Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Becoming a Student of Happiness :)

Are you interested in feeling happier? If you are, I'm with you and it seems we're not alone. I did a quick library search for the word, "happiness," and my results showed 89 pages. Not all books were on the study of positive psychology, but when I was in the library the other day, the shelves in the Dewey Decimal 150's were chock full of books not just on self-help, but books specifically addressing the subject of "happiness." I looked up one of the titles on Goodreads and checked out the "Readers Also Enjoyed" recommendations and came up with more titles such as, Authentic Happiness, The How of Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis, and Happier. Out of the eight copies my county library has of Gretchen Rubin's, Happiness Project, only one is currently available. And that isn't even her most recent book; Happiness Project came out in 2009! Evidently, the pursuit of happiness is trendy and scientific research concerning the subject is more compelling than ever.

I'm not someone who suffers from depression, but as I have noted in this space before, I do believe I need to intentionally be proactive in maintaining and exhibiting a positive attitude daily - especially in the winter months and especially as we are SO VERY close to spring and yet I am looking at gray skies and the threat of 3-5 inches of snow on the ground overnight. Yes, it will melt, because we ARE close to spring, but just have a look at my choice of words: "the threat of ... snow," when in November they might have been, "the promise of snow" and you'll see why I believe that happiness is a practice like any other exercise we do.

I enjoy books and documentaries on the subject of happiness, because they often give me ideas and practices to try that are benign and even  - as could be expected - fun! The books pictured at the top of my post are some of the recent books I've been enjoying. The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life by Richard Wiseman is more scientific in nature as opposed to the two other books by Jamie Cat Callan, which are just more fun, but equally as interesting to me.

Here are some notes I jotted down from the bit of reading I've done from The As If Principle:

1. Smile every day (even if - and especially if - you don't feel like it). Putting on that happy face - even in private stimulates your brain to producing actual feelings of happiness.

2. When you walk, STRIDE: Long strides, swing your arms, hold head high. Don't shuffle with short strides, watching your feet. (I rarely shuffle, but I thought the negative of the instruction was interesting).

3. Dance often!

4. Move in a fluid manner - including handshakes! - vs. sharper/straight/spiky movements.

5. Laugh, sing, use happy talk - BEHAVE (rather than just think) as though you are having a good time!

Wiseman shares some fascinating studies that led to these notes. Check out the book; it's interesting!

And I copied this lovely quote from Callan's, Ooh La La!:

It seems to me that whenever I am here - and not just Paris, but in all the small cities and villages of France - I am given a different message than the message I receive in my own country. And that message is - "you are enough." In fact, it seems to me that all of France is one big fan club devoted to the 'Female.' And not just eighteen-year-old females, but older women as well. In America, I often feel admonished for my shortcomings. In France, rather than admonished, I feel encouraged to take better care of myself, and to dress well, to eat well, and to take pleasure wherever I can find it. Because I am Woman! Viva la difference!

Please don't take from this quote that Callan does a lot of America-bashing in her book, because she does not. It really is just a fun look at another culture. And yes, I suspect, never having been to France myself, that there are a number of generalities she presents. But, I am not looking at this book as a true anthropological study! It is a charming, feel-good book that, yes, made me happy for the hours I was reading it, so I recommend it!

A wonderful friend of mine has been texting me and some of her other friends - almost daily - a short list of things she is grateful for. I had sent her a copy of One Thousand Gifts and she took the practice to heart in a very modern, technologically savvy way! What I love about her texts is that she's asked us to text her back with our own small, daily, grateful list.

Today, I was mentioning these books on happiness that I have been enjoying reading and she said she has been doing the same thing! Then she asked, "Then why don't we feel happy?" I told her that I think we do, but as I mentioned above, we actually need to work at it more the older we get. This is my completely unscientific theory: When we are younger, not only do we possess more energy, we are faced with fewer problems and responsibilities. Like our youthful, physical selves that often didn't need to work as hard to maintain our weight (though I am aware that there are young people who struggle with theirs), we also  - if we were blessed to grow up in a relatively healthy and stable environment - had lives that were more carefree. When we look back, we may feel that it was easier to be happier when we were younger.

Additionally, youth have the benefit of anticipation on their side. Anticipation of good things to come has been shown to raise moods and not only do young people enjoy new, exciting experiences, they also can look forward to many of life's milestones which those of us in our middle age and beyond simply do not have anymore. This is not to say that we don't have anything to look forward to, but I believe, again, it becomes more a practice of seeking out adventure, or creating opportunities for anticipation - large or small. Anticipation becomes more a responsibility we have to ourselves rather than just happening upon life events, such as graduation from high school, for instance.

Well, I've rambled on this topic enough for today, I think. That promise of snow has come to fruition and the flakes are coming down outside my window. Supper needs to be made! In the meantime, have a look at some of the books I mentioned. If you do - or have one to recommend to me - drop me a line here or on Facebook! It's hard to go wrong sharing ideas for extra happiness!

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