Happiness: Questions to Ask Yourself…and a Caveat

Happiness is a popular topic these days.  We now know that much of your happiness is in your control (40% says Sonja Luyubomirsky, PhD in her book, The How of Happiness) which empowers you make real changes impacting your emotional and relationship health; even if you don’t consider yourself a “happy person.”  Some of the skills you can learn to do involve brain training where the more you practice the habits you’re trying to form, the more automated they will become. Because there is no “one-size-fits-all” formula for happiness, try what feels right and doable for you.

Are you not as happy as you’d like to be?  Consider the following questions:

Are you social?  Being connected to others allows for emotional resourcing and support.  We are wired to connect and seek security in important relationships from infancy and throughout our lives.  Being social can literally slow down your biological age.  Research shows that, “social environment may contribute to rates of cellular aging, particularly in late life.”

No? -> Consider putting effort into developing and maintaining important relationships (family, friends, intimate partnerships).

Do you feel good about yourself?  Questions about your inherent value often come from unresolved earlier wounds.  And how you feel about yourself can negatively or positively impact your relationships.  If you believe you are a good person with value, you have a more stable foundation to learn to be happier.

No? -> Consider getting help unpacking painful experiences creating obstacles to a more secure sense of self.

Are you able to manage your emotions?  Sometimes connected to how you feel about yourself, the ability to stay in an emotional window of tolerance allows for more appropriate reactions.  Those who struggle with emotional reactivity can have a strong negativity bias and carry shame around their behavior, an inherent block to happiness.

No? -> Consider educating yourself about resilience (how to more effectively bounce back) which can improve your emotional regulation skills.

Do you meditate?  Stress can be an obstacle for happiness.  It’s been shown that as little as 20 minutes of day of meditating can lower stress hormones.

No? -> Consider learning how to meditate (in whatever type you choose).  A few minutes a day focusing on the breath is a good start to training yourself to be in the moment rather than in future (where worry lives).  

Are you optimistic?  People with positive outlooks are not only happier but healthier.  A Harvard study showed that a positive outlook on life can actuallyHappiness protect against heart disease.

No? -> Consider spending more time with optimistic people.  If your glass tends to be “half empty,” acting as if it’s full can be a good way to start.  Spending time with optimistic people can also help because of the emotional contagion effect.  

Do you take in the good?  Strongly connected with developing optimism is noticing when the good when it’s in front of you.  But it doesn’t end there.  It’s important to let the experience sink into your awareness for at least 30 seconds so it can register in your implicit memory.  According to Linda Graham, MFT, “When we intentionally take in the good we are building resources in our neural circuitry to act as a buffer against stress…”

No? -> Consider seeking out positive experiences in which to savor.  In the beginning it’s often hard to remember to do this so set an alarm that reminds you it’s time to pay attention!

Do you live authentically?  Authenticity is often linked to a sense of well-being and is an important aspect of emotional health.  It’s often much easier for your inner world to be in alignment with your outward presentation.  But it’s also possible you’ve never considered this before and are unsure.

No? -> Consider learning how to live more authentically.  If there is a disconnect between your inner and outer worlds or you’re unclear of what authenticity even means for you, seek to understand via therapy or other helping modality, especially if you feel distress is sourced there.

Are you grateful?  Being able to identify and then appreciate what others do for is us a “modern day wonder drug,” according to Happify.com, a brain training site to help people attain greater happiness.  Robert Emmons, PhD has done extensive research on the power of gratitude to feel more alert, sleep better, deflect from stress, worry, regret, hostility and resentment, make improvements in self-worth and experience more positive emotions.

No? -> Consider starting a gratitude practice.  One way to do that is keeping a daily gratitude journal, noting three things that happened that you appreciate.  Here is an opportunity to create a new habit. 

Off you go!

Want to be happy?  It’s probably clear to you at this point that you need to do something about it!  If so, pick a few of the above that resonated with you and get going.  The payoff can be life changing.

Caveat

Monitor your expectations around how often you “should” be happy.  Nobody “should” be happy all the time and denying more difficult emotions (part of the scope of human experience) will not serve well in the long run.  Emotions such as anger, anxiety and sadness may be uncomfortable but are there for good reason.  It is unreasonable to sweep them under the rug as they always find a way of coming out again.

But it is reasonable to want to feel happy more often which will also help you to navigate life’s challenges more effectively.  A win – win.