The same suggestions show up on lists of what makes people happy. There is a sense that if only I won Powerball, I’d be happy forever.
A Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study published in 1978 debunks that. The study compared the happiness level of lottery winners with non-winners and with people who had suffered a paralyzing accident. Overall happiness levels of lottery winners spiked when they won, but returned to pre-winning levels after several months. Lottery winners were not significantly happier than the control group of non-winners. The spinal cord impaired individuals were slightly less happy, but not by much. Most people have a set level of happiness. Even after life-changing events, people tend to return to their happiness set point.
When you feel happiness-deprived, here are some simple things you can do. Experiment and figure out what adds to your lightness of being.
Be grateful. Today I am thankful for… Fill in the blank with three things that made you happy. Even on days where it seems like you should have stayed in bed, you can find three things to appreciate. Did you have something to eat today? Was there clean water to drink? Do you have a roof over your head? There are three things already. Change your outlook from scarcity and deprivation to realizing that there are good things happening in your life. My granddaughters answer this as part of their prayers before bed, but dinnertime is another opportunity.
Move. Yes, that means exercise, and preferably outdoors. Unless you have high-level quadriplegia, you can move something. And those with severe injuries wish they had the ability to move… At the very least, If you are watching TV (and are you grateful for having that?), you can march in place.
Do a good deed. Be consciously kind. Bonus points if you can do something anonymously. Write a positive note, e-mail or text thanking someone. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook set a goal to write a daily thank-you note. Conveying your gratitude to someone has a multiplier effect: it makes you and the recipient feel better.
Breathe. Can you easily take a breath? Are you grateful for that? If a wave knocked you down at the beach, you’d be gulping air and savoring breaths when you emerged from the foam. Take two minutes to just sit while paying attention to your breath moving in and out. You can do it at a red light or while riding the subway or bus.
Purge. Spend 10 minutes organizing and getting rid of stuff. It can be cathartic and helps lighten your load. You may even find that whatever you were looking for. More joy, less stuff.
Today, I am grateful for the sun drying out the soggy ground; having a computer to write this essay; and an internet connection. What about you? Is the glass half full? If you have a glass, celebrate that.
© Joan S Grey, 7 July 2015
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An article with happiness tips