Last week we had the good fortune to attend the Mountain States Basketball Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada. We were cheering for Wyoming since my husband Dennis is from Sheridan, Wyoming, and we were ecstatic when the Wyoming Cowboys won and earned a place in the NCAA. We practiced lots of happiness as we cheered each shot and won each game.
I noticed another phenomenon as the tournament progressed. Some people began supporting other teams who won after their teams lost. They sat with the other team’s fans, and they cheered as if the team was their own. They found a way to be happy instead of giving up on the tournament.
Several of our family members had Fitbit bands on, and they were competing with one another to see who won each day for the most steps. They were using the stairs instead of the escalators and parking their cars far away from the arena, so they would earn more steps as they went to and from each game. They were conscious of their performance and actively participating in improving their fitness by what they did.
Just 17 years ago, the field of positive psychology was born, spearheaded by Martin Seligman. Positive psychology examines healthy states, such as happiness, strength of character and optimism. If positive psychology is studying happiness and how to achieve it, then we can set goals and practice for mastery using the research coming from this area.
In his acclaimed book, Outliers, author Malcom Gladwell states that we need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of a skill. Our lives could vastly change if we used everyday opportunities to master happiness and become our best selves.
“People don’t recognize the hidden power of everyday experiences,” says psychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness in an interview with Carolyn Gregoire for The Huffington Post. “We’re surrounded by opportunities –10 seconds here or 20 seconds there — to just register [positive] experiences and learn from them. People don’t do that when they could.”
Recent studies show that when we focus on achieving happiness by doing something socially with our family or friends, spending time on our hobbies, working on achieving a goal, or devoting our time to spiritual activities, the frequency of these activities combined with the intention of creating a positive feeling correlates with our happiness. (Henricksen & Stephens, 2013).
We need to intend to be happy and then create ways to practice happiness. We control our happiness by how we respond to situations whether they are positive or negative.
In another interview with The Huffington Post in October 2013, Rick Hanson says, “The longer the neurons [brain cells] fire, the more of them that fire, and the more intensely they fire, the more they’re going to wire that inner strength –- that happiness, gratitude, feeling confident, feeling successful, feeling loved and lovable.”
Mindfulness and intention are keys in your practice of happiness. The Values in Action Inventory of Strengths focuses on 24 strengths that you can utilize to have stronger relationships, find more satisfaction and engagement at work, and lead a happier and more fulfilling life.
You can start your happiness practice right here by focusing on 10 out of the 24 Values in Action.
- Go outside with the intention of finding something that fills you with awe. Let your senses take it in and create a memory. If you get up often, you will be getting steps and appreciating beauty at the same time.
- If you can’t go outside, go on the Internet and find a photo that can take you to a place of beauty. Share it with others.
- Do something different every day. Write “Turn Me Over” on a rock and place it on your desk; see if visitors turn it over to read, “Congratulations! You have passed my curiosity test!”
- Drive a different route to work and notice what’s around you as you go.
- Substitute ingredients in a recipe.
- Try a new fruit or vegetable.
- Learn a new fact every day and share it with someone.
- Throw hearts at everyone you meet by giving your face a lift and smiling at them whether you know them or not.
- Hold the door for someone.
- Be generous with hugs.
- Celebrate everyday moments as they happen; use GreetingPIX cards that you can copy and paste into your emails to friends the minute you learn something good happened to them.
- Write the name of one friend or family member on every day of the month and call that person just to check in with them.
- Be kind to yourself and cut out the internal critical monologue.
- Tip generously.
- Give specific praise often.
- Offer to cover a shift for a family caregiver.
- When things look bleak, re-frame your thinking by focusing on small ways today that can help lighten the load.
- Ignore the chattering monkeys that are telling you something is impossible; replace the chatter with positive thoughts and actions that can fight inertia.
- Send a card to someone having a rough time.
- Mentor someone to lend your strength to her.
- Find a poem that elicits hope for you and share it with others.
- Practice optimism.
- When visiting, ask about the good things that have happened lately.
- Start your day by laughing when you wake up.
- Look for a laugh every day, especially on yourself.
- When laughing around others, be sure you are laughing with them and not at them.
- Share funny cartoons and sayings in emails and texts.
- Spend time with people you know who are funny.
- Watch funny movies.
- Try telling something that happened to you from a different viewpoint to discover the funny elements.
6. Social Intelligence
- Give others a chance to talk by asking them questions about their interests and pursuits.
- Respect that others are shy by not forcing them to engage.
- Be the one who stays after a party and helps clean up.
- Know and practice manners and teach them to children.
- Engage others rather than dominating the conversation.
- Welcome the new person in a situation, learn about them, and then introduce them to others by stating positive attributes you’ve learned about them.
- Praise others often.
- Praise your partner and children in front of others.
- Smile often.
- Admit when you’re wrong and acknowledge and apologize if you hurt others even if they are younger than you.
- If someone is telling about an accomplishment, praise them instead of telling a story about how you did it better.
- When you go to a party, set a goal to learn something about each person you meet instead of telling them something about yourself.
- When someone praises you, say a simple “Thank you.”
- Monitor how much you are talking in a given situation.
- Create a collection of quotes that inspire you to overcome personal fears and read them often.
- Celebrate the smallest step that takes you out of your comfort zone.
- Stop whining.
- Journal how you feel when you accomplish something you didn’t think you could do.
- Find a partner to encourage you in overcoming something difficult.
- Remind yourself of a past fear that you overcame to encourage yourself in the present.
- Believe in yourself.
- Read biographies about courageous people.
- Spend time with the heroes in your life.
- Go to bed each night and think about your successes that day.
- Wake up each morning and find ways to be grateful for the new day.
- Send thank you notes.
- Think about positive experiences and refresh your gratitude for them.
- Encourage others to tell you what they’re grateful for.
- Connect with your inner spirit and give praise for the good happening around you.
- Whenever possible, tell someone that you wronged them and ask for their forgiveness.
- Write down past hurts on paper and then burn the paper as a ceremonial way of letting them go forever.
- Give a second chance by asking yourself how the other person might have had a different perspective in the situation that was not meant to hurt you.
- Forgive yourself if you keep going over and over something you did that hurt someone else.
- Find the positive lesson in every hurt and use that to increase your happiness.
“Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections.”