Equipped With Happiness


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Be Happier By Smiling More

smile cartoonAs a well-known song from Annie reminds us, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” Sure, it might be more problematic to go out in public without pants than it would be to go without a smile, but remembering to wear a smile is still beneficial. The simple act of smiling has an amazing ability to inspire happiness.

Studies show that smiling may actually generate positive emotional experiences.

The idea that facial expressions contribute to emotional states, rather than simply reflecting them, can be found as far back as the work of Charles Darwin. For many years, researchers have been performing experiments aimed at studying the effects of smiling on the experience of happiness.

These researchers have used a variety of methods to mimic the physical act of smiling (eliminating happiness as a precursor), which has enabled them to study the expression itself as a cause of emotion. Repeatedly, results have indicated that arranging the facial muscles into a smile can actually produce positive emotions.

A study conducted by Robert Zajonc, Sheila Murphy, and Marita Inglehart even found a possible reason for this phenomenon.  According to their research, the muscular movements associated with smiling cool the blood flowing to the brain through particular veins. This leads to fluctuations in brain temperature, which causes the release/blockage of emotion-related neurotransmitters (the chemicals cells use to communicate).[1]

If these studies are correct, smiling might just be the quickest and easiest way to feel happier.

Smiling also creates a happiness-inducing environment.

People generally respond more favorably to those they perceive as friendly.  When we smile, we become more approachable (and often more attractive) to others. This is likely to improve our existing relationships, as well as increasing the likelihood that we will form rewarding new connections.

A smile can also improve the moods of those around us. Think about the difference between waiting in a line of happy people having animated conversations or waiting in a line of irate customers yelling at the cashier for going too slow. It might take the same amount of time to reach the front of those two lines, but it’s pretty clear which line will leave us feeling better. Smiling helps build a positive atmosphere, which can lead to a happier experience for everyone involved.

Of course, that isn’t to say we should force ourselves to smile all the time. If we are unhappy, it is perfectly okay to feel and process those emotions, rather than hide behind a mask of happiness. But on those occasions where we find ourselves making a “neutral” face, it might be worth showing off those pearly whites (or lack thereof), instead.

 

References

[1] Zajonc, R.B., Murphy, S.T., & Inglehart, M. (1989). Feeling and facial efference: Implications of the vascular theory of emotion. Psychological Review 96(3), 395-416.


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Natural Reminders the World is an Incredible Place

It is easy to become so focused on pursuing happiness in the manmade world that we forget all about the reasons Mother Nature gives us to smile. Sometimes stopping to enjoy the beauty of the natural world can be a chance to get away from the stresses of everyday life and remind ourselves of all the good in the world. While physically spending time in nature offers many rewards that no photo can capture, this slideshow is a reasonable substitute for those who don’t have the time, the means, or the tolerance of dirt and bugs to visit the outside world in person.

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Be Happier By Consulting The Impossible

impossiblecartoonWhen making decisions, people naturally tend to limit themselves to options they deem “possible.” This seems like a logical approach, since focusing on impractical ideas uses up time and energy that could be spent on formulating a feasible plan. But sometimes, considering impossible, best-case-scenarios can lead to decisions that are actually more satisfying.

Occasionally, this satisfaction comes from discovering that the “impossible” is actually doable.

In order to avoid wasting effort, we often limit ourselves to ideas we are certain will work. This means we quickly label riskier options as impossible, never giving them a second thought. But some of these uncertain paths may be more possible than we think, and pursuing them can lead us to happiness.

Identifying those kinds of situations requires changing the way we initially categorize our ideas. Instead of trying to find the most practical options first, we should try to find the most appealing ones. Once we find an idea we like, we can begin to evaluate the steps necessary to make it a reality. Examining these steps in detail, after we are already fond of the idea in question, can make something that seemed impossible into a completely viable option. And that option could be just what we needed.

Even if our favorite idea does turn out to be impractical, contemplating the idea is still beneficial.

Decisions can be a little overwhelming at times. Thinking of a perfect outcome, no matter how impossible it is, can be a good starting point in the decision-making process. A brief fantasy about the best-case-scenario can help end the feeling of mental paralysis that often seems to accompany difficult decisions.

Not only that, sometimes working backwards from an impossible idea leads to an alternative that is still pretty great. It may be that a few simple sacrifices can be made to bring the idea into the realm of possibilities. If not, the original idea can still provide a direction for future ideas. By identifying factors that made the original idea appealing, new options that offer similar benefits can be developed. This process may illuminate opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to us.

Considering impossible ideas also helps us understand ourselves better. When we think in terms of “possible,” we depend on a predetermined evaluation of our capabilities. This leaves little room for growth. But, when we think in terms of “ideal”, we gain insight about what truly makes us happy. This allows us to make efforts to grow in ways that maximize our happiness and to make decisions that bring us greater satisfaction.

