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Choosing To Be Happy

Strategies for Happiness: 7 Steps to Becoming a Happier Person
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Happiness Strategy #4: Counteract Negative Thoughts and Feelings

As Jon Haidt puts it, improve your mental hygiene. In The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt compares the mind to a man riding an elephant. The elephant represents the powerful thoughts and feelings -- mostly unconscious -- that drive your behavior. The man, although much weaker, can exert control over the elephant, just as you can exert control over negative thoughts and feelings.

"The key is a commitment to doing the things necessary to retrain the elephant," Haidt says. "And the evidence suggests there's a lot you can do. It just takes work."

For example, you can practice meditation, rhythmic breathing, yoga, or relaxation techniques to quell anxiety and promote serenity. You can learn to recognize and challenge thoughts you have about being inadequate and helpless.

"If you learn techniques for identifying negative thoughts, then it's easier to challenge them," Haidt said. "Sometimes just reading David Burns' book, Feeling Good, can have a positive effect."

Happiness Strategy #5: Remember, Money Can't Buy Happiness

Research shows that once income climbs above the poverty level, more money brings very little extra happiness. Yet, "we keep assuming that because things aren't bringing us happiness, they're the wrong things, rather than recognizing that the pursuit itself is futile," writes Daniel Gilbert in his book, Stumbling on Happiness. "Regardless of what we achieve in the pursuit of stuff, it's never going to bring about an enduring state of happiness."

Happiness Strategy #6: Foster Friendship

There are few better antidotes to unhappiness than close friendships with people who care about you, says David G. Myers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness. One Australian study found that people over 70 who had the strongest network of friends lived much longer.

"Sadly, our increasingly individualistic society suffers from impoverished social connections, which some psychologists believe is a cause of today's epidemic levels of depression," Myers writes. "The social ties that bind also provide support in difficult times."

Happiness Strategy #7: Engage in Meaningful Activities

People are seldom happier, says psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, than when they're in the "flow." This is a state in which your mind becomes thoroughly absorbed in a meaningful task that challenges your abilities. Yet, he has found that the most common leisure time activity -- watching TV -- produces some of the lowest levels of happiness.

To get more out of life, we need to put more into it, says Csikszentmihalyi. "Active leisure that helps a person grow does not come easily," he writes in Finding Flow. "Each of the flow-producing activities requires an initial investment of attention before it begins to be enjoyable."

So it turns out that happiness can be a matter of choice -- not just luck. Some people are lucky enough to possess genes that foster happiness. However, certain thought patterns and interpersonal skills definitely help people become an "epicure of experience," says David Lykken, whose name, in Norwegian, means "the happiness."

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Reviewed on March 04, 2010
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