4 Simple Secrets to Feeling Happier Every Day
By Lucy Danziger, SELF Editor-in-Chief - Posted on Thu, Mar 04, 2010
Do you wish you could spend more of your days feeling fulfilled? Or wonder why you aren’t happier, despite all that’s good in your life? If you let slip-ups or criticisms nag you, replaying them as a negative inner monologue long after the snafu has passed, you are in fact like everyone else, at least most women I know.
I have news that really will put a smile on your face. You can significantly increase your level of happiness—without being granted a surprise inheritance or an elusive 25th hour in every day—by adopting new ways of thinking. You see, while about 50 percent of our happiness quotient is determined by what researchers call our natural “set point” for happiness, and 10 percent depends on the circumstances of our lives, a whopping 40 percent is entirely up to you—the way you react to events, cope with stress, choose to spend your time and more.
The fact that we can influence nearly half of our contentment is huge, and
realizing the role we can all play in boosting our joy spurred me to team up with SELF’s mental-health expert, Catherine Birndorf, M.D., to write our new book, The Nine Rooms of Happiness (Voice). What we’ve found: By changing your approach to certain situations, you can make your inner voice more positive, enjoy your passion (whether it be gardening, an active lifestyle or traveling) and find a sense of purpose which helps you be happier in each of the “rooms” of your emotional house. (We use the metaphor of your life as a house to allow you to see different areas of your life as rooms: The bedroom for romance, the office for work and money issues, the living room for friendships, etc.)
Just like anything else worthwhile—your health, your financial security—
improving your happiness is a matter of making tiny tweaks in your decision making that have big, long-term payoffs you will be thrilled with later. Make these 4 habits a regular part of your day to reap more fulfillment, today and every day.
1. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing
The airlines have it right when they tell you in case of emergency, put your own oxygen mask on before you help the person next to you. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation. The same is true when it comes to caring for all those around you in your daily life. Yes, it’s wonderful to be giving, especially with your time, but at a certain point you can give too much of yourself, and then it’s just depleting and you’re no good to anyone.
When you get to this point, you need to learn to say no to the next person who asks you to chair another school benefit. You can also ask for help from your spouse, your best pal or your child’s friend’s mother in sharing carpooling duties, for instance. You’ll have more opportunities to pursue your own interests and nurture facets of your personality that make you happier, and then you’ll be more of a giver when you have the energy again.
So whether it’s signing up for a local extension course, getting outside for a walk after dinner, taking a morning swim, reading on your porch or doing whatever else it is that turns you on and replenishes you, you’ll feel less overwhelmed by too many “have tos” with more “want tos” in your week. Think of it this way: You have to be strong to help others. Taking care of your inner self is as important as taking care of your outer self. Know your limits, and be happy to be healthy.
2. Now is the moment! Enjoy it!
I remember when I was a child, enjoying long, luxurious afternoons with pals in the playground while my mother and her friends watched us. We had hours to explore every inch of the place and it felt freeing. I think of those as perfect moments of my childhood. But when it came time to take my own kids to the playground, I was always rushing them to and fro. I thought to myself: What will they remember? Me saying “Hurry up!” on the way to the park.
My daughter, especially, loved to dillydally, and now I understand that for her, pausing on the street to stoop down and watch a caterpillar was more interesting than being at the swings. I had to slow down, too, and say: My memories of the playground may play like a movie on the screen in my mind, but her movie will be of this, the “fuzzy wuzzy” she helped to safety. My thinking had to change from "Get to the playground to have fun!" to "Have fun here, or wherever you may be." This is it. Now is the moment. Enjoy it! Connect. This could be another perfect moment, for her, if you let it be.
3. Find your “mouse hole!”
No matter how much of a people person you are, everyone needs some moments alone each day to recharge. (Think about it: Even your phone gets to recharge!) Time is the one gift you can give yourself each day to be happier and ward off a bad mood, and it doesn’t cost a thing (or require you to go anywhere). However, when you’re living with roommates or raising kids or inundated with more work than ever and fewer hours to do it in, claiming time and space to yourself can seem like an impossibility. Fortunately, you don’t need to jet off to a palm-tree-dotted island (though that would be nice) or even sleep in the guest room (also tempting sometimes) to get that precious time alone.
When my daughter was 3, she used to crawl into her “mouse hole,” the tiny space under the platform of the plastic slide in her room, and drag a picture book or stuffed animals in and play by herself. She told me, “You can’t come in; it’s a mouse hole and only I fit inside.” The wisdom was clear: Even a kid needs time and personal space to herself, to block out the world and think.
I generally find my time and space when I am swimming or jogging, away from it all. Think of where you feel most relaxed, whether it’s at a local coffeehouse, or even just folding laundry in an unhurried way. Find those peaceful sojourns, banish all the worries and think about the big picture of what makes you happy. The important thing is to try to figure out what that is and then make more time for it in your life, whether it’s being in nature, sharing experiences with the ones you love, or helping others find their emotional satisfaction.
Whatever it is, you’ll feel better just thinking about it. After this mini-break, I guarantee you’ll feel better and more grateful when you get back to the hustle and bustle of your emotional “house” and your busy life there.
4. Conflict can be OK!
This is something we all need to learn. When a friend is mad at you, or you at them (or you are not agreeing with a coworker about the best approach to a project), the hardest thing sometimes is to call the person up and talk about it. But once you do, you always feel better. Chances are, the thing you disagree over is minor, and you have more in common than not, but you need to discuss the situation to find out where you agree and where you don’t.
Call your pal and arrange to get together to talk. Tell her she means so much to you and you want to get beyond this stumbling block, and hear her out; then tell her your point of view. Rather than assign blame, let her know you’re sorry for the hurt you caused, or explain that you feel hurt.
Connecting, especially with friends, is important to your happiness long-term, studies show. While you don’t need to overlap completely to have a lot in common (and a lot of fun together), you do need to communicate and get past the little disagreements. Find the overlap and learn from each other, celebrate your differences and laugh about them, too. You can say to yourself: It’s not a case of either/or but both/and, since it’s not either we agree on everything or we can’t be friends. We can both be pals and disagree in one area. We can have conflict in one area, yet still be friends forever. Conflict is healthy. In fact it’s part of life.
Glean more happiness secrets at Lucy’s Blog at Self.com or by reading The Nine Rooms of Happiness by Lucy Danziger and Catherine Birndorf, M.D.