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Be A Happy You

By Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD

Many people (not to mention the US Declaration of Independence) talk about the pursuit of happiness. But really, pursuing happiness is something that we all do, though often with little success. In fact, I would say that people today have a lot of practice in the pursuit of happiness. It's just that they look for that happiness in all the wrong places.

Any of these sound familiar?

  • Over eating
  • "Shopping" therapy
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Affairs
  • Staying in unhealthy relationships
  • Procrastination

These are ways we try to find happiness but sadly we are extremely unsuccessful. In fact, these attempts at happiness often lead to more discontent.

Happiness is a skill
What most people do not realize is that happiness is a skill- just like playing a sport or music instrument. If you learn the more effective ways to play AND you practice, you can get good at most any skill. Unfortunately most people have not learned the skills of what truly brings more happiness, so they are practicing unhelpful and sometimes detrimental practices in their pursuit of happiness.

To be happy, just be GREAT
How can I be happy when I (drum roll please) ...lost my job ...have no money ...got a divorce ...am not married ...am married ...moved to a new town where I know no one ...am sick ...am overweight ...feel stuck?"

You get the idea. But really, it doesn't matter. Regardless of what is going on in your life, you can make it better, and it won't cost you a thing. All you have to do is be GREAT!

G = Gratitude
R = Relaxation
E = Exercise
A = Assist others
T = Talk it out
Gratitude: Be grateful for what you have rather than discontent about what you lack
We have a tendency to scan our environment and focus on what's bad, what "should" be better, and what needs to be "fixed." It may be a partner's behavior, a friend's choice in clothing, or your waistline. But when was the last time you focused on the positive elements in your life?

Try this - develop a gratitude journal. It may sound corny, but I assure you it will enhance your happiness exponentially. Every day (yes, even on the not-so-great days), write about three things that you appreciate and feel grateful for. These could be specific events, or just wonderful things that happen regularly. Some examples might include:

  • Getting an email from a friend
  • A funny YouTube video
  • A good night's sleep
  • Sunshine
  • Getting to work/home on time
  • A good cup of coffee in the morning
  • Having the support of family and friends

Over time you'll develop a list of all the brilliant experiences and people you have in your life right now.

Relaxation: Decrease stress and relaaaax
The word relaxation conjures up different images for different people. Some might visualize sitting on the beach with a cool drink and good book, while others might imagine going for an exhilarating jog. Regardless of your definition, relaxation can have amazing benefits as it relates to your level of happiness.

Relaxing doesn't require you to sit in an uncomfortable, cross-legged position and repeatedly chant "ohm," either. True relaxation, in which you flush the stress out of your body and mind, is just a simple way of being happier.

Exercise: Exercise your way to happiness
We are all familiar with at least some of the benefits of exercise to our physical health but did you know, though, that exercise is also good for your psychological health? Evidence shows that exercise:

  • Raises mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain
  • Enhances positive attitudes
  • Releases muscle tension
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Has a calming effect
  • Lessens anxiety and depression

So get moving, and make it fun - go for a walk with your dog, bounce on a trampoline, go dancing, or run through the sprinklers...

Assist others: Helping out others will increase your own happiness
When you help someone, you not only help the individual receiving the aid, but also yourself. Performing kind acts for others is one of the most satisfying and gratifying things you can do with your time. It helps alter your focus from "what is wrong with my life" to more positive thoughts like "I don't have it as bad as she does" and "I am really making a difference." Look for opportunities throughout the day to help others. You, and the person receiving your assistance, will appreciate that you did.

Talk it out: Use effective communication
George Bernard Shaw said that the "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Arguments, conflicts and even wars have been waged because of problems with effective communication. Learn to really listen to others and then verify if what you heard is really what they meant. When you do, what a happy world it will be!

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD is a clinical psychologist, physical therapist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.

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