to how you feel.
The way it works is that your feelings are based on your thoughts and your beliefs.
So you have to start paying attention to how you feel first.
Your emotions will lead you to your thoughts. You just have to be paying attention.
So let’s say you wake up and feel sad. That is an emotion, not a thought.
But there is definitely an underlying thought (which often comes from deeper beliefs) that has caused you to have that feeling.
What is the thought? What is the belief?
I’ll give you an example.
I think a lot of people are worried about the political situation in this country right now. The country seems so divided.
Someone may read the news and feel suddenly very anxious, worried, and fearful (ie: NOT happy).
What are the thoughts behind that?
It may go something like, “I am worried about the future.” “What kind of world will it be with so much hate all around.”
Okay, yes, that is the justification for your fear.
But what thought is lurking behind that?
Well, maybe you believe that hate will lead to violence. Maybe you fear for your children, that they will get hurt. Maybe you fear there will be war. Innocent people will get hurt.
At this point, you can see that your beliefs are based in fear and are aligned with the worst-case scenario. Do those thoughts and beliefs serve you in any way?
If you go a little deeper your thoughts may be around how you deserve to be safe and so do your children. You believe the world SHOULD be a safe place and others should be kind.
Okay, good. Now we move on to the next step.
#3 Find Better Thoughts
Okay, so let’s say your belief is that the world is a dangerous place and you are fearful of that, but also that you have the right to be safe.
If you focus on your belief that you deserve to be safe rather than imagining your children being hurt, you can find a little space to feel better.
“I deserve to be safe. I want to be safe. I want my children to be safe. I like the idea of a safe world.“
Say it out loud. What do you think?
It feels a little bit better. And that’s because those thoughts are forcing you to focus on what you want, not on what you fear.
Often focusing on what you want will feel better.
Then maybe you can find an even better thought like, “I love my children.”
That feels pretty good.
“But oh, I’m scared they’ll get hurt.”
The thought comes swooshing in.
Oh no! Back to square one.
Are you going to give up?
Just like you wouldn’t give up working out because that last rep hurt or give up meditating because you couldn’t focus last time.
“Okay, well, I do want my children to be safe. I like safe things. I like the idea of a safe world. When I was growing up I felt safe. I never worried about these kinds of things. But my parents probably did and I turned out okay. I love the idea of a safe world where everyone loves each other.”
Wow! I suddenly feel better!
“Oh but that is silly!” The world won’t become safer just because I am thinking that. I need to go back to worrying.” Uh-oh!
Can you tell me a time when you worried and therefore, just through the act of worrying and being fearful, you improved a situation?
You can’t because it has never happened.
It is not possible for you to worry or fear your way to an improved situation in life.
So, in essence, you could be sitting there worrying and feeling fearful and resentful OR you could sit there thinking about how nice it is to imagine a safe and beautiful world for you and your children.
It’s your choice.
But you won’t be improving a shred of the world by the negative thoughts and feelings.
So, do you choose happy thoughts or bad thoughts?
Just be logical about it. It makes absolutely no sense to worry. It will change nothing.
And as a matter of fact, if you can take some action to make the world a better place with your heart full of love (rather than fear) you can actually help make the world a better place.
#4 Make it a Habit
Did you know that your thoughts can be habitual?
Habits are essentially any thought or activity you do consistently and regularly enough that your brain becomes wired in the pattern of that thought or activity.
Your brain relies on habits! It’s much more efficient to just do what you are used to doing.
Think about the act of driving. Once you know how to drive well you don’t have to think before each action.
Do you remember when you were learning to drive and it seemed overwhelming to have to remember to put the right pressure on the accelerator, put a turn signal on, look both ways and make a turn?
But once it’s a habit, you could be deep in conversation about something else and do it without any conscious effort at all.
That’s a habit and habits can be your friend or foe. Good habit = friend, bad habit = foe.
This goes for going to the gym or sitting around, eating cake or kale, and of course, it also goes for your thoughts.
I repeat: repeated thoughts are habits. (and often habitual thoughts become beliefs)
So, if you have some pretty ingrained bad thoughts and you are working really hard at paying attention to your thoughts and finding better-feeling thoughts for a day or two, your brain is going to resist. That is natural.
You have to persist and if you do so you will start to gain momentum.
Ah, momentum. We humans love it!
As you build momentum the habit starts to become easier.
So, ride the wave!
Just like any other habit, changing your thoughts will take some willpower in the beginning but as you do it more, you will gain momentum, and you will see that it gets easier! Yay!
#5 Prioritize Happiness Above All Else
If you can make it a priority to be happy in your every waking moment, then eventually you are going to be happy.
I know. I didn’t say it was going to be easy.
It’s a discipline, just like everything else worth having.
I will give you some ways to shift into a better state toward happiness.
But first, you have to look at steps 1-4. You have to be committed. This is moment-to-moment monitoring of your feelings.
Feel bad? Better fix that soon.
Feel good? Okay, how about turning up the dial and feeling a little better?
The goal is to move in the right direction, as often as you can.
Here are 6 things you can do to improve how you feel right away:
- Take 10 deep breaths (inhale for 5-8 counts, hold for 1-2 counts, and exhale for 6-9 counts)
- Focus on love: love for yourself, love for your children, love for anything around you
- Be appreciative: “Isn’t it great you are alive?” “Wow, your heart is still beating all these years,” “Thank you heart for all of your hard work!” “Look at that sky, isn’t it beautiful? I’m so glad I can see.”
- Be in awe: Usually, it is easy to be in awe of nature. I love the Hudson River so much, it strikes me with awe almost every time I see it. It’s also often easy to be in awe of your children or amazing artists and athletes.
- Be present: Take a few deep breaths and then just pay attention to what is happening right now. What do you hear? What do you see? What do you feel? Just be in the moment.
- Get a good mantra or two or three. I love mantras. I make them up all the time. One of my favorites lately is “I’m open to all the love and beauty in this world.” I say it over and over again to myself. That’s what you do with mantras, you repeat them. So make sure your mantra feels really good and is believable to you.
This is meant to be a framework for a systematic process toward happiness.
You have to find what works for you within the framework.
Or maybe you have found other things that work?
I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
This is just a part of what I help my clients with.
If this stuff intrigues you and you are looking for strategies about what to do next for your health or weight loss journey, please click below to set up a free strategy call with me.