Did You Know You Can Train Yourself to Be Happy? Here's How
Take a look at some of the world's elite athletes—they don't get to the Olympian level by sitting on their laurels and waiting for the gold medal to fall in their lap. They train their guts out every day, with the goal of someday standing center stage on that podium. If you really want to be the best at something, you have to prepare, practice, and persevere. In fact, clinical psychologist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health Maria Sirois says happiness requires the same degree of effort and training as a professional sports star. "Happiness isn't something that is simply gifted to us," she said. "It requires perspective and practice." Intrigued? Scroll down to read Maria's seven tips on how to train yourself to be happy.
The world's best athletes train really hard and are dedicated to the end result, and Maria believes this same theory applies to happiness. "Happiness is not something that is simply gifted to us," she said. "It requires perspective and practice." So now we know it takes effort, what exactly can we do about it? Maria says we need to follow the lead of the happiest and most resilient people among us and "choose every day to practice something." This includes daily doses of gratitude, meditation, or journaling that lift our spirits and reduce negative thoughts, emotions, and negative behavior patterns. "For example, I may choose to begin my day, each day, with a journal question such as, 'If this day were 3% more filled with optimism, I would ___,' and then fill in the blank and practice that answer that day," says Maria. "Or I might go to bed at night with a meditation on all the things that went well that day." Maria says this process captures all the good things that happen each day, no matter how difficult, and infuses them with positivity. "Once, for almost a year, I practiced increasing my enthusiasm and zest levels," she said. "Each day, I challenged myself to bring my whole heart to at least one moment, either a conversation, a physical challenge, or a piece of writing. In this way, we can train ourselves to see the good in the world, to bring the good awake within us, and come to understand that as we shape our days we shape our lives."
We all know the power of a morning or nightly routine, so why not implement some happiness rituals into your day, too? If you don't want to wake up on the wrong side of the bed, Maria advises making one of these simple practices apart of your daily life; breathing meditation; random acts of gratitude; daily exercise; loving-kindness meditation; making a conscious choice to surround yourself with inspiring, uplifting people; and record three things you look forward to when you wake up the next day. "Remind yourself that each day is new to shape, then choose one thing you will do to elevate the pleasure or meaning in your life. That can be exercise, dance, even tea with a friend," says Maria. "Feelings shift and thoughts shift as we shift behavior."
With all the negativity in the world, maintaining a cheery perspective can be challenging. So how do you flip a pessimistic attitude into a positive one? Firstly, Maria says, it's important to acknowledge that being positive all the time is a "dangerous and delusional goal." "Life is challenging, tragedies occur, injustice can be rampant and at times, we are all going to feel terrible, sad, worried or distraught at times but that's okay," she says. "It's normal and natural, yet it's also crucial to find ways to remain optimistic as well." Maria tells us that optimists are generally healthier and more successful, too, because they have a naturally higher resistance to negativity as a result of their idealistic nature. "They are better able to address difficult or even horrible moments with clarity and health, and optimism increases the likelihood that we can learn from the difficult moments," she said. "Thereby strengthening our capacity to love life and teach that to others."
Sometimes you can do all the recommended happiness rituals to feel good, but then someone directs a negative remark at you and all your work goes out the window. So how can we learn to "shake it off" à la Taylor Swift and stop the hurtful comments from impacting our health and happiness? Maria says when others bring us down, it can be one of the most common triggers for depression. "We first need to be aware of our feelings and then remind ourselves that not all thoughts we think are true," she said. "Some of them are simply deceptive habits of our brain, such as feeling not good enough, or unworthy, or a failure. Once we recognize that a negative pattern of thinking or feeling has occurred, we can choose a practice to shift our awareness." To do this, Maria recommends reminding yourself of your strengths, refocusing your attention toward what you can learn or how you can grow from the moment. "Completely distract yourself with something that is helpful and uplifting," she said.
When negativity strikes, affirmations, mottos, and positive quotes are a great way to bring back the feel-good factor. Not only can they inspire happiness, but Maria says they "point us toward the good and help reorient our mood." As a self-professed "quote hound," Maria turns to these mottos daily. Some of her favorites include:
"How we shape or days is how we shape our lives." — Annie Dillard
"Whenever possible, be kind. It is always possible." — Dalai Lama
"In a perfect universe, somebody would be you." — Byron Katie
"I am worthy anyway." — Brené Brown
When it all comes down to it, Maria says happiness is a choice you have to make. "To create a life that is full, healthy, and happy, we need to choose that as a goal," she said. "Just as an athlete might choose a particular achievement as a goal and then work toward that goal." But don't feel disgruntled if you can't flip the happiness switch as easily as others; some of us are born with a positive neurochemistry that defaults them to being naturally happier than most. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't choose to make happiness a part of your life. "Research shows that a significant percentage of happiness is up to us, and the best way to leverage that reality is to practice something every day that adds to the richness of your day," Maria said. "We don't want to deny our frowns, sorrow, and pain are natural to human existence; rather, we want to bolster them and enhance them with the other aspects that are also natural such as joy, contentment, pleasure, and excitement."
Are you ready to inject some joy back into your life? Start creating your happiness rituals with some of Maria's tips:
Exercise: This the fastest, most efficient antidepressant, especially when it's a form you love.
Mindfulness: This includes yoga, meditation, and prayer. It builds optimism, self-esteem, relaxation, and resilience.
Gratitude: This shifts negative experiences toward the positive; builds social connection, self-esteem, and optimism; and reduces anxiety and social comparison.
Focus on Signature Strengths: We each have our core strengths, and as we lead from our strengths, we increase competency, engagement, happiness, and meaning.
Engage With Positive People: There is no greater happiness than belonging to and connecting to like-hearted, like-minded folks.
Do you agree that happiness takes practice? What brings you happiness? Share your daily rituals, tips, and advice in the comments below.