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Happiness and How to Pursue it
Happy people don’t just wait for an opportunity – they focus on happiness and create it. They know what makes them happy and engage in activities that put them in the “zone.” They also give generously of themselves.
Use these 4 techniques to experience more happiness in your life.
1. Decide to be happy.
Intend. To decide. Plan to be happy today. What meetings, events and work do you have scheduled? How can you enjoy them?
Leadership coach Gayle learned early on how to be happy. She grew up on a farm and helped milk the cows and feed the pigs. Every morning her mother would open the blinds and say, “Today is going to be a great day, Gayle!” Gayle would excitedly roll out of bed, put on her boots and work on the farm before school. One rainy morning when her mother came into her room smiling with her daily greeting, “Today is going to be a great day,” Gayle snapped, “No, it’s not! It’s raining!” They went back and forth like that for a few minutes. Then Gayle’s mother turned off the lights and pulled down the blinds. “You might as well go back to bed. If you’ve already decided it’s going to be a terrible day, it probably will be.” Of course, that day turned out to be quite long and boring.
“I really got the message my mom was trying to teach that day,” Gayle remembers. “It affected my whole outlook on life. Now I focus on making every day a good one and I pass that message on to my students.” Gayle is a very enthusiastic and happy person who loves her job. At her seminars, she hands out rocks painted by her 92-year-old mother that reads, “It’s a great day!”
Set your sights on happiness first thing in the morning. Go through the events of that day in your mind and imagine that you are happy. Some days will be happier than others, but at least you’ll start running. That single act of deciding to create happiness will bring you greater joy.
2. Know what makes you happy.
What makes *you* truly, authentically happy? Your. Not your family, friends or co-workers. What makes your day? Take a moment and write down 10 things that make you happy. Let your thoughts flow freely. Maybe some things that you haven’t done in a long time will pop up on your list, like painting with watercolors or playing tennis. Flight attendant Rebecca is happy with freshly cut flowers, knitting, gardeners and walking her two dogs. George enjoys number puzzles, making movies for fun and hiking. Big or small, know the exact things that make you happy.
The database manager applies her recipe for happiness every day. “Laughter makes me the happiest,” she says. “I try to do it early in the day. I finish visiting with my co-workers and do my comedy routine, and the rest of the day is filled with vibes of that joy.” Her colleagues also benefit. Her humor is contagious. Because a sense of closeness filters through the group, collaborators can lean on and rally behind each other on projects when needed.
What’s on your bucket list? Prioritize the things that make you happy. Sprinkle them into every day. You will benefit. Your family and co-workers will also benefit. And happiness almost always increases productivity.
3. Do what you do.
It’s important to do what you love. It’s just as important to find ways to get fully involved in what you love to do. Whether it’s knitting, running or designing a website – find those activities that draw your full attention to them.
One active professional, Jeff, finds time to devote himself to his passion for basketball. “Every Tuesday and Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. I get together with the guys and play basketball. It’s my escape. For those two hours, I don’t think about anything but crossover dribble, jump and jump. I get lost in the moment with the other guys. We don’t talk about what happened that day or what went wrong. It’s therapeutic.”
What activities keep you from thinking about everything else when you’re immersed in them? What things absorb you in the present moment? The key is to find something that you have some skill or mastery at, but that also challenges you. The balance between challenge and mastery leads to what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” Your brain and your body synchronize for an optimal experience. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, the only thing that matters is that you do it. The more you engage in flow at work, in your free time, and at home, the greater your happiness.
In what ways do you like to give? Your life is bigger than yourself. When you give of yourself—your gifts, time, and talent—you make a difference to others. Whether it’s a small project at your children’s school or a lifelong commitment to a cause like Hospice or Habitat for Humanity, make an effort to give back to others.
Busy professionals can still find time to contribute. For example, Janice teaches a student for one hour a week. John, a full-time civil engineer, volunteers with Save Our Shores. Maya, a working mom, volunteers at her daughter’s school fundraiser. “I use my skills in a way that gives those kids. I have a lot of fun with the projects, I like to get involved, and I see the difference in giving kids things like art supplies so they can express their own interests.”
Contribution can come from the way you spend your free time and volunteering. It can also come from your chosen profession.
The highest form of giving is when you give freely, expecting nothing in return, not giving out of obligation, guilt or pressure. It’s not about giving to get your name framed on a plaque. It’s giving for the sake of giving, because you care.
What can you do today to increase your happiness? Start with the goal of being happy. Then take a moment to remember and list the things that make you happy and start doing them. Engage in activities that put you in a state of flow—perhaps running, playing music, or sculpting. Also remember to contribute to others, even in simple, everyday ways, such as paying the toll for the person in the car behind you. Strive and increase your happiness. You’ll be glad you did.
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