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On Being Happy

A woman smiling

One of the questions I get asked most often is, "How do I feel happier?" It's not an easy question to answer. There are so many components to why someone may not feel happy and they are going to be much different from the next person's reasons. It is not a one size fits all answer.

The thing to remember is... Happiness isn't just an emotion. It is a way of living. You can feel good overall, and have bad days. Just like you can feel bad overall, and have good days. Life will always give you both kinds of days. It isn't a matter of avoiding the bad days, it's a matter of how you pick yourself back up. It's the way you look at it.

So while I wish I had a magic button that I could press or an exact list of things you can do to feel happier, I really can't offer that to you. There are many things that can help, but often times I think the things that can help sound silly or take a lot of time to do. The result? Many people often end up not trying those things or they only try a few times and feel defeated when they don't work.

Something that may help is knowledge. Understanding why some of the things that are suggested can help, and why sometimes things just don't work, can change the way you choose to move forward. Let me give you a few examples.

1. Our brains are hardwired to survive, but today's society is much different from the society we were originally meant to live in. This is why it can be easier to focus on the "negative" stuff today. It isn't anything you're doing wrong, it's your brain trying to protect you.

2. Your brain takes the path of least resistance under stress. This is why it is so hard to make changes, and also why sometimes you revert back to old habits.

3. When you get stressed out, you breathe more shallowly, which makes you tense and makes it harder to concentrate... because you aren't getting enough oxygen to your muscles. Unfortunately when you tense (and when you struggle concentrating), it increases your stress level.

So how can you manage those things?

1. To battle your brain's natural tendency to focus on the bad, try to think of one thing each day you are grateful for. It can help your brain see the bigger picture and prevent it from getting stuck in the bad.

2. Give yourself a break to mess up when you are making changes because you will mess up. Your brain wants to go back to the original way of doing things because it is easier. You also have to give yourself more than a few times of trying before saying it doesn't work. Sometimes it helps to pair the change you are trying to make with a habit you already have. For example, if you are trying to add stretching to your daily routine, do it right before or right after you are brushing your teeth.

3. This is why one of the things therapists often say is "breathe". It sounds silly. But if you are counting when you breathe, it forces you to focus on taking in more air, which increases the blood flow, gets rid of tension, and clears up your mind.

See? With knowledge, some of the silly suggestions make more sense and don't seem as ridiculous. Remember, being happy and making changes does take effort, so you have to be willing to put that effort in. You also have to be ready to take risks, and make the time to be able to put the work in. It's okay to not be ready or not be willing to take risks or put the effort in. Sometimes we just have to be okay with where we are, and that often times gives us the push we need to move forward.

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