Equipped With Happiness


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Don’t Just Find A Happy Place—Bring One To You

photoWhen things get rough, everyone knows you just have to “find a happy place.” Maybe you picture yourself on a tropical vacation, or maybe you think about climbing your favorite childhood tree. Escaping to a happy place in your mind can certainly make you feel a lot better, but it might also pose a bit of a problem if you are in a situation that necessities being mentally present.

Fortunately, happy places don’t always need to be the result of mental escape. It is possible to make a happy place rather than finding one—all it takes is filling your current surroundings with things that make you smile! The possibilities are endless when it comes to ways to do this, but here are some ideas to start with:

Fill the room with stuff you like.

This could mean decorating with photos of family and friends, a vase full of your favorite flowers, stuffed animals or your best Lego creations. Or, it could mean covering everything in your favorite color. It could even mean hanging a giant picture of bacon on the wall, because hey, why not?

Satisfy your senses.

How could you possibly be happy in a room that smells like a combination of one of your coworker’s gym shoes and another coworker’s headache-inducing perfume? It would be a challenge, that’s for sure. But you can create a happier atmosphere by finding a candle or air freshener that makes you feel all good inside and keeping it with you at all times.

Of course, satisfying your senses goes beyond just smell. Try filling your cabinets with your favorite foods, and looking for opportunities to play music that inspires your happy dance.

Leave yourself happy notes.

You can take this to the extreme, and leave “you can do it” post its on every surface of your house, or you can do a milder version and simply add a smiley face to the top of your grocery list (or a drawing of Godzilla, if that’s what does it for you). The important thing is giving yourself a little reminder to smile.

Make a mobile-friendly happy place.

Even if you don’t have a stable location that you can transform into a “happy place,” you can still bring your happy place with you. This might mean carrying around a good luck charm, adding something fun to your key chain or wearing a friendship bracelet. Or it could mean changing the background on your phone to something that makes you smile.

After all, why settle for simply imagining a happy place when you could be in a real one, instead?


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Be Happier By Putting Bad Stuff In Its Place

bad mood cartoonIn a certain light, even the smallest objects can cast giant, menacing shadows. The same is true of negative events in our lives. If we view them in the wrong light, they can create a shadow that covers a much larger area than is warranted by their actual magnitude. This dark shadow can block the glow of happiness that shines from other parts of our lives.

Fortunately, by changing the light in which we view these negative events, it is relatively easy to prevent this shadow from forming. We simply need to focus on a few reminders that help keep our problems in perspective.

Reminder #1: Most bad stuff isn’t permanent.

When something goes wrong, or we find ourselves in a less-than-ideal situation, it is easy to get so caught up in the frustration of the moment that we forget our discomfort will not last forever. Often, negative circumstances are only temporary. For instance, we only need to tolerate an unpleasant job until we are able to find a better one (or until we can retire).  But even if the circumstances are permanent, usually our extreme aversion to them is not. As we get some distance from a bad break up, for example, we are able to adjust to the situation and feel less miserable.

It is important to remind ourselves that no matter how bad something seems, it’s only “for now.” It is easier to cope with unhappiness when we remember that eventually we will find some relief. Just think of how much easier the knowledge that Friday exists makes it to survive the workweek!

Reminder #2: Bad stuff has a tendency to create more bad stuff.

If a day starts with an alarm clock that doesn’t go off, followed by a flat tire, it is tempting to label the entire day as a “bad day.” But the second we decide we are having a bad day we severely decrease the chances that things will turn around. Once a day has been identified as “bad,” we’re more likely to interpret everything that happens in that context. A burnt dinner becomes yet another failure, when it could just as easily have been a good excuse to eat out.

Not only that, wallowing in a bad mood makes us unpleasant to be around, and may drive away people who could have made us feel better. When we bump into an attractive stranger, who might have offered us a flirtatious remark if we were smiling, they might respond to our obvious bad mood with a sharp, “Watch where you’re going,” instead. Of course, we will then take their rudeness as further evidence of our bad day. It’s up to us to avoid letting the bad things multiply.

Reminder #3: Taking time to appreciate the good helps keep the bad from taking over.

Knowing that it isn’t productive to let a bad mood influence everything else is one thing, but actually stopping that from happening is a whole different animal. It can be helpful to try to counter bad moods by actively reminding ourselves of the things we have to be happy about. These don’t even need to be big things; simply thinking about the taste of warm apple pie, or the feeling of sliding into a refreshing swimming pool on a hot day, can be enough to brighten our moods. The more time we spend thinking about the good parts of life, the less space there will be in our minds to fixate on bad stuff.

Life may not always be perfect, but, if we commit to reducing the shadow cast by less-than-ideal circumstances, these imperfections do not have to ruin our happiness.

 


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Inspiring Kids Who Have Made a Difference

kid changing the worldGiven the prevalence of news stories about disasters, violence, and crime, it is easy to start thinking the world is a scary, cruel place. But there’s also plenty of kindness out there, if we take the time to look. Not only that, we all have the ability to create positive change to combat the problems we see in the world.

Here are four amazing stories about compassionate kids that prove anyone, no matter how small, can make a big difference:

Nothing a Little Chocolate Bar Can’t Fix

It’s not every day that a 6-year-old publishes a book, sells 16,000 copies, and raises $750,000 dollars for medical research in the process. But that is exactly what Dylan Siegel did to help find a cure for his best friend, who has Glycogen Storage Disease Type 1b (a rare but potentially life-threatening liver condition).

To Dylan, “chocolate bar” means awesome, so that is what he decided to call his book. He started by selling 200 copies at a school event, and then held a book signing at a local Barnes and Noble. This led to appearances on several television shows, stories in magazines and newspapers, and massive success for Dylan’s efforts.

