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Happy 042

Building Your Happiness Momentum

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: georgikeith

Sometimes thinking too much can destroy your momentum.

— Tom Watson

There’s something about Americans’ expectations of life that seems to set us up for dissatisfaction.  Don’t get me wrong, a little dissatisfaction is good for the soul, it motivates us to stretch – to accomplish more, for ourselves and others.  But, as a culture, we seem to have trouble finding a point of satisfaction.  We seem to have gotten the “pursuit” part of “pursuit of happiness” down.  At the same time, we’re not exactly sure what “happiness” looks like.  We do a lot of chasing and not a lot of finding.

Research has shown that rates of depression and dissatisfaction have grown over the decades.  Maybe that’s because our parents and grandparents were raised in times that were hard.  They didn’t expect anything and were grateful for whatever they were able to accomplish.  They’d earned it and it was better than whatever they’d had as kids.  Their perspective was different.

Creating Happiness is a Skill

As a society, we spend a lot of time on fairy tales.  We start as kids with Sleeping Beauty – what could be easier, sleep your way to happily ever after.  As adults we have “reality TV.”  American Idol shows that anyone can make it big “overnight.”  The Biggest Loser tells tales of great weight loss – in a short period of time, because that’s all the contestants do.  It’s not just Disney who deals in make believe.

There’s nothing wrong with these shows.  They can be inspiring.  We just need to make sure we don’t set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting the same results while we work at a job, raise our kids and struggle every day to find time to work out.  (If we just didn’t need time to sleep…)

The good news is that because as a society we tend to be happiness-challenged, there is lots of good research on how to raise our level of contentment.  The wonderful thing is that like many other things in life, we can build our happiness momentum.  The other thing that is encouraging is that actual research is being conducted to help us know what activities will help us build our happiness momentum.

Getting Started…

We’ve been looking for a way to find happiness for a very long time.  As far back as 1995, Sarah Ban Breathnach wrote the best seller [amazon-product text=”Simple Abundance – A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” type=”text”]0446563595[/amazon-product].  In it, she tried to teach us how to be present in our lives every day.  One of the exercises that became popular out of her book was the gratitude exercise.  It reappears regularly in conversations about how to increase our happiness.  There’s a good reason for that… it works.

Gratitude exercise:  At the end of each day, take a few minutes to record three things from the day, that you are grateful for, in your journal.  In the beginning, you may find it difficult.  Don’t worry.  Write down what you can and set your mind to notice things to be grateful for on the next day.  By setting the intention, you will start to notice more and more gratitude producers in your life.

Another exercise that can build your happiness muscle focuses on what went well during the day.  It’s very similar to the gratitude exercise in that it involves recording what went well in a journal.  Every evening, record one or two things that went well that day.  Part of the reason that we can feel unhappy is that we feel we are struggling.  We may even feel that we aren’t coping very well.  This exercise helps us see that we are capable of handling what life throws at us day-to-day. When we feel as if nothing is going our way, we question our ability to handle our lives.  When we feel competent, our stress and anxiety are reduced.  We are able to be more at peace and contented.

These are just two exercises that we can do to feel better about our lives.  They are a way to move towards feeling happier and more contented.  Since our brains want to hold on to the stuff that didn’t go so well as a way to be prepared for future challenges to our survival, we have to work at remembering the stuff that was good.  Actually, although it’s not part of our wiring, remembering the good stuff also prepares us for our future survival.  Once we’ve figured out how to handle a challenge well, it’s in our best interest to remember it for the next time.

What have you got to lose?  Give these two exercises a try.  You just might find that they help you feel happier.  You can stop pursuing so much and start enjoying more!

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