HOW HAPPY CAN YOU BE?
We all want to be happy — or happier. Feeling happy changes the way we see ourselves and our lives… it feels good and we want more of it, and for it to last.
People come to therapy because they feel unhappy. They feel confused, miserable, angry, lonely, tense, afraid, withdrawn, frustrated and exhausted.
They pay money to a stranger in the hope that they will feel happiness in return.
Ultimately, you are as happy as your inner child is. If they are sad then you are sad.
For many clients their inner child has been deeply wounded in childhood, and they doubt that they’ll ever feel happy again. It takes a lot of courage to trust someone with your deepest vulnerability and fear.
The most important thing about happiness is that it lives inside you — even though you may have mislaid it. It may have been hidden under piles of worries, fears, traumatic memories, lost hope and despair… but it’s still there. It’s waiting for you to find it again.
It may need to be helped out from under the weight of your life experiences, and given a good dusting down and polish.
We know from recent research into positive psychology (particularly the work of Martin Selligman and Sonia Lyubomirsky) that we have a base-line set-point for our level of happiness — which comes from our past history, the sense we made of it and the decisions we’ve reached about ourselves and what we believe we ‘deserve’ to have and to feel.
This base-line accounts for about 50% of our happiness at any one time. It can be topped up by a further 10% when we have the ‘good fortune’ and gratification of external mood-enhancing things like the new car, face-lift or lottery win.
However, these top-ups can be short lived sources of happiness because of a process called ‘Hedonic Adaptation’ — which means that we get used to new things and they don’t have the same appeal or impact upon us any more. They become devalued through familiarity — and the lottery winner often reverts back to their pre-win state — their familiar 50% level of happiness.
We might then seek more of that transient 10% — more stuff, more money, a new relationship…but it all goes the same way…back to the base-line.
The good news it that there are scientifically validated ways to enhance and sustain the remaining 40% up in our happiness tank.
We all have the power to feel happier in spite of our past.
These things all equate to the ways in which we take care of our inner child — and treat ourselves as we would treat a child whom we loved.
How do we do that?
By building and maintaining good relationships, and connecting with people at a deeper level of sharing.
Setting and achieving attainable goals.
Focusing upon optimism and hope.
Taking care of our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Being grateful for what we have.
Not comparing ourselves negatively with others.
Not over-thinking things.
Learning to cope with life’s inevitable challenges with resilience, tenacity and determination.
Developing self-awareness, self-responsibility and self-control — and calming our mind and soothing our own troubled emotions.
Releasing our creativity, and making new things from our wonderful imagination.
(I have a free e-booklet for you which goes into more depth about how to release your happiness — you can find a link for it below).
17 tips to feel happier
- Smile more — not as part of a mask which hides your emotional pain, but as a way of exercising your facial muscles (which incidentally will trigger your brain to react ‘as if’ you had something to smile about).
They need to be real smiles which reach up to your eyes.
- Give daily treats to your inner child — to help them feel special and deserving of the good things in life (they don’t have to be expensive… or sugary — children delight in the simplest of pleasures).
- Savour the delights that your senses deliver to you — sights tastes, smells, touch and sounds and ensure that you expose your soul to these enriching gifts every day. Eat real natural food, and seek experiences which nourish your body and brain. Observe, feel and focus upon these — as an ongoing meditation of awareness.
- Release the rucksack of worries. Take off that heavy weight and put it down. You can go in and rummage around now and then — and take some of your worries out — but don’t put it on your back again! It will only weigh you down and limit your psychological flexibility and mobility.
- Write down who and what you appreciate in your life — and how your life would feel without them. This isn’t intended to lower your mood with imagined losses, but to reinforce your appreciation for every moment that you do have those people and things which make your life happier.
- Regularly imagine yourself as a free and happy child running or cycling — and feeling the breeze in your hair, the sun on your face and your body moving easily and lightly.
- Notice your body posture and facial expression — and change it if it isn’t that of a happy person!
- Get a ‘one-step-removed’ distanced perspective on your woes and worries, and ask yourself why you feel/felt as you do/did. This is not about getting back into and reliving your story or emotions — but to use a different part of the brain to see things from a better, more objective and helpful perspective.
E.g. Why did I feel……… when that happened?
This gives us the ability to find the source of the emotional pain and what we felt was missing for us at that time. With such clarity comes the choice about how to make up for and put right what was missing.
- Find something that fully engages your senses, and enjoy the effects of the ‘feel-good’ chemicals that your brain delivers from your inner pharmacy when you’re immersed in an activity that you love.
- Find or create opportunities for playful fun and laughter — free up the inner child to feel exuberant with his or her trusted friends. If you don’t have such friends around then regularly imagine that you do, and what you would all be doing, and how much you laughed until it hurt your belly or made you nearly wet yourself!
- Keep learning. The inner child is curious about the world and may not have been encouraged to ask questions and find things out for themselves. Make up for this by seeking out interesting things and speaking with interesting people. It’s as if the brain, and inner child, lights up when we are stimulated and enthused by new things
- Set new challenges for yourself — they don’t have to be huge…one step at a time. Whenever you accomplish something you wanted to do your brain rewards you with some ‘happiness enhancing’ chemicals.
- Regularly exercise in a way that you enjoy — to keep your mind and body active and in balance.
- Have a good night’s sleep — which not only restores our energy, it helps you to process and file away your memories of the day. Lack of sleep affects a part of the brain called the Hippocampus — which is where we store positive memories. We store our unhappy and negative memories in a part of the brain called the Amygdala. When we don’t get enough sleep we recall the bad memories more easily than we can recall the good ones.
- Daily kindness activity — research studies show a benefit to happiness which comes from helping other people (the ‘Helper’s High). It only takes a couple of hours a week to make a big difference!
- Feeling and showing empathy and compassion for ourselves and others helps us to connect with the nature of our soul.
- Get out into nature and enjoy soaking up the energy that surrounds you.
So to quote Abraham Lincoln — “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Show yourself the best self care — as you would to a child you loved. Remember it is the child who still lives inside you who needs your care the most and this will in turn equip you with the resources to then care for others.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)MIND HEALER & MENTOR
www.maxineharley.com — Where you will find an e-booklet called:-
7 Keys To Unlock Your Happiness — how to release your happiness and find peace of mind. See http://maxineharley.com/7-keys-to-unlock-your-happiness/
To get your FREE copy please use the code FREE7KEYS at the checkout.
You will also find a page of FREE RESOURCES for you and your inner child to help you on your path to awareness, healing, recovery and growth…and a happier life free from your past traumas and conditioning
www.maxineharleymentoring.com — I help women to FEEL better so they can BE, DO and HAVE better…I help them to understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours.
www.the-ripple-effect.co.uk — for an inexpensive self-help workshop called How To Be Happier
Originally published at lifelabs.psychologies.co.uk on August 19, 2015.