It is important to remember that impossible is not the same thing as useless, and uncertain is not the same thing as impossible. If we consider the “impossible” when making decisions, we increase our likelihood of finding opportunities to be happy.

 


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30 Simple Ways to Spread Happiness

take a smile

Today, March 20, is International Day of Happiness, a holiday dedicated to increasing happiness throughout the world.  In its honor, here are some easy ways to bring happiness to others (and hopefully make yourself feel good, too).

1. Give sincere compliments.

2. Pay-it-forward.

3. Bring donuts to work.

4. Give someone a gift “just because.”

5. Leave post-it notes with kind messages around the house.

6. Plan a nice surprise for someone.

7. Offer to cover a shift for someone who needs a day off.

8. Watch that movie your friend has been begging you to see since last year.

9. Volunteer with a charitable organization.

10. Help someone with chores.

11. Share your lunch.

12. Remind your loved ones how much you care.

13. Let someone else go first.

14. Give someone an uninterrupted chance to talk about their day.

15. Bake treats and deliver them to friends.

16. Help pick up trash in a public place.

17. Give someone a massage (preferably someone you know).

18. Be polite. 

19. Cook someone their favorite meal.

20. Take an interest in things that matter to others.

21. Leave a generous tip.

22. Host a get-together.

23. Make extra efforts to express your gratitude.

24. Call/visit/email/text friends or family just to say “hi.”

25. Tell jokes (that are appropriate for the given context).

26. Fill out a positive comment card for a business you like.

27. Treat someone when you go out together.

28. “Like” some extra Facebook posts (or the equivalent on a different site).

29. Reminisce with others about shared fond memories.

30. Smile.

Happy people tend to pass positive feelings on to others. Sometimes all it takes is one kind gesture or friendly smile to start a chain reaction of happiness. As more and more people start feeling good, they, too, will spread happiness. If enough people join in, eventually there might just be worldwide happiness epidemic.


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Be Happier By Reaching Out To Others

reach out cartoonWhile our happiness should by no means be entirely dependent on others, there is certainly joy to be found by connecting with fellow human beings. The happiness that comes from interacting with others can be found in a variety of relationships and come from many different kinds of connections. This means it’s available to all of us, regardless of our circumstances.

 Reaching out is beneficial to us, and others, in a few ways.

1.  It is a chance to share joys: Good news gets even better when someone else is just as excited about it as we are. It seems that happiness feeds on itself, and the more of it we share, the more of it there is. Happiness is contagious, so when others share their joy, it can improve our moods, too.

2.  It is a way to unload burdens: Sharing our struggles with others can help lift some of the weight off our own shoulders. Another person can be a shoulder to cry on so we don’t feel alone, a sounding board to bounce ideas off, a source of a fresh perspective and advice, or a helping hand that relieves us of some stress.

3. It is an opportunity to improve the lives of everyone involved: Actively making an effort to bring joy to other people increases their happiness as well as ours. It is satisfying to know that our actions put a smile on someone else’s face.

 The great thing about these benefits is that they are found in close relationships, casual relationships, and even with complete strangers.

In close relationships: If we are lucky enough to have friends or family members with whom we can share intimate details of our lives, these people can be a source of emotional comfort. They’re our loudest cheering section when things go well for us, and they are able to figure out exactly what to say when we’re down. Bringing joy to our loved ones is often especially satisfying, since we are likely to know precisely how to make them happy. Since we care about these people so deeply, good things that happen to them can make us just as happy as our own good news.

In casual relationships: Neighbors, coworkers, classmates, etc. can also provide a place to share joys, unload burdens, and inspire happiness. When something positive happens in our lives, it’s possible we could brighten someone else’s day, and our own, by sharing it. And, by seeking information about the joys happening in the lives of those around us, we get the opportunity to find extra happiness in their good news. Not only that, sometimes the people we form casual relationships with have similar struggles to our own. For instance, the people we work with may feel equally stressed about recent company layoffs. Talking about these concerns with them might provide some relief. We can easily generate happiness for our acquaintances, and ourselves, by doing them favors or giving them compliments.

With strangers: Sometimes simply observing happiness in others can be a source of joy. Seeing a child playing or a couple holding hands can inspire a smile. If we are the ones having fun, a stranger’s day may be brightened by our smiles. And if our own days are in need of brightening, we can find similar happiness in a stranger’s delight. Strangers can also help in times of need.  During natural disasters or other emergencies, people who have never met before often band together and even save each other’s lives. We can experience the satisfaction of bringing a smile to a stranger’s face by participating in charity, offering a friendly greeting, paying it forward, or engaging in any other gesture of kindness.

 Even though we increase our opportunities for happiness by connecting with others, it isn’t always easy to do so.

Sometimes we experience internal and external struggles that cause us to shut out the very people who matter to us most. Sometimes we hesitate to interact with casual acquaintances because we fear that they will judge us or that we will accidentally overstep boundaries. And sometimes we are too shy or distrusting to risk being friendly to a stranger.

