The degree to which people experience positive emotions in their lives can predict whether or not they will be languishing or flourishing. (1)
Ah, the illusive happiness. We all want it, and many of us struggle to get it or maintain it when we do. We say we’re happy, but then think “but I could be happier.” So maybe it’s really the happier that is illusive. That grass is always greener on the other side idea.
I recently heard a great version of that quote though.
When you water your patch of happiness it grows. Being happy is as good for your health and longevity as giving up smoking is. Not only are you less stressed when you are happy, your immune system is also healthier and more robust.
When happy, you: (2,3)
- Are more productive
- Have WAY more creativity, like 300% more creative
- Create a higher sense of well-being
- Increase life satisfaction
- Increase physical health
- Have greater resilience to stress
- Have better social connection to others
- And people even have longer lives.
Research even shows that positive emotional experiences cause these various outcomes rather than just being a consequence of them, which is very very cool. (3)
This is how I look at it. When you are happy you aren’t stressed. When you aren’t stressed you are allowing your body to enter or remain in healthy or healing mode. Not to say you can’t be stressed and happy, but in that case you are probably in a good stress mode, one that is temporary.
There are many definitions for happiness out there, but it boils down to having more positive than negative thoughts and emotions, and a sense of life satisfaction.
Now this doesn’t mean if you experience a lot of negative feelings that you can’t or won’t be happy. Negative feelings can be quite healthy. Good or bad feelings/emotions, it really is about how we deal with them. And dealing with them in a healthy way involves opening up to and working skillfully with the full range of your emotional spectrum. The best way to do this that I know of is to practice mindfulness and presence which I discuss much more of in the stress section as well as the hot tip I give away in my free webinar: The 5 Keys To Optimal Energy.
So how do we let positive emotions light our way and water our little patch of happiness?
- Cultivate optimism
- Avoiding overthinking and comparative thinking
- Practice kindness
- Build and nurture relationships – happy people have stable relationships
- Develop coping strategies and increase resilience
- Practice Forgiveness
- Increase Flow
- Savor pleasures in life
- Commit to your goal
- Be curious and try new things – take risk (4)
I want to expand on the two I personally believe are the most important for cultivating happiness.
Building social circles
Neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman explains how society not understanding the real, literal value of social is our kryptonite. Being social makes us happier, healthier, smarter,and more productive. (5)
And I couldn’t agree more with Lieberman. Understanding the power of being social and using it, is a super power.
The following is an excerpt from book I Can. I Am. I Have about related to why relationships and being social is so good for your health and happiness.
There have been many scientific studies done that show the importance of relationships. So many that I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that building and maintaining quality relationships may be the most important factor in living a long and healthy life.
Kelly McGonigal [health psychologist] talks about how stress [in her TED talk] makes you social, because the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response, motivating you to seek support. Oxytocin is the hormone released when you hug someone. It’s good for you. It’s an anti-inflammatory. It encourages you to release your stress through relationships. People are nourished by other people.[i]
A recent study by Brigham Young University psychology researchers found that loneliness and isolation boost chances of death by 29%.[ii] It is comparable to obesity. Another study found that the effects of loneliness might be even worse in older people. During a six-year period, isolated people who are 50 and over had twice the mortality rate of their peers who enjoyed more active social and family lives, according to a 2012 paper published in The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied.[iii]
I also was recently reading about a study of an old community of Italian immigrants in Roseto, PA in the 1960’s. This community was very close-knit and looked after one another. The type of place where doors were always open and you spent evenings socializing, drinking, and playing cards together. Researchers were drawn to Roseto because the community statistics seemed to defy medical logic. Residents seemed almost immune to the most common causes of death, even though they lead lives that would typically be linked to early death such as drinking, smoking, eating lots of pasta, and doing hard labor jobs.
