May/Jun
2017

Health, Wealth and Happiness: What is Happiness?

Written by Emily Watkins
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I vividly remember a moment, driving home from a date with my high school boyfriend, when I felt a physical wave of happiness sweep over me. That's an elusive feeling, one that is reserved for only the really special moments in life: walking down the aisle toward my love and holding my newborn sons, ranking the highest of those moments.

WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?

Things that make me happy: naps, reading good books, red wine, fluffy TV shows, watching my kids play sports, dates with my husband. But not many things bring that visceral feeling of happiness. 

Friends say happiness is family, children, God, being a source of healing for others, being a mom and wife, being part of a church community. Others say that keeping their minds and bodies engaged in meaningful pursuits and being able to control their own activities and change their minds are what make them happy. 

DIY HAPPINESS

Amy Krause says that she needs to be intentional about what kinds of things she surrounds herself with, and sometimes she needs to create her own happiness. Happiness, to her, is feeling centered and balanced, so that she doesn’t feel stressed and agitated. “I make sure that I am intentional with my self-care too. Things like creating art, cooking, Zumba, running, outings with friends and shopping by myself help me to feel recharged and happy,” Amy says with a smile.

The definition of happiness definitely changes throughout life. Opening presents on Christmas morning has to rank pretty high on the happiness scale for a 5-year-old, but in your 40s, it’s so much more fun to give presents and watch others open them, isn’t it?

“People chase after success on the premise it will make them happy. Happiness comes from within first, then success can follow.” LuAnn Buechler learned this from listening to the audio book “Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health” by Dr. Caroline Leaf. Although LuAnn teaches people to follow their passions and do what they love to find happiness, hearing it this way from Dr. Leaf really hit home for her.

NOT-SO-RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS

Amy is embarking on a journey of “committing” acts of kindness for people. She recently surprised three people in her life (I was one!) with a simple basket of goodies and a handwritten note. She says, “I am happy when I am blessing other people. I like to do acts of service for my family and friends. Showing others how special they are makes me feel happy.”

In fact, Howard C. Cutler, M.D., in his book co-written with the Dalai Lama, “The Art of Happiness,” says that “survey after survey (shows) that happy people are generally found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.”

EXERCISE YOUR HAPPY MUSCLES

The Dalai Lama says that we can train ourselves to “undergo a transformation of our attitude, our entire outlook and approach to living.” By identifying things that bring happiness and those that bring suffering, we can work to “gradually (eliminate) those factors which lead to suffering and (cultivate) those which lead to happiness.”

Dr. Amit Sood, in his book, “The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living,” references Viktor Emil Frankl, a Jewish doctor who survived the Holocaust. Frankl lost his family, along with his first manuscript, but kept hope for the future. Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“Happiness is an everyday feeling that depends on how you experience the present moment,” says Dr. Sood, which leads me to believe that if we truly want to experience happiness, we have to make it happen, no matter what is going on in our lives. 

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN

Create a list of things that make you happy. Did any of the ideas above resonate with you? There are no wrong answers here. Some might find happiness in serving others. Some might find their happiness in self-care pursuits. This is your happiness journey. Be true to yourself. Use your journal to do some free writing or list-making. 

Make time in your calendar for these activities. This will take some time as well. Start small, adding one thing per week or even one per month, depending on what the time commitment is for each activity. Gradually work toward doing something every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Make time every day to be happy. Start by practicing gratitude. Dr. Sood says, “Gratitude is an important milestone on the path to happiness.” He “prescribes” a daily exercise where before getting out of bed you picture five people in your mind and send “silent gratitude” to them. Another exercise is to focus on and appreciate the details of something. Find a picture or the familiar view out your window and look at it for a few minutes, noticing all the aspects of what you see. You’ll be surprised at how much detail you can see. 

Keep track of when you do these activities in your journal, as well as how you feel. As with all practices, give yourself room and time to work slowly toward your goal. It’s always amazing to be able to look back at a journal to find patterns and trends in your development.

Be gentle with yourself. “Catch” yourself cultivating happiness. Be present in your life, appreciating that which exists already. As Dr. Sood says, develop “an attitude of gratitude.”

Emily Watkins is a personal trainer and owner of Empowered Wellness & Fitness Studio.

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