3. Do something fun. Temporarily distract yourself from the stress, and re-charge your battery, with an enjoyable activity. Watching a funny movie is a reliable way to give yourself a pleasant break, and listening to your favorite music is one of the quickest ways to change your mood. When my older daughter was in the intensive-care unit as a newborn, my husband dragged me off to a movie one afternoon -- and that few hours of distraction made me much better able to cope with the situation. Be careful, however, not to “treat” yourself by doing something that’s eventually going to make you feel worse (taking up smoking again, drinking too much, indulging in retail therapy). My comfort-food activity is reading children's literature.
Much like yawning and a case of the giggles, happiness really is contagious. One study found that happiness has a waterfall effect among pals (and their pals… and their pals’ pals). When one person’s happy, it spreads to his or her friends and entire social network over the long term. Pretty much the most awesome way to influence other people, right?
Feel more compassion. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.” You may think that feeling compassion for others has nothing to do with your own level of happiness, but in fact, being able to feel compassion for a friend or stranger in a difficult situation can make you a more whole, self-aware, and grateful person. If you’re so busy obsessing over your own struggles and never look around to see how other people are feeling, you’re bound to be less happy than a truly compassionate person.[3]
The philosopher Odo Marquard has noted a correlation in the German language between the word zwei, which means “two,” and the word zweifel, which means “doubt”—suggesting that two of anything brings the automatic possibility of uncertainty to our lives. Now imagine a life in which every day a person is presented with not two or even three but dozens of choices, and you can begin to grasp why the modern world has become, even with all its advantages, a neurosis-generating machine of the highest order. In a world of such abundant possibility, many of us simply go limp from indecision. Or we derail our life’s journey again and again, backing up to try the doors we neglected on the first round, desperate to get it right this time. Or we become compulsive comparers—always measuring our lives against some other person’s life, secretly wondering if we should have taken her path instead.
Shooting the breeze may be fun and completely effortless, but small talk won’t lead you to a happier life. In one study, people who engaged in the least amount of meaningless chit-chat were also the happiest. Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-being is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations. Mehl, M.R. and Vazire, S. Psychological Science, Apr 1 2010;21(4):539-541 And speaking of conversation skills, being a good listener may also lead to a greater sense of well-being, stronger relationships, and all-around better experiences.
While some factors that affect happiness might be outside of our control (such as genetics or certain life circumstances), there are always actions we can take to amp up our own good feelings. To smile wider, be more satisfied with life, and feel altogether better—both in the present and the future—try introducing any (or all!) of these practices into your life.
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