The increasingly materialistic society we live in has led many of us to believe that happiness is something to be chased, to obtain. The ultimate end goal that leads to everlasting bliss and contentment. Paradoxically, research shows that the more people chase materialistic pleasures as a means to seek happiness, the more depressed, anxious and less satisfied with life they are.
“We get a lot wrong about what will make us happy,” says Dr. Samantha Boardman, New York-based positive psychiatrist and author of Everyday Vitality: Turning Stress Into Strength. “All too often we choose mind-numbing, effort-sparing options like scrolling through our phones or binge-watching shows instead of engaging in meaningful, revitalizing activities. These are uplift imposters.
Think of these as empty calories—the emotional equivalent of junk food,” says Dr. Boardman. True happiness is not a goal or an outcome, rather, it’s a byproduct of how we live our life and interact with the world around us.
How much control do we have over our happiness?
“It can be helpful to think about emotions as being either primary or secondary,” says Dr. Vaile Wright, clinical psychologist and senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association.
“We don’t have much control over primary emotions—those that happen automatically. For example, feeling immediately irritated if a stranger bumps us on the street or feeling afraid if we hear an unexpected noise in our house. But we can exert some control over how we interpret those feelings and whether we want to maintain them or try to replace them with something else—a secondary emotion, that is.
So, while it isn’t possible to feel happy all the time or to completely eliminate negative emotions experienced throughout the day, we can choose to engage in thoughts and behaviors that foster joy,” says Dr. Wright.
Many factors that are linked with happiness lie beyond our control such as genetics and life circumstances, but there are certain mindful techniques well within our reach that can reliably provide a boost, Dr. Boardman concurs.
Mindful Strategies For Creating Joy That Lasts
True, lasting happiness or joy is a state of mind. It stems from within ourselves. A deliberate, learned response to life that can be consciously and proactively cultivated, regardless of the forces outside of ourselves.
Here are eight intentional strategies for creating lasting joy in your daily life, according to psychologists:
Set realistic expectations. “Emotions ebb and flow and no feeling, positive or negative, lasts forever,” says Dr. Wright. Therefore, it’s important to have realistic expectations in the first place—to avoid resentment, frustration and disappointment that arises from unmet expectations.
Don’t dismiss bad feelings. Suppressing or denying negative emotions not only lowers your sense of contentment but also puts a lot of stress on your body, which can manifest as physical symptoms over time, like headaches, hypertension, palpitations, digestive problems, etc. This is why acknowledging and accepting the full spectrum of emotions, including negative ones, is crucial for our well-being.
“We have a lot to learn from negative emotions and stressful situations,” says Dr. Boardman. Learning to allow and accommodate an array of emotions, rather than aiming to eliminate negative emotional experiences entirely, can help us become more resilient and experience the fullness of life, Dr. Boardman explains.
Embrace yourself with compassion. “Many of us are too self-critical and that perfectionism interferes with our ability to fully experience joy,” says Dr. Kathryn Gordon, licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Suicidal Thoughts Workbook: CBT Skills to Reduce Emotional Pain, Increase Hope, and Prevent Suicide.
Instead of beating yourself up over everything or obsessing over every minute detail that didn’t match your expectation, Dr. Gordon suggests giving yourself the gift of grace. However, practicing self-love isn’t always easy. There’s more to it than bubble baths and herbal teas. And it doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. Here are the biggest self-love saboteurs and how you can overcome them.
Forge meaningful connections. “Our connections and interactions are the most reliable wellspring of joy and well-being,” says Dr. Boardman. According to a study published in the Psychological Science journal, investing in social relationships is the most successful way to boost happiness when compared to other strategies such as healthy eating, getting a better job, etc.
Moreover, another study found that yearning for social interaction evokes a neurological response similar to a hungry person craving food. Something as simple as spending time with a loved one, joining a hobby club or volunteering at a local soup kitchen may help you experience greater joy.
Be ‘un-you.’ When it comes to finding happiness, ‘be yourself’ is the advice we hear all the time. “I take a counterintuitive approach. To help open the mind, I often tell patients to ‘be un-you.’ This is because we often have fixed ideas about ourselves. So who we think we are can get in the way of growth and genuine happiness,” tells Dr. Boardman.
“I encourage patients to expand how they think about themselves by behaving in ways that may seem out of character for them,” she says. “Simply put, doing things that are unlike you can get you closer to the version of yourself you would ultimately like to be,” tells Dr. Boardman.
Watch your thoughts. “Our thoughts and emotions influence our behavior, which in turn, affect our physical health,” says Dr. Gordon. For example, if we are depressed, our thoughts may be self-critical and our emotions might be shame-related.
If we feel self-critical and ashamed, we may be less likely to spend time with friends, engage in physical activity or take care of ourselves (e.g., sleeping and eating well), Dr. Gordon explains. In addition, this may also result in unhealthy coping behaviors such as binge eating, impulsive spending, substance use, etc. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are a few positive coping mechanisms to try instead.
Balance hassles with uplifts. “Research shows us that chronic unmanaged stress can lead to negative physical and mental health consequences including hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety,” notes Dr. Wright. While stress is an inevitable component of daily life, “the key is to balance hassles with uplifts,” says Dr. Boardman.
“It might be something as simple as holding a door open for someone. It might be learning something new, working with your hands (eg: knitting, candle making, origami, painting, pottery, etc.), reading a few pages of a book, chatting with the taxi driver, giving directions to a stranger or cooking dinner for your family,” Dr. Boardman suggests. “These small moments of grace or goodness are the essence of finding happiness in everyday life,” she says.
“I make a point of cultivating or noticing at least two ordinary moments each day that are uplifting,” tells Dr. Boardman. “If I’m not deliberate about seeking delight, I might miss it,” she adds. It’s important to know that “thinking happy thoughts doesn’t qualify as an uplift. Nor does passively scrolling through social media or flipping through TV channels,” Dr. Boardman points out. “For an uplift to provide a genuine boost, it requires one’s full attention and involves at least a micro-moment of connection or engagement with something or someone,” she explains.
Don’t wait until you figure everything out. While it’s important to take the time to figure out who you are and how you identify yourself, it’s not a precondition for happiness. In fact, this approach can hold you back from experiencing joy, says Dr. Boardman. “This is because it encourages ‘as soon as’ thinking and a fixed mindset—by assuming that you’re fully formed rather than in the process of becoming,” she notes.
If you continue feeling overwhelmed and finding it difficult to function despite trying everything, please reach out to a mental health professional at the earliest.
I’ve been a lifestyle journalist for over half a decade, primarily covering all things food, culture, and wellness.
Source: How To Find Joy In Your Everyday Life, According To Psychologists
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