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This popular book, now back in stock with a new cover design, rests on the assumption that you can be happier, no matter who you are or what your challenges.
Happiness begets happiness. When a person is happy, the feeling ripples out to others nearby. Research has shown that happiness also leads to better health. One-third of the population knows the secret to happiness—that it's an inside job, not contingent on possessions, status, or even ...
This popular book, now back in stock with a new cover design, rests on the assumption that you can be happier, no matter who you are or what your challenges.
Happiness begets happiness. When a person is happy, the feeling ripples out to others nearby. Research has shown that happiness also leads to better health. One-third of the population knows the secret to happiness—that it's an inside job, not contingent on possessions, status, or even life circumstances. Fortunately, the other two-thirds can learn to cultivate contentment.
This book offers 365 concrete ways to experience more happiness. Many have to do with changing one's outlook and learning to lift one's spirit in the moment; others address everything from eating habits and interactions with others to sleeping patterns and taking nutritional supplements. Some of the tasks are lighthearted, others quite serious. They all will have a positive effect on mind, body, and spirit.
What Matters to You?
The great political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." On this first day of the new year, it's a good time to take the opportunity to look at your values. What is most important to you? Do you express those values in how you live?
When I ask myself those questions, I realize that kindness and gratitude are very important to me, but I don't express them as much as I would like. Today I make a commitment to myself to practice gratitude by saying a blessing before dinner, and to look for occasions to be more kind to others.
What about you? The deep sense of joy that comes from living our values is a priceless gift.
Mark Your Calendars
I always love the beginning of the year when I get a new planner and transfer over all my phone numbers, birthdays, and upcoming meetings. I guess it's the sense of starting fresh in a brand-new year.
This year, as you mark your calendar with the dates you need to remember, pick at random four, just four, days and put a special symbol on those days—a star, a smiley face, whatever. Then, when you come to them during the year, give yourself a treat.
This will bring you fivefold happiness: the four treats and the smile it brings now in anticipation of what's to come.
Pray for Happiness
Prayer works, so why not use it on behalf of our happiness? There have been many studies done recently on the efficacy of prayer. The one that impressed me the most was done on 393 heart attack patients; 192 were prayed for without their knowing it; the rest were not. All other treatment was exactly the same. Of the group that was prayed for, there were fewer fatalities and more rapid recoveries.
So pray for happiness. And be sure to ask directly—we usually want what we want because we think it will make us happy, but we forget to ask for happiness directly. Today, ask for whatever will make you happy, without assuming you know what that is.
Understand What Happiness Is
We all want more happiness—but do we even know what it is? Happiness is a feeling we experience in our bodies. In that way, it is always self-generated—we experience it internally. But many of us think of happiness as a feeling of pleasure based on some external happening—we got the raise we wanted, we just ate a fabulous meal. But true happiness isn't contingent on circumstances. It is a sense of contentment that exists independently of the good fortune that might find us. Proof of that comes from a study of lottery winners. Just six months after winning, they report they are no happier than they were before their windfalls.
We find true happiness from a sense of contentment that we experience when we let go of our judgments and accept ourselves, other people, and life as it is, no matter how imperfect. Try it just for today. When you notice yourself judging someone or something as bad (the screaming baby, the insensitive coworker, your own frustration), pause, take a breath, and say to yourself, "They are (or I am) doing the best that they can." At the end of the day, notice whether acceptance has brought you more peace and contentment. Remember, as Leonard Sweet says in A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café, "Our duty is not to see through one another, but to see one another through."
Look at Difficulties as Temporary
Research on optimists and pessimists has uncovered the fact that pessimists believe that whatever bad thing is happening is immutable, while optimists view the same thing as only temporary.
Boy, does that ring true for me, the reformed pessimist. When I was in my early twenties, I hurt my back and spent over a year in bed. Finally I went to a pain center, where I learned a variety of things. Perhaps the most useful was to rank my pain from one to ten every day, with one being mild discomfort and ten agony. Why was it so helpful? Because I understood that it changed. Before that, I would say it hurt the same every day; once I began numbering, I saw that some days were eights, but others were fives. Sometimes I hurt more, but other times less. I remember the day I thought to myself, if it can go down, maybe it can go away, at least for a little while. And by changing my thinking about my problem—believing that it could get better—eventually it did. I still experience pain, but my relationship to it is completely transformed.
What in your life could benefit from a reframing as only being temporary? A job you don't like? A problem with someone in your life? Feeling stuck is what causes most of the misery.
Use Good Scents
Smells can be mood elevators. Here are some ways to bring good scents into your day:
Light a candle with a favorite scent before you go to bed. It will perfume the room. My favorite is Casablanca lily. Jasmine is a good choice too—it induces optimism. Just be sure to blow out the candle before you fall asleep.
