What are the hidden secrets of those shiny individuals who enter a space and immediately light up the room, who don’t try too hard but who genuinely exude a sense of contentment, internal happiness and downright joy? These individuals embody a vivacious glowing energy that emanates deep from within. It has little or nothing to do with external beauty, nor does it have to do with material possessions or waiting for the right relationship, weight or perfect moment. True happiness is indeed a choice, but according to research conducted at the University of Denver, not pursuing happiness too fiercely is the key. The study found that individuals who chase happiness often end up feeling more stressed out and lonely in the long run. So refer to the guidelines below, but don’t try too hard; rather, allow happiness to find you.
1. Smile! One of the secrets of creating happiness from the inside is that tried and true external gesture: a genuine smile. When the muscles around the mouth are turned upwards, your smile is involved in a direct neurological feedback loop to the brain. Research has shown that this feedback triggers a feel-good response and therefore has an immediate positive emotional effect not only on those around you but on your brain!
2. Adopt an optimistic outlook: Becoming an optimist takes practice and is not automatic for most of us. It takes time to re-wire our neural pathways but it’s never too late to start. The trick to transforming your mindset is to become an avid detective of your thoughts. When you notice a negative thought, stop and ask yourself about its origin. Were you hurt by a comment or a situation that triggered anger or sadness? Take a moment to look at the story and then take action. Does the negative thought have some information you can use and act on rather than dwell on the negative thought alone? Probably so. From this point, direct your attention to act rather than ruminate, and then the negative thought will have served a useful purpose. Now it’s time to let it go and move on.
3. Begin the day with an intention to set you on a positive course. Another key to cultivating a happier disposition is to set the tone for your day right from the moment you wake up. Think about or write down a positive intention for yourself or a kind gesture for someone else. Remember the intention throughout the day. Take five minutes to meditate and focus your thoughts on key goals or ways to bring a dose of positive energy to your day.
4. Integrate more touch into your life. A friendly embrace will do the trick to increase the level of the feel-good hormone oxytocin while decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, which also works to reduce anxiety levels. An increase in oxytocin brings on a sense of inner peace and contentment. Touching a pet also does wonders for stress. And remember, touch doesn’t have to be super intimate – through dance or by receiving or giving a massage we can receive the same feel-good effects.
5. Happy with work = happy with life: without meaningful work, people suffer the consequences physically, emotionally and socially. A Gallup poll found that individuals who were enthusiastic and content in their work lives were the happiest. Seventy-one percent of those interviewed said they were not only happy but “thriving.” Make it a point to feel engaged and interested in your work, connect with those in your workplace whether it’s other employees or customers and make a point to take breaks often throughout the day in order to recharge and shift your energy. And finally, yes, work is important but self care is also critical to happiness and so is the pursuit, but not too hard of a pursuit, of leisure.