Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What does it feel like to be happy? Answers here maybe.

Recently, I pondered the question “What does it feel like to be happy?” I really didn’t get answers from my readers. Possibly because I only have a couple! lol. Okay, so I am going to research it myself.

When trying to recall what happiness I may have had in my life, it’s hard for me to pinpoint a specific time; hence, my confusion. There are memories of my childhood when I would sleep in the sunlight shining through the screen door or pillowing my head on the stomach of a beloved pet while napping in the yard. I remember the first time my baby daughter really laughed and laughed in the way babies tend to do, hot humid nights spent making love to my husband in a far away country, a surprise tenth wedding anniversary ceremony arranged for him at the last minute, staring into the eyes of my baby boy, driving alone in my car with the windows down on a beautiful day.

The common factors of those snapshot memories include smiles, a sense of peace, satisfaction, and a longing to be back to those places in time. Contrasting those with other memories: feeling like I didn’t belong in my own family, a boyfriend who was ashamed of me, the first time my husband (lover) broke my heart, my father being injured in my home, death, funerals, illness, poverty, heartbreak, emotional abuse, separation, rejection, divorce, stress, loneliness which I KNOW are unhappiness---then maybe I HAVE had happiness.

There is an interesting article from Time.com about how happiness is now being studied by the psychological community who has long focused on fixing emotional/psychological problems but is just now focusing on what it takes to help people achieve happiness. Apparently, some of the things we expect to make us happy--money, power, influence, weather, education don't. Religion, family and friends are more conducive to happiness. The article references a 2002 study conducted at the University of Illinois by Diener and Seligman in which Diener suggests that "it is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy."

However, what is "happy" for one person may not be for another. Some theorize that everyone has a preset happy range that they pop back to after difficult times---kind of like body weight. Equilibrium is another way of looking at it, I guess. According to Diener, there are two life events that people have difficulty bouncing back to that preset happy spot from: "loss of a spouse and loss of a job. It takes five to eight years for a widow to regain her previous sense of well-being. Similarly, the effects of a job loss linger long after the individual has returned to the work force." Don't despair however. There are positive things that we can do to facilitate our own happiness!

There are three categories in which we can work on improving our happiness quotient: maximize our pleasure in life, become actively involved in the things we are doing and look for ways to add meaning to your life.

Here are some suggestions that have been studied and proven effective:

- keep a gratitude journal. At least once a week, make a determined effort to write down your blessings. In the studies, those who did became happier vs. those who did not.

-do good deeds. Doing things for others-- help a child with homework, walk someone's dog, listen to a friend etc. Those who did at least 5 a week showed an increase in happiness.

- find your personal strengths and opportunities to use them. Are you good with children? Volunteer in the children's ward at the hospital. Are you a talented writer? find opportunities to freelance or write for fun. Go back to college, run a marathon, do something that will utilize/strengthen the gifts you already have.

These were all listed in the aforementioned article. I would also like to add a few of my own:

- get involved. Church, special interest groups, volunteer organizations, community events-- just getting out and interacting with peers can have a very positive impact.

- let the sun shine. Open up your curtains and let some natural light in. I notice that when I do that I feel better and more positive.

- always make your bed. If you are not much of a housekeeper a few key things will brighten up your house. Minimum-- make your bed and do the dishes. Just those things at the least will help you feel better about your life. Weird but true. Try it if you don't believe me!

A few words of caution (my own thoughts here)--- if you have felt gloomy, anti-social, sad, hopeless, and not wanting to live for awhile please see your docter and get some anti-depressants. They have really been helpful to me in my struggles lately.

When you do not know who to listen to, who to believe, cannot trust your own judgement, make decisions, etc See a psychotherapist. It is unbelievable how having an educated third party can help you get things into perspective. I did and will continue as necessary.

You won't need those things forever, but using them now will help get your life on track.

I am going to follow my own advice too and will let you know how it goes. Keep me posted on your progress! :)

1 comment:

  1. I think to be content with our lives is what is important. I was content for several years and then had two devastating events in a year. In an effort to save myself I am filling my life with new interests. I'm not content. I'm not happy. I am a survivor. Your posts provide a lot of food for thought.