About two years ago, while waxing philosophical about the dynamics of what it means to be happy, a colleague lamented, “I don’t think people should feel entitled to happiness.” I have to admit, I was taken aback. I had never thought of happiness as something we acquire or that is handed to us, but rather as a natural state of being; an internal function that is then shaped by our environment, our parents, our lives. But then it occurred to me, perhaps many do think that happiness is something external to themselves; something they go out and get, like a car or a house or a life partner. We spent the next few hours debating whether happiness was indeed an internal feeling we are born with, or a reward for getting the latest and greatest, be it a person, place or thing.
Recently I came across a fascinating article about research into a gene aptly called “the happiness gene” ( 5-HTT). A variant of the gene coming from each parent influences the level of satisfaction a person has in their lives. 5-HTT determines the flow or distribution of the hormone serotonin, which is produced by the pineal gland and is an ingredient in some antidepressant medications. Depending on the configuration of this gene passed on from the parents, an individual will have one of three possible combinations of the happiness gene: long-long, long-short, or short-short. Those with long-long combinations were found more likely to display attributes of happiness and above-satisfactory lifestyles according to their own personal assessments. Those with a short-short combination were more likely to report less than satisfactory lives and even be at substantial risk for depression.
We all have some variation of this gene, but the question is, are there steps we can take to boost its efficiency to reach peak happiness for ourselves regardless of what configuration we have? I believe we can, and I’ve compiled a list of 10 easy exercises anyone can do to integrate happiness boosters into their lives. They are a way we can all shift ourselves towards a “long-long” life of personal bliss!
10 Ways to Become Happier
1. Laugh. It’s no secret, laughter is great medicine! It’s well documented that laughter boosts the immune system and increases the release of endorphins – our natural “feel good” hormone – into the body. I’ve always found that laughing at myself (which I tend to do often) is especially helpful when I’m on the brink of taking myself too seriously. Ergo, lighten up!
2. Smile at a stranger. Much like laughter (and yawning), smiling is contagious. When your eyes lock with an individual, perhaps on the street, in the grocery store or on the train, unless they are totally preoccupied with their own interior drama, chances are they will smile back at you. This will leave you with a warm feeling, knowing you have brightened someone’s day just by flashing your pearly whites!
3. Make Positive Statements Every Day. In my recent interview with author and intuitive Penney Peirce, we discussed the potency of self-talk and habitual statements made out loud and the effect they have on an individual’s life. Words, whether positive or negative, shape our psyches and manifest in many situations in our daily lives. Make a commitment to incorporate positive statements into your speech. Even something as simple as, “What a beautiful sunny day it is!” will affirm your appreciation for the little things.
4. Express appreciation. We can’t leave “attitude of gratitude” off this list. We’ve all heard it, most probably believe it, and yet admittedly most of us don’t practice it nearly enough. I know you can find at least one thing every day you can be sincerely thankful for, so even if it’s for something that seems trivial to the other person, remember to say “Thank you!”
5. Daydream. We live in a society that has habitually frowned on “frivolous” things like daydreaming. John McGrail, a clinical hypnotherapist in Los Angeles says, “Daydreaming is looked upon negatively because it represents ‘non-doing’ in a society that emphasizes productivity.” However, periodic daydreaming has been shown to provide beneficial effects for those with mood disorders like depression. Visualization is the act of putting a preferred scenario into the mind’s eye with the hope of producing a physical outcome to match. You might say it’s just another way of saying daydreaming. So why wouldn’t you do it? It’s a way of shifting your spirits from low to high in just a blink of the (mind’s) eye!
6. Perform Acts of Kindness (AOK). Whether it’s putting a quarter in the meter for the next driver or holding a door for someone, acts of kindness are no-brainers for boosting happy feelings in everyone involved, yet we don’t do them nearly enough. Make a commitment to do at least one AOK a day and you’ll be A-Ok!
7. Pass out compliments. People love them, and they’re easy to pass out. “Love your necklace.” “What a beautiful smile you have.” “You really have a talent for _____”. You can’t go wrong with a genuine compliment. Rest assured it will make both the giver and the receiver feel happy!
8. Give Hugs. The power of touch is just that: powerful. It affirms that we human beings are emotional and loving creatures and yet, in this fast paced, mechanical world we live in, we often forget to just be human. Give a hug to someone who needs it, you’ll get something in return. It’s another one of those happy gene boosting acts with reciprocal benefits!
9. Find Your Joy. Sound a little too obvious? You might be surprised how many people I talk to that struggle for an answer when I ask what brings them joy. Moreover, they usually feel they’re “too busy” to look for the answer. In the times we live in, it is vital that we make it a priority to discover and then live our joy. Whether it’s reading, cooking, singing, or just simply be-ing, identify your joy and then commit to living it. Joy and happiness are synonymous and much more attainable than we might think.
10. Meditate. I just spoke of being-ness as a state of joy. Being is not nebulous, it’s a state where you are aware of awareness itself. Meditation is a clear and present channel to getting us there, and it promotes relaxation, cognition and – you guessed it – happiness!
On an extremely uplifting footnote, I have to share a recent encounter I had with a lovely young woman with Down Syndrome who works as a bagger in a grocery store. As I stood at the check-out line, I noticed that as each shopper passed her to pick up their groceries she had something fun and catchy to say to them. The man in front of me was not amused with her sense of humor, benign as it was, and walked away with a scowl on his face. Me, I couldn’t wait to hear what she had cooked up to say to me when I passed. I was not disappointed. As I passed, she said, “Miss, you’re looking awfully spiffy today!” I couldn’t contain myself – I broke out in a big chuckle and then said to her, “You are really happy aren’t you?” She replied, “I like being happy – it’s fun!” The long and short of it is, it doesn’t get any simpler than that!
Alexis Brooks is a researcher and essayist on metaphysical and spiritual subjects. Her philosophies are echoed in her writings, which explore questions about the nature of reality, human consciousness and the universe. You will find more of her writings at higherjourneys.blogspot.com .