Researchers believed that it was the community and its strong social nature that led to the health statistics. They shared a life, a community, a work ethic, a goal of a better life for their children. Three generations of family would live together and elderly would be elevated socially, instead of diminished. Social clubs and church activities would bring out the whole community. As the community advanced with the times and kids went off to school and stayed away, and everyone turned to their computers and TV’s, it wasn’t shocking to find that their stellar statistics of health began to fall into normal ranges.[iv]
If you think about it, it makes a ton of sense. When you are with friends and family you are releasing stress. You can talk about your problems and get feedback. If you don’t want to talk about your problems, but are still actively engaged, you are living in the moment. Some of the time you might be doing physical activity, another one of the excellent ways to release stress. You are also likely to be feeling loved and giving love, which will release oxytocin, another powerful stress reducer.
Some of you might be seeing this as bad news, because you are lonely, and struggle with social connection. All hope is not lost. A couple of loyal friends can actually be better than many less engaged friends. Meetups.com is a great way to meet new friends that share your interest. There are a surprising number of book clubs still taking place. Church or spiritual groups are fantastic places to find support, friendship, and people to help. Don’t just seek to find people to support you, but also to find people you can support. You can also start online. Perhaps start a pen pal relationship. Expressing yourself through writing is a fantastic stress reducer and relationship builder. Groups on Facebook are numerous, and while not as ideal as in person interactions, they are a great outlet for support if you find the right group, and a great start. For instance, as a solo entrepreneur I belong to a couple of groups of other entrepreneurs that offer me much more support than I could ever get from my family and friends revolving around my business, simply because they are also immersed in the world and know a lot more about it than my friends do. I’m so grateful to have them. One group even led to an in person mastermind meet-up with others who live close to me.
When you are being social, and have a strong social life you have a lot of opportunities to cultivate happiness. Not only are you reducing stress by talking it out, or laughing, or simply being in the moment with friends you have more opportunity to; express gratitude and kindness, practice forgiveness, get help developing coping strategies, try new things, and savor pleasures in life. These are all things that have been shown to water and grow your patch of happiness.
This doesn’t mean you need to have a ton of friends, or even the more friends the better. Even one or two really good friend you can talk to often will provide strong happiness boosting benefits.
The second tip for cultivating happiness that I believe is uber important is to:
Practice kindness – but in particular choose love and practice kindness for yourself
To me kindness is about love and forgiveness as well giving and receiving. You know how they say money doesn’t buy happiness, especially once you’ve reached a level of income to provide you with comfort in meeting all of life’s basic needs. Well this is often followed up with, but money actually can make you happier IF you are spending that money on others. When you are giving. Now of course giving doesn’t just mean giving something of monetary value. Kindness is a form of giving.
It’s pretty easy to see how practicing kindness to others can boost your happiness levels. Just thinking about people being kind to each other is making me smile right now. It can be the greatest gift you give someone in their day, and in doing so you will also feel better, instantly happier because you helped someone else to be happier.
For many however it is a lot easier to be kind to others then it is to be kind to themselves. It’s so easy and common to barrage yourself with harsh words and thoughts, or beat yourself up for failures, mistakes or not being where you want to be. Also, for many, like myself, it is far harder to forgive yourself then it is to forgive others.
I believe when you practice kindness for yourself you are not only cultivating happiness but love for yourself as well. And in doing so, I you will be able to forgive others and yourself more easily.
Forgiveness is the ultimate kindness that can be given.
Not only for someone that may desperately want the forgiveness but every single time forgiving is an act of kindness to yourself, knowing that by forgiving you can let go, move on, and create space for love and happiness to grow. (with the caveat that you shouldn’t forgive too quickly, not without first grieving, or feeling/expressing the emotions that came along with what needs forgiveness)
A fantastic way to practice kindness it do practice a meditation called:
Loving kindness meditation
Loving kindness meditation, sometimes known as metta meditation, is meant to cultivate and learn to self-generate loving emotions and direct them to yourself, others, and eventually everyone, everywhere. It is a meditation practice taught by buddhist to develop the habit of selfless love. Practicing it consistently has many benefits: (6,7)
- More socially connected
- Improvement of self-reported health symptoms
- Increases positive emotions
- Increases vagal tone
- Decreases migraines, chronic pain, and PTSD
- Increases empathy and compassion
- May increase telomere length (a marker of aging)
- Decreases biases towards others
- Decreases self-criticism
During a loving kindness meditation you use visualization, reflecting, or auditory (mantras/phrases) to evoke feeling of love and kindness. Phrases such as:
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I/he/she/all be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I/he/she/all be well in body and mind.