Apply a scented lotion or one or two drops of your favorite essential oil to your temples and rub gently. Various body stores even have specialized "pulse point" lotions.
I Will Believe in You Every Day of My Life
I have a wonderful friend named Molly Fumia who is one of the best happiness boosters I have ever met. Being with her is like being wrapped in a cocoon of unconditional love and support.
Recently I opened a package from her, and a little two by two-inch card (probably made on her computer) fell out. It read, "I will believe in you every day of my life"—Elliot to E.T. from the movie E.T. My heart soared. What a fabulous message—I felt instantly uplifted. And if it cheered me, who has a healthy dose of self-esteem, imagine what it can do for someone in great need of support and encouragement!
Who in your life needs to hear such a message? You? Your spouse? Your children? Spread some joy around—send an e-mail, write, or call someone and tell them, "I will believe in you every day of my life" and see how you—and they—feel.
Pick Up the Eggs
Buddhists have wonderful teaching stories. This is one told about Aachan Cha, a Thai monk and teacher. A monk at his monastery kept complaining to him about all the other monks—they should be better meditators, they should eat less. Finally Aachan Cha turned to him and said, "You are like somebody who keeps chickens and then goes out in the morning and picks up the droppings instead of the eggs."
What eggs are you ignoring right now because you're so focused on the droppings?
Make a Worry List
I am a world-class worrier by habit, and it definitely gets in the way of my being happy. So over the years I've had to learn various "anti-worrying" techniques, so that all my mental energy doesn't go into worrying. Here's two things that are incredibly simple yet effective:
Sometimes just writing down what is bothering you can be tremendously effective in letting it go. Write down in list form, one after another, all the things that are bothering you. It really helps to see them on paper—they are now outside of you rather than internalized, and they can be approached one at a time rather than seeming like an overwhelming mishmash.
Rating your worries on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the absolute worst thing that could happen—the death of your child or your mate, for example—is also very effective. When you make ten so extreme, it's easier to keep some perspective on the everyday worries you might be experiencing. An annoying boss? A project that needs finishing in short order? Clearly not a ten.
Have a Tuna Fish Sandwich
Regularly eating tuna, salmon, and other fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids relieves depression, according to studies done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The reason? They increase levels of serotonin in the blood, which helps to increase calm and a sense of well-being. "The brain is essentially made of fat," explains Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the NIH. "Some of the fats that are necessary for proper brain functioning cannot be manufactured by the body. They must be obtained in the diet."
In the past, notes Hibbeln, humans ate foods rich in these oils. Now we don't, and depression and other mental illnesses are on the rise. If fish isn't your thing, flaxseed and canola oil also raise serotonin levels, and fish-oil supplements can be purchased at nutrition centers or health food stores.
Wisdom comes from all kinds of places. I was reading Vanity Fair recently (a guilty pleasure), and came across an interview with Jordan's Queen Noor about life after the death of her beloved husband, King Hussein. She said of him, "He always felt his responsibility was to project only the most positive, constructive, caring, loving, comforting spirit to everyone he encountered, no matter what he was feeling inside. It was easy to see that that was one way of giving the best of oneself to others, and also it happens to be a very peaceful way to live your life—to whatever extent you can do it."
Research confirms the wisdom of the king's technique. Researchers David Myers and Edward Diener have discovered that if you "fake" a trait of happy people, you will begin to feel happier too. For example, subjects who pretended to have high self-esteem began to feel as if they did, and those who were asked to smile actually felt happier.
Rejoice in Love
Love—the love of friends and family—is a precious gift that is often unacknowledged when we get caught up in our expectations and judgments or the just plain busyness of our day. But isn't the mere fact that you are loved by those who care about you amazing? After all, you aren't perfect; you have your own foibles (as Paul Pearsall said in a recent speech, "Raise your hand if you would like to be married to you"); yet those who love you love you regardless of your flaws.
Isn't that love worth celebrating right now?
Create a Morning Wonder Ritual
The great musician Pablo Casals once said, "For the past eighty years, I have started each day in the same manner. It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world in which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being."
What small thing can you do when you wake up in the morning to tap into that sense of marvel before you start your day? Play a special piece of music? Read something inspirational? For me, it's cuddling in bed with my daughter, looking up at the redwood tree framed in the skylight, and listening to the birds sing.
Stand Up Straight
I know I probably sound like your mother, but motivational speakers Drs. Michael Mercer and Maryann Troiani, authors of Spontaneous Optimism, claim that if you learn to keep your head up, shoulders back, and chest out, you'll feel better. "Before you can straighten up your head, you first need to straighten up your body," they maintain. "When you slouch, your mood takes somewhat of a dive. When you notice that, immediately straighten up. That is your first step to boost your mood." Try it today.
