Friday, April 7, 2017

I know I SHOULD be happy...

Does this look familiar to you? Do you ever wonder why you are not as happy as you think you should be?
I hear this often. People asking themselves why they aren’t happier despite achieving the things in life they thought they needed to be happy, like landing a new job, losing 20 pounds, or purchasing a new home.

Most of us have this false believe that external things or events are the keys to happiness.

Researchers in the area of happiness and positive psychology, like Sonja Lyubomirsky, have shown us that our external experiences have very little to do with real happiness. In her book, The How of Happiness, she tells us that 50 percent of the differences in happiness between people can be accounted for by our genetics. That’s right, it is like our hair color or eye color, part of our genetic makeup.

What is even more surprising is that our external life circumstances, like the “bowl, bone and big yard” depicted in the cartoon, account for only 10 percent over our overall happiness. Only 10 percent!

That explains why, even when it seems as if we have everything in life we want, we may not really be as happy as we believe we should be.
That’s where the other 40 percent comes in... 

40 percent comes from intentional activities and strategies.  They can be simply described as intentional habits.

Here are a few examples of intentional activity of happy people!

Eat well, exercise and sleep

How we take care of our physical bodies has a huge effect on our mental and emotional wellbeing. When we are sleep deprived, hungry, or tired we see the world with a more negative lens. It is as if we switch from seeing a glass as half full to being acutely aware that it is now half empty.  Take care of your physical health and to increase happiness.

Practice kindness

Mark Twain said, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try and cheer somebody else up.” That rings true for many happy people. Acts of kindness toward others has a positive effect on the wellbeing of the person being helped as well as the one doing the helping. The size of the gesture is not important. It can be as simple as holding the door or buying a cup of coffee.  When you need a pick me up, help someone else out and see how much better you feel.

Surround yourself with happy people

Positive relationships are an important part of happiness. Joy can be contagious and we often find ourselves becoming like the people we spend the most time with.  If you are looking to bring more happiness into your life, look closely at those you interact with and increase those positive relationships in your life.

Practice gratitude

In the book Flourish” by Dr. Martin Seligman, he talks about the Three Things Study where participants saw positive affects of writing down three things they were grateful for every day. His research showed that expressing gratitude daily had positive effects, like reducing depression, increasing well-being and reducing depression.  It is simple to do, just take a few minutes each day to identify what you are grateful for and why it is important.  A simple derivation of this activity, that is great to do with kids, I call “FillYour BAG Happy.” Click here to learn how to do it in just a few minutes a day.


Taking some time out the daily “busyness” of life to focus your attention on the here and now. You could  try a regular meditation practice or include a few mindful activities that help you unplug and re-center.  Some great ways to get started using your smartphone through apps like, 10% Happier, Headspace, Smiling Mind, Insight Timer or Calm. For links to these and more, you can click here.

Use your strengths

In the book “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, he tells us that when we are actively involved in reaching a goal or challenging activity well suited to our skills we experience a joyful state called flow. An example would be doing something where you become so engaged in the activity that you completely lose track of time. Something that can help find that flow is to identify strengths. You can get your free character strengths assessment from the VIA Institute on Character by clicking here.

So, if you find yourself wondering why you aren’t as happy as you think you should be, try adding some of these intentional habits today!

I want to point out that if you feel you are having symptoms of depression or ongoing sadness, please reach out for support from a licensed therapist or counselor. Depression is a disease that can be treated. Talk to your healthcare provider or you can go to Psychology Today to search for someone in your area. If you are in NJ, feel free to contact me for a free phone consultation to see if counseling or coaching could be a fit for you. If I am not able to help, I can steer you toward someone who can.

For those of you who want to learn more about how to increase your happiness habits you can join me at an upcoming workshop on IncreasingOptimism by going to my events webpage here, I am also happy to bring a program to your group, office or organization, Learn more more here.