Being Happy During Difficult Times
What is happiness and how does one find it in life? According to Dr. M. Csikszentmihalyi “happiness is not something that happens,” it is not something that is the result of good luck or random occurrences, nor is it a result of a monetary purchase or power. Rather “happiness is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person.” The definition of happiness has as many variations as there are individuals. One particular definition states that “happiness as a feeling of contentment created when all of one’s physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual needs have been gratified.”
Personal problems, local, national, and international events can keep us mired in the sorrows and hardships of the human condition. We all experience personal challenges in our relationships, our jobs, our finances, or maybe with our health. When watching or listening to the news, we are besieged with reports of crime, of natural disasters, and of war. Just knowing of these events or experiencing them can make it difficult to be happy. In recognizing that the current state of the nation, the world, and our personal lives is less than optimal, why consider the subject of happiness? Interestingly, building and strengthening one’s capacity for happiness is fundamental to building social resources and improving community with others. In his research, Dr. M. Seligman found that happy people tend to be more altruistic than sad people. He found that happy people are less self-focused, display more empathy, like others more, and are willing to share their good fortune more, even with strangers. In addition, he found that “looking out for number one is more characteristic of sadness than of well-being.”
This finding causes the author to wonder, would increasing individual happiness lead to a more peaceful world? While an intriguing question, there are a few practical changes that each of us can make to improve our lives and the lives of those connected to us. Following are some suggestions that can be used to create more happiness in your personal world.
Research Based Suggestions for Building a Happier Life
- Realize that enduring happiness doesn’t come from success. People adapt to changing circumstances whether the circumstance is wealth or a physical disability. So, wealth is similar to health; in that, the utter absence of either one breed misery, but having them doesn’t guarantee happiness.
- Take control of your time. Happy people feel in control of their lives. One can master her/his use of time by setting goals and breaking them into daily objectives. Though we often overestimate how much we can accomplish in a day, we generally underestimate how much we can accomplish if we work on it bit by bit.
- Act happy. Sometimes we can act ourselves into a frame of mind. Just by smiling, one can begin to feel better; just as scowling can result in feeling negative. So, put on a happy face and see if you can trigger the happiness emotion.
- Seek work and leisure that engage your skills. Happy people are often in a zone called “flow”—an absorption in a task that challenges them without overwhelming them.
- Join the “movement” movement. A large amount of research has revealed that aerobic exercise, as well as yoga and meditation, not only promotes health and energy, it also helps to alleviate mild depression and anxiety.
- Give your body the sleep it wants. Happy people tend to live active, vigorous lives, yet, reserve time for rejuvenating sleep and solitude. Sleep deprivation can result in fatigue, diminished alertness, and gloomy moods.
- Give priority to close relationships. Close, intimate friendships with those who care deeply about you can help you get through difficult times. Resolve to nurture your closest relationships by not taking them for granted, show kindness to them, affirm them, and share time together.
- Focus beyond the self. It is important to reach out to those in need. While happiness can increase helpfulness, doing good also makes one feel good.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Taking time each day to pause and to reflect on some positive aspect of one’s life; such as friends, family, health, freedom, education, natural surroundings, and so on, increases one’s experience of well-being.
- Nurture your spiritual self. For many, focus on spirituality and religion provide a support community, a way to look beyond self, and a sense of purpose and hope. Research has shown over and over that people who nurture their religious or spiritual interests tend to be happier and cope better with crises.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M., Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper Perennial, 1990.
- Myers, D.G., The Pursuit of Happiness, Avon Books, 1993.
- Selgiman, M.E.P., Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Free Press, 2002.