Reach across Difference
Today is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was full of all kinds of wisdom. One of my most favorite sayings of his is, "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now." We are all, everyone of us, in the same boat, but we have a tendency to cluster together with people just like ourselves. It makes us feel comfortable, safe. But it can also cause us to stagnate, to miss out on the happiness that comes from different perspectives.
So, in honor of Dr. King's birthday, how about reaching out to someone who is different in some way from you? Someone of a different race, sexual orientation, culture, age? Ask a coworker you've ignored to lunch; invite your deaf neighbors to dinner. Stretch yourself and enjoy the feeling that comes from reaching out.
Sometimes life can be so difficult that the only happiness we can find is through hope. Hope is an important spiritual discipline, the ballast that keeps us going even as we seem to be sinking. "Hope is a state of mind," writes Vaclav Havel, "not of the world.... It is a dimension of the soul and it's not dependent on some observation of the world or estimate of the situation.... Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
If you're low on hope, try this meditation by Sue Patton Thoele: "Gently close your eyes and focus on your breath.... With each inhalation, imagine that you are drawing in the energy of hope into your body. It doesn't matter if you feel hopeful, the intention toward hopefulness is enough for now. Briefly think of any circumstance, feeling, or belief that is creating stormy seas for you. Notice that a short distance away is a quiet, serene, and welcoming harbor. Angels, friends, or other emissaries beckon for you to come into the harbor.... As you enter the harbor of hope, you are greeted by Beings who will care for you compassionately. Rest with them and allow them to minister to you."
Combat Delight Deficiency Disorder
Delight Deficiency Disorder is a condition identified by Paul Pearsall, author of The Pleasure Prescription, that results in anger, irritability, aggression, and impatience. "When you're not getting delight in your daily diet, your body begins to starve for its spiritual nutrients." Its cause? Taking ourselves too seriously, trying to control what can't be controlled, forgetting to indulge in the simple pleasures of life. The cure? Lighten up and laugh, realize that we can control very little, and find healthy ways to bring pleasure back into your life. "If you don't find a balance between pressure and pleasure, your epitaph is going to read, 'Got everything done, died anyway.'"
In many ways, this whole book is conceived of as a antidote to Delight Deficiency Disorder, and you will read about many ways to bring happiness and pleasure back into your life. For today, just ask yourself, "In what ways am I suffering from DDD? When was the last time I really laughed? Do I find myself chronically impatient with people?" Awareness alone will bring a bit of relief from this disease.
Send a Note of Appreciation Out of the Blue
As an editor, I have worked with many authors. Some become friends; others remain more at a distance. I recently got a letter from a person who fell into the latter category. We'd worked together pleasantly, and that was that. Then, years later, this letter. In it, he said that he just realized recently how much I had taught him about writing and wanted to thank me. What a wonderful surprise! It was the nicest thing that had happened to me in a long time. And we both got to be happy—me when I got the letter, him while writing it and when I later called to thank him for a wonderful gesture.
Call or write someone who did something nice for you in the past and thank them. You'll feel great.
If you want to share happiness with others, check out the Secret Society of Happy People at www.sohp.com. The society was formed "to encourage people to talk more about happy events and moments and discourage the social backlash that often accompanies this.
"Somewhere between The Ed Sullivan Show and The Jerry Springer Show, talking about being happy became politically incorrect. We're more comfortable airing our dirty laundry than telling people [we've] had a great moment.
"We believe happiness is contagious and that when more people talk about happy events and moments it will be comfortable for everyone to do it. Eventually the language of happiness will again be part of everyday conversation." Check it out.
The medicine wheel is a Native American teaching tool. Recently it has been adapted to something called "the mistake wheel," which offers a perspective on acceptance that I find profound in experiencing happiness. The message in the north is, "Learning from our own mistakes"; the west is "Learning from the mistakes of others"; the east is "Learning from the mistakes of our teachers"; and the south is, "Being willing to make as many mistakes as it takes." Finally, in the center, which represents the pivotal learning, is "Learning that there is no such thing as a mistake."
When we see every mistake—our own or others'—as an occasion for learning, we up our happiness quotient. Yesterday I found an editing mistake I made in a book we published. My first reaction was to beat myself up. But then I stopped and asked, "What can I learn from this?" That I need more time per book, and that the world won't come to an end if I make mistakes. And if I think about in that way it is not a mistake, it is a wake-up call to realign myself with my deepest values and to devote myself only to that which I believe in passionately.
Excerpted from 365 Health and Happiness Boosters by M.J. Ryan. Copyright © 2000 Conari Press. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
A Little Course in Happiness
About the Author
Posted April 27, 2009
I went looking for a good book to put me in a better mood. I purchased this book because it looked cute and the cover made me smile. Reading the pages each day made me feel better. The book is filled with words of motivation, tasks to complete to feel good and short stories. I would recommend to anyone who needs a boost of happiness.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 10, 2011
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