Happiness. That’s what life is all about, isn’t it?
Many of us are chasing it, in one way or another. From that coworker who is always so cheerful in the morning to the teenager trying to find their path in this world, we’re all just trying to be happy.
You’ve probably heard people say, “I choose to be happy.” They make it sound so easy! Surely we would all choose to be happy if we could? But if they can do it, what’s stopping you? Let’s dig into the science of joy—and how to make happiness your choice.
Joy and the Brain
According to an article by Dr. Marianna Pochelli, the brain has several chemical systems that contribute to “feel good” emotions such as optimism and relief from guilt, regret, shame, anxiety, and agitation. Some of these hormones include dopamine (the reward hormone), endorphins (natural pain relievers), and serotonin (the mental relaxation hormone). Although there are many drugs—both legal and illegal—that produce similar effects, there is no single chemical for joy in the brain or in the pharmacy.
So, if you can’t trick your brain into releasing a chemical for joy, what can you do to start feeling happy today?
How to Live More Joyfully
The key to living more joyfully now is to make a conscious, continual decision to not only engage in mood-boosting activities, but to think about things that make you happy. Yes, there are a few frustrations in life (like walking into the messy living room you just cleaned—thanks, kids!), but one technique is to try to avoid any negative thoughts or activities that bring you down.
According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson, our brains are wired to pay attention to negative things more than the positive. That’s how we evolved—and survived. That means that one has to make a conscious effort to feel happy. To rewire one’s brain, in a way. Some people have to work harder at it than others, and of course what makes one person feel happy might actually be hell on earth for another. Here are a few suggestions for living more joyfully:
1. Stay Away from Negative People
Misery loves company, so you may have to reevaluate your friend circle. Avoiding people who are not only negative but who drain your energy as well will go a long way in ensuring your happiness. Set boundaries and keep those people at a distance as much as possible. Spend time with those who make you smile and feel good, and nurture those relationships. You want to surround yourself with people who add value to your life.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
It’s easy to let day-to-day stresses affect your life, but chances are these things won’t matter in the long run. One mantra to live by is, “If it won’t matter a year from now, don’t let it bother you today.” Admittedly, this mentality may take a while to adopt, but staying focused on your long-term goals should help keep your mood upbeat.
3. De-Clutter Your Space
How could cleaning up your home make you feel more joyful? Well, do you ever just look around your home or office and feel a sense of dread, frustration, or disgust? Every moment you experience those feelings is a moment you are living without joy—and considering the amount of time we spend at home or in the office, that’s a lot of non-joyful moments in your life.
4. Focus on the Silver Lining
Sure, certain aspects of our lives can get us down: a stressful job, debt, unsuccessful business ventures, or the kids’ looming college tuition. While you work towards fixing your problems, try to focus on what’s going well in your life. Do you have loving family and friends? Do you have a job with great benefits? Are you healthy? Incorporate gratitude into your daily routine for the good things in your life.
Choosing Joy: Mindfulness is Key
Mindfulness means focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while being conscious and accepting of one’s thoughts and feelings.
Yoga or meditation might be your thing, or it might not. But you don’t have to meditate to practice mindfulness. You can, however, wake up 15 minutes earlier (I know every minute of sleep is precious for us moms!), or take 10 minutes in the shower to stay still and be aware of your thoughts and feelings (if your toddler isn’t barging in).
It’s really all about taking the time and making a conscious decision to think joyfully. Easier said than done—but as with all things in life, practice makes perfect.