Happiness From Within
Advertisements tell us that joy and happiness are outside ourselves, attainable only with the correct goals, body shape, behaviors and consumer products. Our religions go even further, in that some of them see joy and fun as suspect and others say it is only attainable in heaven after living a God-fearing life of piety.
Many of us ask ourselves, “Where is my joy?” and, “How can I have fun on a regular basis, and feel OK about it?” There has been some research done about joy; its cousin, happiness; and plain old fun.
Here are some of the highlights of what’s been found: The experience of joy and happiness is something that comes from within, independent of the external circumstances.
We have all known people who can find something to complain about no matter how breathtaking the view or how delicious the food and company. A life of simple pleasures can bring immense joy. Conversely, a life of great wealth and education can leave you feeling impoverished and unhappy. Knowing these facts, what is the best way to capitalize on them?
Here are 7 ways to feel more joy and happiness, highlighted by hypothetical examples:
1. Allow yourself to do just one thing at a time.
Let yourself become absorbed completely in the experience at hand, and stop multitasking. Focus on whatever you are doing as much as you can.
This is particularly difficult with smartphones and 24/7 connectedness. It has been found that taking a regular quietness break from the constant interruptions of the external world allows for a more renewed sense of energy for your work as well as more creative, effective outcomes.
Laura found herself unable to silence her phone, even during important projects. If anyone called, she would answer. She could be at lunch with someone else, or on a deadline at work—it didn’t matter. She could not let a call go by.
Last summer, she did a retreat in an area of wilderness with no cell service. At first she felt panicked. She found herself wondering, “Who am I if I am not available at all times to those in need?”
As the hours melted into days, Laura felt a growing sense of relief and lightness in her being. Her thinking cleared and her creativity returned. By the time she returned home, she was playful and truly enjoying herself and her life in a new way. She was also committed to letting the phone ring through to her voice mail, with it set so that only emergency calls would get through.
2. Pay attention to your senses.
Appreciate the positive. Research from Rutgers University has indicated that people who are good at appreciating positive things are more satisfied with life. In fact, appreciation is a more positive predictor of life satisfaction than personality, gratitude, gender, age or ethnicity.
When eating, slow down and savor each bite. When outside, smell flowers and other natural scents. Listen to birds, the ocean, or wind blowing through the trees. Drink in the visual beauty that surrounds you. When at home, listen to music that soothes or excites you. Enjoy your attractive home environment.
Jonathan found that—when a deadline was looming or an event was imminent—his focus became much narrower and he would lose his ability to savor the moment. The good smell of an excellent cup of coffee disappeared and the coffee simply became a way to stay more alert.
He was irritated by his partner’s complaints that he was no longer listening. Life became more about goals, and any thought of slowing down and taking pleasure in the moment was lost. He had trouble concentrating on what he was doing. As soon as he reached one goal, he moved on to the next one.
Then Jonathan took a fall, and his injuries forced him to slow down and receive help from others. He had to let go of the goals that had been driving him, and rest in himself more fully. At first he felt anxious that he would not be able to provide for himself and his partner; then he realized he had the resources to let himself take the time to heal, so he did.
Jonathan began to meditate again. He found he had time to enjoy his surroundings and appreciate his partner. He began to get a better sense of his own needs as he slowed down and paid attention internally. His joy returned slowly as he paid more attention to the taste of his food, the sound of the birds outside, and the comfort of being held by his partner in a nourishing way.
3. Move in ways that help you feel more alive inside: dancing, drumming, singing, sharing with others or caring for others.
Lila works in an office where she spends a lot of time sitting. She found that when she takes time at lunch to walk, she thinks more clearly when she goes back to her desk. If she takes a yoga or dance class after work, it gives her a sense of lightness of being that she takes into her evening.
Last week, a friend invited Lila to a drumming circle. She found herself completely wrapped up in the rhythms and energized. She felt a sense of excitement and happiness as she drove home that night. Now, when she cannot get out and move, she notices a drop in her happiness quotient, along with a decrease in her energy and her ability to focus.
William is an accountant with a big heart. He works with numbers all day and he finds his joy in volunteering two days a week after work at the local animal shelter. The dogs and cats are so appreciative of his touch and caring. He is pleasantly surprised by how much happiness comes back to him through his caring endeavors.
4. Have gratitude for what is good in your life.
Focus on the positive and let the negative go. Noticing and affirming both what is good and right in the world creates an outlook that contributes to more joy and happiness day to day.
