By Jerry Mooney
I spent many years under the impression that happiness was merely a response to favorable conditions. I had no idea I controlled my happiness, let alone that I could habituate it. Leaning this was a game-changer for me. But once I learned this, I had very little idea as to how. It became apparent that being happy was actually a skill, one that needed practice. Over time I’ve picked up a few methods that helped me sustain my attitude despite external factors.
Touch stones don’t have to be tangible as the word suggests. For example, I use birds as a touchstone and whenever I see a bird, and they’re fairly ubiquitous, I remind myself that I live in a free world. But they can be tangible as well. I have a quilt that I curl up with when I’m relaxing at home. It has a satin trim. My little nephew used to call such a thing, “best corners”. When I touch the border, it reminds me of my cute little nephew and his affection for the soft material. I also enjoy the sensation of it as well. This gives me easy access to happiness.
If you are a chronic procrastinator, stop right now. It creates dread. Sometimes this means creating departure times at home, so you have a time to leave. Once that time arrives, go! It’s like pulling off a band aid. Faster is better.
Commit to it
For whatever reason, being unhappy is often a badge of honor. “Ignorance is bliss.” or How can you be happy with so much suffering in the world? It’s as if we’re proud of being miserable. It’s somehow smarter or more informed. But, what I also figured out is that you’ll never suffer enough to make someone who is suffering happy. And isn’t it ironic that you don’t want to be happy because others aren’t and you want them to be? Show the way. Be happy.
Celebrate every chance you get
The way our brains work is through associative memory. When you celebrate actively, your brain develops the neural-nets that associate with that joy and your brain creates a pathway for happy hormones to cascade through your body. The more you celebrate the more those pathways are paved and the easier it is to access positive feelings.
Let things go
Let it go! Let it go! When you hear bad news, don’t dwell in it. Like my aunt says, “It’s okay for a bird to land on your head, but it’s not okay to let it build a nest.” Acknowledge tragedy. You don’t have to become oblivious. But you don’t have to roll around in it either.
Avoid inundating yourself in bad news
Watching hours of news can be depressing. Within news organizations there is a concept that if it bleeds it ledes. Therefore you rarely get endless reports of good deeds and positive reports. It’s how the news is constructed. But if you watch long enough it begins to look like there is nothing but problems in the world. This isn’t true, but there is a lack of coverage of the good news.
Limit your exposure to negative people
Some people are like emotional vampires. They suck the joy right out of us. And, yes, it’s true that we are responsible for our own happiness, part of that responsibility lies in understanding that certain people diminish us. I’m not saying hide from your family and avoid holiday gatherings, but know that some people prefer the company of other unhappy people. They will try and influence your mood in a negative way. Most of the time they are not conscious that they do it and if asked, they will deny it. That doesn’t make it less real. When avoiding these people or at least limiting your exposure to them seems impossible, at least maintain the awareness of their effect. This will help you keep happiness at the forefront of your mind.
Meditation is a vague concept for many. Some people talk about meditative activities, but there is no substitute for meditation. Meditation sharpens your mind so that your thinking can be more deliberate. When deliberate, you can more easily choose your thoughts and thus your feelings.
Exercise also improves your body chemistry so that you can more easily access internal happy juice. Exercise causes your body to produce endorphins as well as improve your body’s ability to expel toxins that affect our moods.
Do the little things
Keep your house clean, keep your gas tank full, do your laundry. I know, I might seem like a nagging parent here, but there is real psychological benefit to staying on top of your chores. When they pile up, even a little bit, they can seem overwhelming. Even when they only require a little bit of concentrated effort, if they seem like too much, it’s easy to become stressed out.
The most import part to habituating happiness is knowing that happiness is a choice. Happiness doesn’t just happen to you. When you understand this, you can create your path of happiness and remember, there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license
Jerry Mooney is co-founder and managing editor of Zenruption and the author of History Yoghurt and the Moon. He studied at the University of Munich and Lewis and Clark College where he received his BA in International Affairs and West European Studies. He has recently taught Language and Communications at a small, private college and owned various businesses, including an investment company that made him a millionaire before the age of 40. Jerry is committed to zenrupting the forces that block social, political and economic justice. He can also be found on Twitter @JerryMooney