Your Quick Guide to Personal Happiness – 5 Happiness Habits

By Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP

For many years I have been fascinated by the concept of happiness. Part of my fascination was personal, and the other was professional. I was seeing so many patients who were deeply unhappy and the interesting thing to me was that when I asked them what would make them happy, most of them had no idea. For many, it seemed to be the first time they had given the idea any thought at all. So, what is happiness? And why is it so elusive?

What is Happiness?

For something that we all seem to be after, happiness seems to be largely misunderstood and pretty difficult to come by for a lot of people. And when it comes to a definition of happiness, well I imagine that would be very different depending on who you asked. For our purposes, I will define it as a general feeling of well-being and joy about the totality of your life – not necessarily the details as those will be constantly fluctuating, but a general sense of wellbeing about your existence. If I were to ask you what would it take for you to be happy? Maybe a better question is – what does your life look like where you imagine your happiest self? This is an interesting intellectual exercise for sure, and one I often ask my patients to do to help them clarify what this scenario would look like for them.

In my experience, I see what happiness isn’t. It is not something that can be acquired, some kind of external thing that one must chase after and get a hold of, never letting go. External things don’t give you happiness, at least not a happiness that is grounded, meaningful and lasting. The way to happiness is within. And I think this is one of the reasons that we as a species, are largely so unhappy right now. We are taught, from a very young age, to seek everything we need in our lives – “out there”. All the things we need to be complete, happy beings are out there in the external world. Good education, a better job, good relationship, nice house, fancy car – and so forth. These seem to be the benchmarks for success and happiness for many of us. But this is changing. There is a movement of young people growing up now who realize that those things often have nothing to do with true happiness and are seeking happiness, fulfillment, and connectedness within. And that is where we will all find it. There has been an explosion of interest in things like yoga, meditation, ayahuasca, etc… to more deeply understand ourselves and our world.

The Chinese Medicine Angle

In Chinese medicine, our ability to feel joy is seen to be an expression of our heart energies. But joy is only one part of overall happiness. In Chinese medicine, how you feel is an important part of your health. Each of the organs has an emotion associated with it to help determine which organ (or emotion) might be out of balance at any one time. If you are overwhelmed by anger and frustration, the liver is the culprit, if sadness is predominant then the lungs are to blame, or if fear and anxieties are making life uncomfortable then we must look at the kidneys for their role in these feelings. I believe that for a feeling of overall happiness and wellbeing that so many of us are striving for is to be achieved, it is balance that we must seek. And there is no better system to teach us to balance ourselves, our bodies, our emotions and our spirits, than Chinese medicine.

The emotions are a more ephemeral and therefore often more difficult thing to contend with, especially in our society with its emphasis on the physical and tangible especially when it comes to health and healing. Because of this, tools we can use to help us manage difficult emotional states or patterns are difficult to come by. Thankfully, Chinese medicine offers many ways in which we can both identify as well as manage and resolve our emotional hardships. Each organ’s energies are at their peak in a specific season, so taking care of both the organ, its corresponding emotion and changing our behaviours depending on the time of year are some of the ways we can help to keep ourselves balanced. Changing the foods that we eat according to the seasons and our physical predispositions is another good way to stay in harmony, as well as some basic things like listening to our bodies – as they tend to tell us in subtle ways when something is wrong – taking care of ourselves on all levels, being kind, loving and nurturing to ourselves and others and working on self-awareness is especially important when it comes to dealing with emotions. So much of our demons and the things that hurt us are unknown to us. If we are really willing to do the work to discover our hurts and sorrows, that is the first step in shining a light on them and being able to process them and letting them go.

5 Happiness Habits

Below are some of the most powerful habits that, if you incorporate them into your life, will help you to have a happier experience and feel more joyful overall.

Gratitude

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Some interesting studies have taught us that so much of our ability to feel happiness is in our attitude. Many highly spiritual beings know this too. One way that we can really help to change our attitudes so that we may attract more positivity into our lives is by being grateful. Taking some time every day to focus on the things that you are grateful for, no matter how big or small, will help to literally rewire your brain, making it easier to think about and feel those feelings of gratitude in the future. A helpful exercise that will help you to literally rewire your brain (plasticity) is to take time every day to think of three things that you are grateful for. In doing this, your brain starts to retain the pattern of scanning the world not for negative things, but positive ones, helping to keep you in a state of positivity.

Positivity


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Scientific studies have shown that the brain works better when we are in a state of positivity giving us a happiness advantage. Here are some statistics from Shawn Achor’s TED talk (which is embedded below):

  • When we are in a positive state the brain performs better in terms of intelligence, creativity and our energy increases
  • Positive brains are 31% more productive than brains that are negative, neutral or stressed
  • When we are positive, our brains are 37% better at sales
  • When in a positive state, doctors are 31% faster and more accurate at coming up with correct diagnosis

An activity to help you to become more positive is to journal about one positive thing that happened to you (or that you witnessed) that day. Writing about the experience allows your brain to relive it, and releases powerful hormones like dopamine, which not only makes us feel good, but also turns on all the learning centres in the brain.

Conscious Acts of Kindness

Another exercise that you can work into your daily routine is to reach out to one person in your social network and tell them that you appreciate them and why. This only compounds the exercise above and will help not only you to feel grateful, but also spread the goodness around by making the person or people you reach out to feel grateful as well.

Meditation

Meditation has so many benefits to our health and wellbeing, that it is something I would recommend for absolutely everyone, especially living in our hectic culture. Meditation allows us to slow down, relax and reconnect with ourselves in a way that many of us have forgotten. Giving that time to yourself as a way to pull yourself out of the chaos that often predominates modern life and to just sit and listen has so many positive effects that will not only make you feel better, they will ripple out into every aspect of your life and ultimately benefit not only you, but the people around you.

Self Awareness

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From the years of treating patients, one of the things that I really believe is a huge contributor to our physical health as well as our mental health is dealing with our demons. I use the word demons, because that is what they can become, haunting us and making us miserable. Everyone has difficult, painful and traumatic experiences in their lives. But the way to have a happy life I believe is not to wish for an easy existence, but to learn how to handle difficulties when they arise so that they can be processed appropriately and let go so that they do not become demons from our past that haunt us in our present.

This ability to really look at ourselves and self reflect is not easy, and this important work is not something that is taught to us as children in schools, so finding a way to work through these difficult experiences can be daunting. The tools that will work will not be the same for everyone, but this is some of the most important work we can do in our lives and the work that will help us to be happier beings and enjoy our time on this beautiful planet.

 

Sources

This excellent (and hilarious) video from Shawn Achor speaking at TED about happiness and our brains.