Most people I’ve met, if not all, would try like to be happy. There are all kinds of books on happiness, courses on happiness, and documentaries on happiness. So why aren’t we all just happier? If we’re approaching happiness as some goal to achieve, we’re almost always going to reinforce that something is wrong with us and fall short. If we see it as an unfolding process of learning, we will most likely be able to be more grateful for the good times and more graceful during the more difficult times.
I can’t reinforce enough the critical importance of seeing happiness practices as something to continue to play with and learn from, rather than using them to achieve some desired end state. You might be able to taste happiness if you see it as a performance, but only with a learning mindset will you find more mastery with it.
Here are 5 Practices for Daily Happiness
We NEED playtime and we need it daily! One of the first scientists to embark in the field of neuroplasticity, Marion Diamond, showed how rats that have toys and playmates inevitably ran mazes more efficiently and also showed growth in an area of their brain (the cerebral cortex) involved with cognitive processing. Play enhances social bonds and social learning, key areas for generating happiness.
How do we figure out what play means to us? This is going to mean different things to different people. What’s playful to you, may not be playful to me. You may enjoy competitive sports, board games, or going out and doing something — anything. Making it prosocial with friends adds another level of engagement.
Well, you knew I was going to say this one. Years ago, Dan Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth out of Harvard created an app called trackyourhappiness.org. This app pinged you to see if you were paying attention to what you were intending to pay attention to and how you were feeling (this is a general description). Thousands of people went through this and they found that on average our minds are wandering 46.9% of the time. It also found that the more the mind wandered, the unhappier we were. Now there are a variety of studies pointing the happiness effects of mindfulness on the brain.
Ultimately, mindfulness helps us pay attention to our intentions, here’s a mindful breathing practice to play with daily.
We’re all imperfect at practicing what makes us happy. But the better we get at forgiving ourselves for our mistakes, the less dwelling there’ll be and the better we will also get at getting back on track. In Uncovering Happiness you’ll notice the suggestion to practice “Forgive, Investigate and Invite.” Forgive yourself for the time gone by, it’s the past, Investigate what brought you off track so you can learn from it and Invite yourself to begin again.
Also, the better we get at forgiving others, apparently the higher our happiness quotient can go. There’s plenty of research pointing to this, but some of the more informal research by Soul Pancake is more fun (see below):
The act of recognizing someone else is suffering with the inclination to want to support them has plenty of science-based correlations to a meaningful and purposeful life. Creating social connection is a major happiness booster, makes important neural shifts in the brain and giving makes it even that much better.
Commit to smiling more, saying thank you, or letting someone merge in front of you in traffic. You can also give financially or volunteer your time. Recognize you are part of a larger network and as my late Grandmother in-law Margie Lipman said in her Ethical Will “Reach out to those who ache for some comfort, search for ways you can lighten their load.”
Eat, Sleep, Exercise, Rest (aka The Basics)
The science seems to be very clear on these (along with probably millions of testimonials). Whenever someone comes to see me in my practice these are the fundamentals I look for. How are you eating, what does your sleep look like, how do you rest and are you exercising? These are all keys to not only happiness, but healthy brain development. Focusing on these basics can create an internal sense of personal control which is correlated with happiness.
It can be overwhelming to consider taking action here, so consider the question, “What do I think I can do?” and then make a plan and go from there.
Take these to heart, weave a bit of them in daily or as we say in MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (that we stole from Nike) – “Just Do It!”
Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy