Four Ways to Achieve Greater Happiness in Your Life
Positive psychology is about how to improve the quality of our lives and feel better and happier. Experts call this the “science of happiness.” In this article, you’ll read about four ways to achieve greater happiness in your life, based on the teachings of the psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, the author of Choose the Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness (The Experiment, 2012).
Give yourself permission to be human
Giving yourself permission to be human means allowing yourself to fully experience all of your emotions – the positive and the negative. “We think that if we experience anxiety, sadness, fear, or envy, that there must be something wrong with us,” says Dr. Ben-Shahar. “Actually, the opposite is true. There is something wrong with us if we don’t, at times, experience envy, anger, disappointment, sadness, or anxiety.”
Accept that painful emotions are a natural part of life. Don’t try to block them, avoid feeling them or pretend they’re not there. Recognise that feeling down, disappointed, or unhappy is, at times, normal and natural. Similarly, emotions such as joy, pleasure, and delight are also natural, so accept and embrace them as well.
Admit to yourself and to those you are close with when you are feeling unhappy. Be sincere and open with yourself and those who are close to you when you are feeling down, feeling afraid, or experiencing other difficult emotions.
Allow yourself to experience negative feelings but not to give up, lose hope, or feel resigned. “Practice active acceptance rather than passive resignation,” says Dr. Ben-Shahar. For example, if you find yourself feeling anxious before a conversation with your manager or a customer, that’s OK. Many people feel this way. But you can still choose to go ahead with the conversation, accept your nervousness and proceed with your work responsibility.
Focus on your emotions by practising the “unconditional acceptance” exercise. Here is what to do. Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down if you prefer. Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing. Now shift your focus to how you are feeling – whether it is sad, happy, anxious, nervous, joyous, or bored. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up. For the next few minutes, take deep breaths and allow whatever you are feeling to flow through you. Gradually and calmly open your eyes.
Simplify your life
We often feel too busy, trying to squeeze more and more activities into less and less time. As a result, we sometimes fail to enjoy the potential sources of happiness all around us – feeling happiness at work, with a friend, a loved one, or a child; listening to music; noticing a beautiful landscape. Time pressure and having too much to do leads to feelings of frustration and can have a negative effect on productivity and creativity. Here are tips from Dr. Ben-Shahar on ways to simplify your life:
Look within yourself and examine how your life feels. Are you constantly rushed? Stressed? Always behind? Do you have sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful to you?
Reduce the time pressure in your life. Reduce the overall number of non-essential activities in your day and reduce the number of things you do all at once. For example, when spending time with loved ones, don’t answer the phone or check your email. Be fully present – mind, spirit, and body – with your loved one).
Be careful not to over-commit yourself and take on new projects. Learn to say “no” to extra demands on your time (that will not add value or meaning to your life).
Turn off distractions during times of leisure. Phones, email, and other technology create increasing complexity in modern life – these all contribute to the constant distraction that we feel and cut into our enjoyment of life and the time we spend with family and friends.
Avoid multitasking at work. When we can focus on a single activity without distractions, we are not only happier – we are also more effective, productive, and creative.
Simplify your life to achieve a healthier love relationship. Researchers have found that stress and overwork are significant barriers to a healthy love relationship.
Recognise the importance of the mind-body connection
Physical exercise, meditation, and deep breathing are essential for our physical and emotional health. These healthy practices help alleviate symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety, and can improve relationships, work, sleep, and levels of happiness. While many of us know about the importance of getting physical exercise, we often ignore the importance of the mind-body connection. Here are two tips from Dr. BenShahar:
Practise deep breathing. Focus on breathing more deeply for five breaths on your way to work, while sitting in front of the computer, before an important meeting, or whenever you want a moment of calm. Breathe in, fill your lungs with air until you see your belly rising, and then exhale. Practise this exercise regularly. And practise deep breathing for longer periods to achieve a greater sense of inner calm and relaxation.
Meditate. Meditation is the exercise of bringing your full attention to one thing. It might be your breathing, candlelight, music, or word chanting.
- First, find a quiet spot at home or elsewhere where you will not have distractions. Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down if you prefer. Close your eyes or leave them open. Shift your focus to your breath. Now breathe deeply into your belly. Feel your stomach expanding as you breathe in and then lowering as you slowly and gently breathe out.
- For the next couple of minutes, focus on your stomach being filled and then being emptied. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back and focus it on your stomach filling up and emptying. Breathe in deeply and then slowly and gently breathe out. Return to your breath.
- As you continue with your deep breathing, scan your body. If any part is tense, release it by breathing into it and then breathing out from it. Continue to scan your body and if any other part feels tense, once again breathe into it and breathe out from it. Take a few more deep breaths. Your focus, again, is on your rising and falling belly.
Focus on the positive
Our happiness depends not only on what we have but also on whether we appreciate what we have. This is why a person who seems to have everything may be unhappy, whereas a person with relatively little may be living a full and happy life. By focusing on the positive and learning to be grateful for the things you have, you’ll achieve greater levels of happiness.
Make gratitude a habit and a way of life. “One of the main barriers to happiness is that we tend to take for granted the good things in our lives,” says Dr. Ben-Shahar. “We rarely consciously think about how blessed we are to have our health, or our friends, or the food on our table.” Take a few minutes to remind yourself of the people and things you have to be grateful for in your life. You might write down your thoughts. Doing this each day will help you appreciate all that you have and will help you make gratefulness a lifelong habit.
Click here to check out an article on The Power of Positivity.
This article on “positive thinking” was taken from the Lifeworks Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) library of resources available to all insured members with HanseMerkur Health Insurance Plans. Please check it out to find other interesting and useful articles, pod casts and tips to help with your well-being or ask your local sales agent for more information about it.