While cleaning my bookshelf the other day, I found a book, 14,000 things to be happy about. It looked brand new, but the date inside was from years ago. This book sat beside my collection of self-help books, which in contrast were dog-eared, highlighted and clearly used. Holding the happiness book, I wondered why I hadn’t used it. Then I realized I always thought happiness was something fleeting and incapable of improving my life.
Recently, my beliefs have changed as a result of what I’ve learned. I’ve discovered that being happy, contented, and positive are skills, which can be learned with practice and determination. Therefore, I made the decision to start my own journey to learn happiness and have been happily rewarded. Here are a couple of things that I’ve learned on my journey as well activities that have helped teach me more about happiness:
Recognize the hidden happy moments in a day.
When something wonderful happens to us, we usually know we’re happy. It’s the common, everyday moments of happiness that often elude us. One way to change this is by becoming deliberately aware of when we’re feeling happy during the day. I found an activity that helped me, and it might also help you. It’s very simple: Get a notebook or a tape recorder and keep track of any happy moments you notice during your day. By writing them down or recording them, you become aware of these moments that might otherwise have passed by unnoticed.
One such moment occurred for me when I was very late for an appointment and frustrated at getting every red light. As I sat fuming at the latest stop, I noticed a little boy in the school bus next me making silly faces at people. Watching him made me feel happy. I wrote this moment down in my notebook. It became one of many. Now, I look forward to finding happy moments in my day. I even challenge myself to see how many I can find. How many happy moments are you missing in your day? Try noticing them and see if you find your day is better for it.
Make a conscious shift from negative to positive.
It’s hard to feel happy when you’re focused on the negative. Like a big pimple on our face, what we don’t like can seem to be much more obvious than what we do like.
Unfortunately, the more we focus on the negative, the more likely that’s all we’ll see. Changing this means we have to consciously bring more attention to the positive things that happen to us.
For example, I used to talk about my day by reciting what went wrong in it. I’m changing this by learning how to shift my negative comments into positive ones. This can be done two ways. You can match the negative comment with an unrelated positive. Therefore, if I say I’m mad at myself because I forgot my dentist appointment today, a positive statement might be that I received a compliment about my latest newsletter. The other option is to make the negative comment into a related positive one. For example, I missed my doctor’s appointment, but I called to apologize and made a new appointment.
To be honest, this activity is challenging for me, but it has made me aware of the positive things I often missed. By regularly practicing shifting from the negative to the positive, I do feel happier about my day. Try this activity. See if you also feel happier when you pay attention to the positive.
Bring humor into your day.
There’s nothing like a good laugh or smile to trigger happiness. I like to start my day with a funny video clip. I have one saved on my computer about the silly things cats do. As I love cats, this clip always makes me laugh, even though I’ve seen it tons of times. By starting my day with a laugh, I’ve found I feel much happier. See if this works for you. Be creative. Use whatever makes you laugh, such as newspaper comics, a favorite joke, or a silly picture. Use humor again and again during the day, whenever you need a reminder to be happy.
Practice, practice and practice some more!
Any new skill requires practice and learning happiness is no different. You have to work at it every day until it becomes part of your daily ritual. Therefore, try the activities I’ve suggested or create your own. Just keep practicing! The payoff is worth it. As you give more attention to feeling happy, you will also increase your overall well-being.
As for me, I look for new ways to keep happiness a constant force in my life. Of course, there are still times I feel angry or sad, and that’s okay. But now, I also pay attention to when I feel happy. I also practice happiness regularly. The book, 14,000 things to be happy about, I found on my bookshelf is now part of that practice. I’m confident it will soon look just as dog-eared, marked up and used as my old self-help books. It’s another step on my journey to learning happiness.