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 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.