If we experience these kinds of difficulties, we can challenge ourselves to take baby steps toward reaching out.  That could mean making small efforts to communicate more openly in our close relationships, baking a treat to share at work, or simply making eye contact and smiling as we pass someone on the street.

Reaching out to others increases the number of happy people in the world. And the more happy people there are, the more happiness there is for everyone to catch. It’s a wonderful cycle to be a part of!


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20 Little Things to Smile About

Photo by Debbie Mann

Photo by Debbie Mann

Happiness comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is inspired by grand experiences, like graduating, getting married, or winning a championship game. Other times, it simply comes from small pleasures found in daily life. The great thing about these little joys is, when we take the time to think about them, they seem to be present everywhere. Here are just 20 of life’s many little sources of happiness.

1. The feeling of warm sand between your toes

2. Flipping your pillow over to the cold side

3. The irresistible smell of popcorn when you walk into a movie theater

4. Reaching into your pocket and finding money you had forgotten about

5. Those rare occasions when the amount of cereal left in the box is the exact amount you were hungry for

6. Turning the radio on right as your favorite song starts

7. Thinking it’s only Thursday and then realizing it’s actually Friday

8. Getting into bed after a full day on your feet

9. The feeling when your ears pop

10. Getting an annoying bug that’s been buzzing around in your car to fly out the window

11. That moment when you are at a restaurant and you see your food coming

12. Waking up exhausted, looking at the alarm clock in dread, and discovering you still have plenty of time left to sleep

13. Stepping on a crunchy leaf

14. Dropping something small in the grass and actually being able to find it

15. Walking out into the sun after being in a cold room and/or walking into an air conditioned room after being outside on a hot day

16. Biting into a freshly baked cookie

17. Shaking a malfunctioning electronic device out of frustration, and having that actually fix the problem.

18. Seeing the bounty in the pantry on grocery day

19. Sitting in a chair that both rolls and swivels

20. Finally getting to use the bathroom after a long car ride

The best thing about life’s simple little pleasures is that they can always provide a reason to smile, even when a given moment is falling a bit short in the happiness department.


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Be Happier By Treating Yourself Lovingly

treatyourselfwithlovecartoonAt some point in their lives, most people have felt mistreated by someone else. But sometimes the greatest cruelty we face actually comes from within ourselves. When this happens, we often aren’t even aware we are treating ourselves poorly.

That’s why we might benefit from living by a new “golden rule”: Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. Before we perform actions or engage in thoughts directed towards ourselves, we should stop and consider whether we would appreciate that same treatment if it came from someone else.

Of course, each of us has unique desires regarding how we would like to be treated, so the way we should act toward ourselves may also differ. But the following guidelines might be a reasonable place to start. After each “don’t” is a happier, alternative “do.”

Don’t criticize yourself too harshly: No matter how much we wish it wasn’t true, we all have less-than-perfect moments.  When we make mistakes, we often fling mental insults at ourselves. Sometimes we are so good at this that we manage to convince ourselves we really are terrible people. But I think most of us would feel abused if another person tore us apart over our failures that way. So, we should be careful to show ourselves compassion, even when we are disappointed by our imperfections.

Do praise yourself: Compliments make us feel good, and we like it when others notice and express positive things about us. We can extend the same courtesy toward ourselves by acknowledging our personal successes and valuing our strengths.

Don’t Make Excuses For Yourself: While it is important to avoid being overly critical, we should not go to the other extreme of allowing ourselves to get away with everything. Almost anything we do wrong can be justified somehow, and it is tempting to accept questionable justifications to avoid the pain of admitting a mistake. The problem is, doing that means being dishonest with ourselves (which is treatment we wouldn’t want from others). It is better to acknowledge our errors, forgive ourselves, and try to do better in the future.

Do Encourage Yourself to Grow: Moments of imperfection can be great opportunities for self-improvement, if we take the time to analyze them and correct whatever went wrong. Rather than feeling bad about mistakes, or pretending they don’t exist, we can take on the challenge of bettering ourselves by not repeating them.

Don’t Punish Yourself:  Sometimes feeling bad about ourselves escalates into a belief that our shortcomings are so severe  we don’t deserve happiness. We end up undermining relationships, missing opportunities, and denying ourselves satisfactions because we feel unworthy of them. But the natural consequences of our mistakes are punishment enough. After all, if we accidentally spilled tomato sauce on a friend’s shirt, we would hope the friend would simply allow us to pay for a new one, rather than seek revenge by attacking our own wardrobe with grape juice.

Do seek enjoyment for yourself: When other people take the time to do nice things for us, it generally makes us happy. So, we should take the time to do nice things for ourselves, too. This could mean indulging in a favorite dessert, taking a day off from work, going for a long run, planning a day with friends, or engaging in any other activity that brings us pleasure.

Frustrating as it is, we can’t always control the injustices inflicted on us by others. But we can avoid mistreating ourselves, and we even have the chance to create some extra happiness in the process.