All of the money he has raised with Chocolate Bar has gone to a research fund at the University of Florida, and he hopes to eventually raise at least $1 million.[1]

Changing the World With Teddy Bears

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti inspired many remarkable acts of charity and support. One especially touching effort was made by Blare Gooch, who was 12-years-old at the time. Blare was watching a newscast of the quake’s destruction and saw a little boy in the wreckage crying. This gave him the idea to collect teddy bears to send to Haiti.

His school allowed him to announce the idea over the PA system, and pretty soon other kids began donating bears. Thanks to a little media attention, and the kindness of many other donors, Blare was able to send 25,000 bears to Haiti. He also gave another 22,000 to other nonprofits.

In the following year, he expanded his efforts and began collecting school supplies for children in Haiti, as well.[2]

Clean-Up Kid

When 7-year-old Mateo Maldonado saw bags of trash lining the streets of his community, he decided something needed to be done. So, he and his family set out to clean up the mess, collecting a total of 47 bags of litter.

But Mateo didn’t stop there. Instead, he formed a group called Mateo’s Litter Critters to continue the clean up efforts. The group meets once a month in bright green shirts, drives around to find a place in need of their services, and goes to work ridding the community of trash. [3]

In less than one year, Mateo and his Critters collected more than 200 bags of trash from parks and streets in their city of York, Pennsylvania.[4]

Blankets for a Brighter World

Charlie Coons was 11 years old when her brother returned from a trip to Egypt with stories about needy children he had seen in orphanages. Charlie wanted to do something to help, so she got some friends together to make blankets to send to the orphans.

She continued her efforts by starting an organization called HELP (Hope Encouragement Love Peace), dedicated to sending blankets to children in need. Since then, several other states have started their own chapters.

Charlie started her blanket project in 2008, and by 2011 her group had sent more than 700 blankets to children in several different countries.[5]

These kids are just a few of many people, young and old, whose acts of kindness remind us that the world really is full of happy stories and caring gestures.

 

References:

[1] “Chocolate Bar.” Accessed April 15, 2014. http://chocolatebarbook.com.

[2] Cooper, Andrea.“8 Amazing Kids Who Make a Difference.” Parenting. Accessed April 15, 2014. http://www.parenting.com/gallery/kids-who-make-difference?page=2.

[3] “Meet the Finalists for Kindest Kid.” Today. Last modified November 27, 2013. http://www.today.com/video/today/53677597/#53677597.

[4] Sawyer, Hannah. “Litter Critter Mateo a Finalist in National Kindest Kid Contest.” York City Limits. Last modified December 6, 2013. http://www.yorkblog.com/yorkcitylimits/2013/12/06/litter-critter-mateo-a-finalist-in-national-kindest-kid-contest.

[5] Flans, Robyn. “Simi Valley Eighth-Grader’s Nonprofit Takes Off.” Ventura County Star. Last modified February 15, 2011. http://www.vcstar.com/news/2011/feb/15/simi-valley-eighth-graders-nonprofit-takes-off/?partner=yahoo_feeds.


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Be Happier By Making The Right Comparisons

comparisoncartoonThe temptation to compare ourselves to others seems to affect pretty much everyone. We might find ourselves wondering if we make as much money as our coworkers. Or we might sneak a quick peek to find out if the person on the treadmill beside us is running faster than we are. Comparisons can be beneficial to us, if we approach them in the right way. But, if we aren’t careful, they can also damage our self-esteem.

Recognizing how self-image is impacted can help us learn to make more productive comparisons.

People often let the way they measure up to others determine how they feel about themselves. If we evaluate our own assets as superior to the assets of the person next to us, our self-esteem goes up. But, if that person is more successful, attractive, or talented than we are, we may start feeling rather discouraged. Neither of these scenarios is ideal.

It is important to remember that when comparisons increase our self-esteem, the effects are only temporary. If our feelings of self-worth are dependent on being better than someone else, we run the risk of our self-esteem being shattered when someone below us eventually surpasses us. Lasting confidence comes from pride in our own strengths, not pride in having more strengths than others.

Not only that, we may damage our self-esteem by cutting ourselves down when we feel inferior to others. This is unproductive, especially because the comparisons we make often aren’t entirely fair. People seem to have a tendency to compare themselves to celebrities, models, billionaires, and other uncommonly successful figures. When we do this, we set ourselves up to feel subpar. Even when we do compare ourselves to people “in our league,” we may not take the full story into account. For instance, the acquaintance whose quick climb up the corporate ladder made us question our own career choices may in fact be the CEO’s nephew (a significant advantage).

Instead of using comparisons to evaluate our worth, we should use them to help us become the people we want to be.

Comparisons can help us see ourselves more accurately: While it is certainly good base our sense of accomplishment on our individual progress, it is also valuable to understand where our abilities fit in the grand scheme of things. For example, if we begin taking piano lessons, we have every right to take pride in mastering “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But perhaps we would be wise to see how we compare to other pianists before we start calling ourselves Beethoven.

Comparisons can help us identify goals: If we do happen to find ourselves feeling insecure in response to someone else’s accomplishments, we can turn it into an opportunity to improve. Instead of convincing ourselves we are weak because we can’t lift as much weight as our friends, we could focus on creating a new workout plan that allows us to build more muscle. Not only that, if we notice the majority of our self-esteem seems to come from feeling superior to others, it is possible that we have some underlying insecurities. Awareness of our insecurities gives us a chance to examine their cause. This allows us to set, and accomplish, goals that will make us feel more confident.

If we are careful about how we use comparisons, they can help us maximize our happiness. Comparisons made in the spirit of self-improvement give us valuable opportunities to develop ourselves, and our lives, in directions that bring us greater satisfaction. We just have to make sure our self-esteem doesn’t get involved in the process.


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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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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.