Saturday, January 28, 2017

MAGIC WORDS: How to Be Happy

Dear Olive,

I had mentioned the Monday Recalibration Experiences we had been organizing at work... Well, my first session transpired last week and it was invigorating.  My topic was, "The Science of Happy."

  I had been mulling through all of these positive psychology books that I'm reading and felt so satisfied to organize all of the take-aways into a cohesive list.  Here's what I learned:

1.  The Boring Stuff is the Most Impactful

I know that sleep, eating healthfully, meditation, and exercise dramatically impact mood and propensity towards pleasure.  Yet somehow, I often feel that I am above these things.  I'm not some baby weak-knees who needs things like rest or meals.  I'm busy, people.  But then, I get irritable and ashamed of my irritability.  And my energy is depleted so that simple things feel impossible.  Maybe if I used that energy for intentional rest instead of rally, I'd improve my outcome.

2.  Happiness is NOT Feeling Good All the Time

If happiness was just pleasure, then cocaine addicts would have the market on happiness.  Which of course, is not the case.  Happiness is a braided experience of satisfaction with dabs of pleasure.  In my pursuit of happiness, I never accounted that sustained pleasure just isn't possible.  Throughout my day, I find myself analyzing each experience to put into categories of positive or negative and then trying to modify the experience to the former.  By chasing happiness in such a controlling way, it eluded me.  Instead, I realize that the goal is not to reach a sustained plateau of pleasure, but rather to use my strengths in a satisfying way and to catch the fleeting moments of happiness by recognizing them as they occur.

3.  Happiness Habituates

So, if sustained pleasure is impossible, this is likely because it habituates quickly.  Martin Seilgman, the "Father of Positive Psychology" describes happiness to be the first bite of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  The first bite is the best and by the second, your experience is already lesser.  Studies find that  the happiness of lottery winners re-calibrates back to former levels six months to a year following their win.  Therefore; our goal should not be to hustle for achievement, but rather to savor splinters of happiness

4.  You Can Use Practice to Improve Your Happiness

Although half of happiness is predisposed, one can use habits to improve outcome.  So... journal, practice gratitude, and if you want to promote it...act joyfully even when you don't feel it (synthesized happiness has the same impact on your brain and eventually you actually become happier).  It is possible that surrounding yourself with positive energy may even change your molecular structure.  I remember watching this documentary more than a decade ago.  I still think about it's implications.

5.  Seek Flow

When we do things that we genuinely love, we lose time.  So, if you are making that cake, or writing, or painting, and you look up to find the windows dark and hours gone, this is your flow.  Flow begets our greatest happiness.  If, instead of pretending to love things we do not, we center on spending our energies in our strengths, the outcome is improved emotional satisfaction.

6.  Philanthropy Wins

If lottery winners and celebrities can't find happiness at dazzling heights, then who will?  Research says that it is those who share their wealth (be it physical or experiential) with others.  So, those who volunteer, give generously, and seek to impact others with their gifts are the happiest of us all.

So, basically, happiness is a combination of how happy you are in your life (satisfied in work, relationships, etc.) and how good you feel on a day to day basis.  The goal is not constant happiness, because this is not possible.  And flow, philanthropy, gratitude, and practice impact these things.

What do you think?  What are you doing to cultivate happiness these days? Are you trying to lean into it like Brene says?

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