Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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If you read my last post about happiness you're probably interested in knowing more. After all, isn't happiness a lifelong quest for most of us?
When you consider that rates of depression today are ten times higher than they were in the 1960s, it makes the pursuit of happiness even more pressing, I think.
So, I'm anxious to share some of the common-sense yet elusive pointers I learned recently on my weekend away listening to Tal Ben-Shahar's wisdom-filled lectures. I was so busy taking notes that I practically filled an entire notebook; and then I went straight to the bookstore and bought his books. (Would you say I can't get enough on the subject of happiness?)
What really surprised me about what I learned was this: I knew all this. It was practically elementary. Then why wasn't I happy? Why wasn't I already doing it?
Common sense can often lead you astray. It is frequently the things that are right in front of our eyes that we fail to see.
(THIS IS A LONG POST. IF YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE READING IT ALL, DON'T GIVE UP JUST YET – AT LEAST READ JUST ONE TIP AND PROMISE ME – PLEASE? - YOU'LL THINK ABOUT IT TODAY. TOMORROW? MAYBE YOU'LL FEEL LIKE PICKING ANOTHER TO THINK ABOUT).
Happiness is an ongoing process – not an overnight transformation. It's not a quick fix by any means. While some of us are naturally happy people, for many of us happiness becomes a conscious decision. We need to put in the work - not just one time, but every single day. (I can't help but think of these song lyrics– although I don't think that's what they were intended to apply to what I'm saying here: “Hard work if you can get it, but you can get it if you try.") The hard work - those small baby steps - adds up to feeling better and looking at the world in a different light.
And to achieve change that is lasting, we need two things: a). action and b). reflection.
While I'd love to share everything I took away from the weekend, both time and space do not allow it. (If you have the time and inclination, though, I'd be happy to sit down with you and discuss it in detail; all we need is proximity – and about 8 hours).
Before I continue, I just want to add one thing: I'm not saying you have to walk around every single day grinning like an idiot, fighting to deny any real pain or sadness. But these tips will, I hope, help you the next time you are having a hard time feeling ANY sort of joy in your life.
- Before getting out of bed in the morning, stay put for about 5 minutes. Stretch your body. Breathe deeply. (Did you know there are right and wrong ways to breathe? When you take a deep breath in, inflate your stomach like a balloon. When you breathe out, pull your belly button in toward your back as far as it wants to go). NOW you're ready to get up and face the day.
- Fake it till you make it. Not sure you can do something? Convinced you'll fail? Accept the negative emotion (that's called active acceptance) and then decide what the most appropriate action is. You can back down and continue to doubt yourself and continue to wonder if you could have done it. Or, you can ignore the negative voices and pretend you know how to do it. Step outside your comfort zone. And if you fail? So what? Failing implies you are trying.
- Realize that you do have choices. While the external circumstances may not always be under your control, what IS under your control is the way you interpret things. And it's the choices you make that create your own reality. Knowing you have choices is really freeing – try it. It puts a whole different slant on things.
- Simplify. Turn off your email while you are working at your computer. Put your phone on silent. Nothing will happen if you do either one of these for a few hours – except you WILL get more done and enjoy your time more. Creativity and productivity levels will soar. Reducing multitasking (Link to past post) will increase the quality and the quantity of your time. (Not convinced? A study found that people who email while they work lost 10 IQ points; more than if they were smoking marijuana.)
- Take mini-breaks throughout the day. You might think you can work without a break, and maybe you do. But I guarantee you will feel angry, tired and frustrated by the end of the day. As the wise teacher told us, “Stress is not the problem; it is lack of recovery." Go refill your tank by taking a walk, calling a friend, playing with your dog.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal. It takes just three minutes - and you can do it when you get into bed at night. No matter how bad, how lousy, how upsetting and tragic your day might have been, there is something you can find (usually more than one something) that made you happy. Maybe you had a delicious bowl of oatmeal this morning. Or heard a bird singing outside. Perhaps a stranger let you cut in line at the bank. So often we focus on the negatives and forget to look for the positive things in our lives – we all have them. We just have to look a little harder for them.
- Make a mental list of things – from the smallest to the biggest –that bring you pleasure. You might discover something you have neglected and forgotten about. It's like finding a pair of shoes hidden deep in your closet that you had forgotten you owned. You used to love those shoes! And you can love them all over again.
- Realize that you will experience emotional highs and lows. Happiness is not a constant. If you think it is, then it will lead to disappointment and feelings of inadequacy and frustration and…unhappiness. Conversely, focusing on what works and what is right, rather than what doesn't work and what is wrong, can make you happier.
- Living a “good enough" life – rather than an ideal life (which may be unrealistic, after all) – can bring you happiness. Face it, we all have constraints, whether it is time or money or energy. Again, realizing what works puts a positive slant on things; a realistic assessment of what is truly possible.
This Matters> We can all be happy if we put in the time and the effort. Being happy IS hard (and harder for some than others), but it's not impossible .And our happiness will not only spread throughout the people around us – it's contagious, researchers have found - it will spread throughout our bodies to maintain health and well-being.
For more on happiness: https://healthywomen.org/content/blog-entry/what-happiness-anyway
Happiness and satisfaction boost health: https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20080829/happiness-satisfaction-boosts-health