Simple tricks for a truly happier life.
Lately, I’ve been on a happiness kick, which has resulted in a number of things: the purchase of several Oprah-approved self-help books, TED talks blasting so loud through my computer speakers that my neighbor texted me, and yes, the annoying feeling that my happiness gene had the ability to "jump-start" itself the same way a rusted 1957 Chevy would if it had not been moved since 1957.
I love the idea of "positive thinking" but to be honest, most of the "think yourself positive" tactics just don't work on me. I can't tell you how many times I have tried to "attract" my greatest desire only to open my eyes and see that, in fact, Enrique Iglesias was still not naked in my living room. Alas, even if I can't live out my "Hero" fantasies with Latin pop stars, there's still a good chance you and I can both find the happiness we're seeking. (I assume you're seeking happiness too, since you're reading this).
As it turns out, studies have shown that the brain can be trained to be happy (don't believe me, watch this amazing Ted Talk on the topic). Toss in a little "Om" and a wee bit of white sage for good measure — and voila! — we've got ourselves a bona fide get-happy plan.
Here's how to break it down:
1. For goodness sakes, let it go already.
Did you know that being ignored triggers the same area of the brain as physical pain or that looking at photos of your ex lights up the same areas associated with craving and addiction? In laymen's terms, stalking your ex's Facebook feed is not going to do much for your "moving on" process (and it didn't do much for mine, either). None of us want to admit that we "crave" or feel "addicted" to someone who no longer wants to be with us but, but it happens.
When something or someone we wanted so badly starts to slip away, some of us are able to respectfully release while others simply tighten their grip. The latter never works; begging doesn't look good on anyone. Bottom Line: If you’re not being welcomed into someone’s home, heart or office space (and respected and appreciated while there) it’s best to stop knocking and go back into your own happy space.
2. Change your tune.
I was once in the middle of the ocean on a sailboat when a fellow boat-mate asked to plop my iPod on the dock. Three songs into the shuffle, she looked at me and asked, "Girl, don’t you have any happy songs in your playlist?" Her statement hit me harder than the lyrics to the three dozen Eminem and Lana Del Rey songs in the queue.
After a bit of research, I realized that not only would happier songs make sailing more serene, but a peppier playlist can actually increase my mood. A study performed by experts at The University of Missouri found that listening to uplifting music can bring about a sense of happiness, so while I certainly haven’t given up my Eminem obsession, but I toss a little Kylie in the mix now and then.
3. Assume the best in people.
If my friend sent me to voicemail or didn't respond to a text, I used to sit at my desk thinking that our friendship had ended for reasons that I was unaware of and I would never get a chance to explain myself. Many unnecessary panic attacks later, I realized that not every missed call means someone is avoiding you and that terse look from your co-worker? It's probably not because you didn't fill up the paper in the printer.
Yes, there are selfish and manipulative people out there but spending your life looking around for slights and insults is a one-way ticket to misery. Worse, it can make you flash your cray too often and cause problems!
4. Find the present in your history but make room for the new.
There’s a good chance that whatever I'm facing now, I've faced in the past and things turned out just fine. My past shows me that nothing can break me ... except me. Unfortunately, going back into the past without a clear understanding as to why I'm going there (and what I'm looking for) can turn out the same way as mindlessly walking into my attic, opening every box and then looking at my watch, wondering where the hell the day went.
And guess what? Some people look at their watch and wonder the same thing about their entire life. Don't be that someone. Focus on the present. If I find myself wasting time on things I know I shouldn't be wasting time on, I distract myself and call the girlfriend who will make me laugh or remind me why I'm so lucky to have moved on.
5. Be proactive.
The more I reach out, read up, and walk forward, the more aware of opportunities and possibilities I become. Before I know it, I'm living in a world of options and opportunity instead of simply choosing the "lesser of two evils" as so many feel they do. Don't believe me? Reach out to five people today and ask them all to get together to do something. Meet one for drinks, one to hit a museum, one for dinner and so on. Get back to me in two weeks.
6. There are not bears behind every tree.
Maybe it’s because our ancestors had to worry about wild animals chasing them into their caves or some hot young thing in a bearskin skirt causing a ruckus in the tribe, but so many of us equate the unknown with something negative. Quite frankly, that’s a shame.
Not only does this way of thinking keep us from making changes and making introductions that could literally change the directions of our lives, but it also makes us boring to those around us. Whenever I find myself fearful of the future, I ask, "What if what I don’t know is how wonderful my life can actually be?"
7. Play the Kaley game.
My friend Kaley is one of the most positive, kind-hearted and friendly people I have ever known. She’s also the creator of the “Kaley Game”. Every time one of us gets down or complains too much, she stops us and says, "Quick, name six things you are grateful for right now."
She then makes everyone around us do it too and you know what? It works every time. There's something about being grateful that just shifts your focus, even for a moment, and you realize that you smearing your nail polish right before a date is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
8. Be a realist.
Buddhists believe that rejection of what's happening in the here and now is the root of unhappiness. Sounds simple (and somewhat naive, initially), but the more I focus on acceptance, the more I understand just how incredibly simple life can be when we stop complicating everything with wishes and expectations.
Whether I'm dealing with a job loss, a breakup or something far more serious, accepting that I am where I am instead of focusing on where I was (or beating myself up for how long I stayed there) is the first step in moving me forward.
9. Don’t just seek positivity and perspective — bring it!
They say that misery loves company, but personally I like to be surrounded by smart, strong and happy people when I'm feeling low (and also when I'm not). I avoid those who are dismissive of my concerns and tell me "it could be worse" and "don't feel that way."
I seek people who lift my spirits, validate my feelings and remind me that I can change my situation. I love that my friends and I treat unhappiness as an infection to clear up, rather than a chronic, untreatable disease. There's freedom in accountability and knowing that we choose what we deal (and don’t deal) with.
10. Make better choices.
This one is the big one. Being a victim allows you to be lazy. If it's not your fault, then you don’t have to do any work, right? FALSE. Just because someone else made bad choices that left you down for the count doesn’t mean that you have the green light to throw your own personal pity party. Also, when you choose to engage with someone after they show you who they are or you choose not to create boundaries or listen to your gut, that decision is on YOU.
At the end of the day, you are the person who is responsible for creating a space and a life you love, so if you’re constantly stressed out or feeling as though you’re not where you want to be, the change you seek can only be found in the choices you make.
Brenda Della Casa is the Author of Cinderella Was a Liar, The Managing Editor of Preston Bailey, A Huffington Post Blogger and the Founder of BDC Life In Style. She is usually found in the gym hitting the speed bag to Eminem, having a wine-down with friends or writing with her beloved Chihuahua, Tony Che Montana, by her side. Twitter: @BrendaDellaCasa Instagram: @BrendaDellaCasa Facebook: BrendaDellaCasa