By Teja Lele Desai
It’s not destiny that decides you’ll be a sour face. Happy people work towards being that. Here’s how to do it
If you’re happy and you know it…goes an old children’s ditty. But are you? The pursuit of happiness isn’t easy — materialistic goodies do not guarantee a good life; close relationships, work satisfaction and working towards greater good do.
Studies have shown that the tendency to be happy is an inherited trait. Not everyone has a sunny disposition, but experts say we can all learn to bring more joy into our lives.
Sophie Keller, author of the How Happy series, says the secret to happiness is knowing you are already happy. “We’re human ‘beings’, not human ‘doings’ or ‘havings’, so happiness needs to be a ‘being state,” she says.
Here’s a simple break-up offered by writer Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness: 50 per cent of our happiness levels are genetically determined, 10 per cent are affected by circumstances while the remaining 40 per cent is subject to self-control.
So how do you get happy? Here’s a don’t-do list to set you on the path to happiness.
Don’t look outwards: Seeking external sources of happiness can sabotage your peace. San Francisco-based sustainable happiness expert Dr Aymee Coget suggests, “Focus on controlling your emotional state by choosing happiness and adopting positive psychology principles, build your resilience, follow your heart and meditate into the greatest states of bliss.”
Don’t hold a grudge: American writer Rita Mae Brown said it right when she wrote, “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” Forgiveness doesn’t come easy, but is key; anger, antagonism and resentment are detrimental to your self. Dr Vandana Tara, a Delhi-based clinical psychologist, says, “In all probability, the person concerned will go on with life while you nurture ill-will. This bitterness could leave you physically and mentally ill.”
Don’t mistreat yourself: Happy people know the importance of looking after themselves — they eat healthy, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Exercise keeps you fit, lets you relax, boosts brain power and improves your body image. Sound sleep lets you focus and increases productivity. Sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, but are good at recalling glum moments.
Don’t neglect family and pals: Studies have consistently proven that spending time with close ones impacts our happiness quotient. Harvard happiness expert and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert sums up: “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.” Also, make time only for those who matter; superficial relationships sap mirth.
Don’t compare: Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t help the happiness cause. Constant comparisons with people who are smarter, more attractive or successful leads to resentment. “Comparing is a battle, a fight. If you were to look back on your life, you don’t want to think you’ve wasted your time on it,” Keller says. Tara says the way out is to compete with yourself. “Easier said than done, but every individual is unique. Another person’s weakness might be your asset.”
Don’t be self-centred: Doing good makes us feel good. Research indicates that helping others ups our sense of self-esteem, setting us on the path to real and rewarding happiness. University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman, in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, says, scientists “have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in wellbeing of any exercise we have tested”. When the recipient of your gesture expresses joy, it acts as a reward, says Dr Samir Parikh, director of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare. Tutoring your house help’s kids or volunteering at a care centre yields the same result: A happy you.
Don’t fail to live in the moment: “It is our nature to dwell on past events, especially negatives. We need six positives for our brain to overcome what happened in the past. Training our mind to live in the moment — a sink-or-swim skill — is the way to happiness,” Coget says. Learn from past mistakes, but live in the present.
Don’t be ungrateful: Being grateful increases satisfaction. Think of three good things that happened to you in a day or keep a journal of what you are grateful for.
The Journal of Happiness study revealed that writing letters of gratitude increased happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms. “We all don’t have things that we want, so it’s easy to be negative. Soon, this emotion seeps into our subconscious and takes over our minds,” Keller says.
Don’t be afraid: Fears of what may or may not happen will persist, but happy people take the first step towards turning their dreams into reality. “Whatever you’ve dreamed of, get started. Don’t wait for that one fateful day when everything will fall into place,” Desai says.