May I/he/she/all be at ease and happy.
May I/he/she/all be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected.
May I/he/she/all be free of mental suffering or distress.
May I/he/she/all be happy.
May I/he/she/all be free of physical pain and suffering.
May I/he/she/all be healthy and strong.
May I/he/she/all be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.
These feelings are directed first to yourself, than to others. Some meditations go through next a respected, beloved person such a teacher, then a dear friend or family (someone who you have no internal conflicts about such niece or nephew), then to a neutral person (someone like you see occasionally like the barista at your coffee shop), then to someone you have negative feelings for, and some meditations take it all the way out to everyone in world.
And in practicing love for yourself in this way I believe you will be attending more to some of the other things on the list, such as forgiveness, gratitude, resilience, and optimism.
These sites have some good written versions of the loving kindness meditation.
Get a free audio version of a loving kindness meditation along with some other powerful mindful meditations you’ll learn about in the Stress chapter of the roadmap by joining the Life Upgrade community HERE.
The Energy Takeaway:
Water your patch of grass with happiness. More happiness = less stress, more flow, more presence = more energy.
Check out my free webinar: The 5 Keys to Optimal Energy for my biggest and best tips to shortcut getting back and sustaining optimal energy.
The Short of It:
2) The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?; S Lyubomirsky, L King, E Diener; Psychological Bulletin; Vol.131,No. 6,803–855 3) Emotion Experience and Well-Being By Brett Ford and Iris B. Mauss University of California, Berkeley (creative commons – wk 17 bp) 6) Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045-1062. 7) http://www.mindful.org/18-science-based-reasons-to-try-loving-kindness-meditation/ From my excerpt [i] McGonigal, Kelly. (2013) “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” Ted Talks, https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en [ii] Holt-Lunstand, Julianne; Smith, Timothy B.; et. al. “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Department of Pschology, Brigham Young University http://pps.sagepub.com/content/10/2/227.abstract . [iv] UIC. “The Roseto Effect” http://www.uic.edu/classes/osci/osci590/14_2%20The%20Roseto%20Effect.htm.
2) The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?; S Lyubomirsky, L King, E Diener; Psychological Bulletin; Vol.131,No. 6,803–855
3) Emotion Experience and Well-Being By Brett Ford and Iris B. Mauss University of California, Berkeley (creative commons – wk 17 bp)
6) Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045-1062.
From my excerpt
[i] McGonigal, Kelly. (2013) “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” Ted Talks, https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en
[ii] Holt-Lunstand, Julianne; Smith, Timothy B.; et. al. “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Department of Pschology, Brigham Young University http://pps.sagepub.com/content/10/2/227.abstract .
[iv] UIC. “The Roseto Effect” http://www.uic.edu/classes/osci/osci590/14_2%20The%20Roseto%20Effect.htm.
I am not capable of diagnosing or treating diseases. Nor is that my intention. These statements have not been FDA approved. I’m a girl that has been studying holistic wellness for over 10 years, working on my own health, and feel compelled to share the information I have learned, that I believe in, and that has changed my vitality, performance, resilience, and health for the better. I of course can not guarantee its accuracy, though most has supporting scientific studies, it is always important to note that scientific studies are fallible and some are completed much more stringently than others. Again I’m only sharing information that I believe has improved my life. Further this article contains affiliate links (TOS) and I truly appreciate your support.