Thomas was raised in a household filled with anxiety and fear. With an alcoholic father and a mother who was anxious to please all the time, the internal life messages he received were pretty grim. When he became an adult, he found himself seeing life through the narrow lens of survival, not the wide perceptual lens of the joy of thriving.
However, he had read enough to know he wanted something different, so he began a gratitude journal. Every night, Thomas committed to writing for at least 15 minutes about what he was grateful for that day. At first, he could hardly find three things in a day to be thankful for. Then as the days passed, he increasingly found more to write about: small things; large, life-changing things.
One evening, a month into the project, he was astounded to realize he had written for an hour without stopping. It was also exciting to realize he felt happier overall in his life. He was paying attention to what was working for him rather than against him. When uncomfortable or painful feelings came up, Thomas was better able to remember the good times and balance his feelings.
This is the gift of neuroplasticity. We now know, thanks to research, our brains change and grow across our life spans. If you want a happier, joyful outlook, practice seeing what is joyful and positive in your life on a daily basis, and those neuronal pathways will develop over time.
5. Acknowledge your successes to yourself.
Celebrate them. Many of us were taught that patting ourselves on the back was grandiose or sinful in some way. In fact, it is quite helpful in the happiness equation to take the time to recognize and own your accomplishments.
Alison had been raised with the phrase, “Who do you think you are?” It played over and over in her head, and was learned from her older siblings and her father. She was a youngest child, full of life and creativity—but in her family, she began to hide her talents and be invisible.
When she became an adult, she wanted to change this inner message; however, it was initially so powerful it could stop her cold. She had always been afraid of being grandiose, “too big for her britches,” as her father used to say. But as she examined the facts more closely, she realized her accomplishments were many and she deserved to let them in.
Alison’s self-esteem was built on the solid ground of real actions, and she deserved every bit of recognition she wanted to give herself. As she allowed herself to soak in the good feelings from what she was creating in her life, she found more joy and happiness, something that had been elusive to her all her life.
6. Share good feelings when you are having them.
Don’t be afraid to let your happiness show. Let your smile be broad, and laugh out loud. Tell others in your circle the good things that are happening. This can actually help them remember their joy as well.
Blake had always felt extremely shy about sharing. He was anxious that it would sound like his older sister, who would gloat and be grandiose when he was little. When he finally realized he was an entirely different person from her and could share in his own way, he began to loosen up and find moments of true joy and happiness. Soon he was letting himself laugh out loud with friends and family. It was freeing. He felt like a new man.
7. Give your inner critic a vacation and allow your inner joy-finder to drive the bus of your awareness.
Your inner critic is probably tired and ready for a vacation. Who wouldn’t be, from all the years of driving you toward the unreachable goal of perfection? Take the time to count your blessings and build positive memories.
Perfectionists tend to focus on what they got wrong on the exam rather than noticing the 98 percent they got right. They tend to see what is off about an experience instead of what’s right on. It dampens their enjoyment of life in all aspects—from vacations to job challenges.
Brittany was raised by hardworking immigrant parents, who valued education and accomplishment above all else. No matter how hard she worked, it was never quite good enough for her mother, who wanted Brittany to be strong and independent. For Brittany, this was tough; pretty soon, an inner critic took up residence in her head, and she rode herself hard to be perfect.
When she left home and began to realize there was another way, Brittany did some work with herself to let go of her inner critic. It was not easy, but over time she was able to shift her awareness to include more joy and less judgment. What a relief! She was able to thank her inner critic for helping her accomplish so much and then let it take a vacation so she could enjoy her life.
Joy, happiness and fun are all integral parts of a life well-lived. They are not the icing on the cake; they are some of the main ingredients. It is becoming increasingly apparent we would all do well to cultivate our happiness and joy quotient if we want to be creative, effective and dynamic in all that we do.
About the Author:
Suzanne Scurlock-Durana, C.M.T., C.S.T.-D., is creator of the training and audio series Healing From the Core: A Journey Home to Ourselves (healingfromthecore.com) and author of Full Body Presence: Learning to Listen to Your Body’s Wisdom. She has taught CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release for the Upledger Institute since 1986, and for the past 21 years has provided staff-development training at the Esalen Institute. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “To Develop Professional Boundaries Means Understanding Shadow Projection” and “Do You Feel Like You Never Have Enough Time for Yourself? Try These 4 Steps to Self-Connect.”