There was a poster in my daughter’s high school English class that said, “We do what we do because of what we value most at the time”. Sometimes we value ease at the expense of true happiness. Many of our choices make us feel good in the short term but actually damage our happiness in the long run. For example, we might feel like we would be happier if we skipped our workout, watched TV and ate ice cream. For a few minutes of pleasure (which is usually less pleasure than we thought it would be) we trade self-respect, some more unwanted weight and a belly ache. Look around you and you will find that the happiest people are the ones who know how to delay immediate gratification for a greater and lasting happiness. No one, at the end of the day, says, “I sure wish I wouldn’t have exercised today!” but how often do we regret skipping a workout? How many times have we regretted some unscheduled self-indulgence in food, time or money?
“Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible.” – Augustine
Being happy, like everything worthwhile, takes some effort. A few ideas on how to be happy(er):
1. We are happiest when we do hard things. At FitMania we say, “If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you”. Self esteem is earned, not an inherited right. We earn self-esteem or feelings of self worth by doing things that give us a feeling of accomplishment. For years when my esteem or happiness was low I would pick a hard hill, usually the road to Table Rock, and ride my bike to the top. A few years ago I hiked to the top of Mt. Borah, the highest peak in Idaho. It was hard. Really hard. But the days following I felt I could conquer the world and I was so pleased with myself.
2. Fill your mind with happy things. Drastically limit the news, talk radio, television, internet junk, most screen time, etc. These things are all negatives. Replace those things with things that are motivational and inspiring. Keep good audio programs or music in your car and a good book on hand.
3. Exercise for the happiness effect. Studies continue to show that exercise works better than anti-depressants. And you don’t have to be depressed to feel the happiness effect of exercise. The results are even better with intense workouts. Intense exercise is also best for a general feeling of well-being and sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day no one wishes they had not worked out. How many of us, at the end of the day, wished we had? You can postpone a lot of things but you cannot do today’s workout tomorrow.
4. Sleep for happiness. Get enough sleep. It is hard to be tired and happy at the same time.
5. Eat for happiness. Eat often, avoid simple carbs like sugar and flour, and get some protein in each meal to prevent spikes in blood sugar which in turn causes mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety and stress.
6. Find happiness in the moment. Raising six kids and all that goes with it taught me to multitask pretty well. Now I am un-learning it. When doing two things at once, or doing one thing while thinking of what we will do next, we miss the joy of the moment.
7. Find happiness in meditation. You don’t need lessons, just some quiet time. Turn off the radio in the car, take a walk in a quiet place or just sit and think. Find quiet time everyday, to just think and be.
8. Express gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great thing but like G. B. Stern once said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone”. Verbalize your gratitude to those who need to hear it, which is everyone.
“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” -Saint Ambrose
9. Lift somebody. What does gossip, criticism and pornography all have in common? They all degrade another human being and we cannot degrade another without diminishing our own esteem and happiness. The opposite is just as true. We cannot lift another human being without building our own happiness.
10. Spirituality brings happiness. Studies repeatedly show that people who pray and have a personal relationship with God are happier than those who don’t.
11. Build healthy relationships. Give priority to close relationships. Surround yourself with uplifting people and distance yourself from people who are toxic, negative, prone to drama and who discourage your dreams and goals. You cannot rise any higher than the people who you spend the most time with.
12. Let sadness touch you. Don’t wallow in it but let it touch you. Sadness and heartache are a part of life and we can be wiser and happier for having felt it. The shortest verse in the Bible may also be the most profound, “Jesus wept”. If it was becoming for the Divine certainly we can shed a tear or two. A verse from a favorite poem of mine:
If life were always merry,
Our souls would seek relief,
And rest from weary laughter
In the quiet arms of grief.
-Henry Van Dyke
13. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is something we can choose. Choose it everyday.
“You are one of the noblest of God’s creations. His intent is that your life be gloriously beautiful regardless of your circumstances.”
by Sherry Stirling Fernandez