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How to Be Happy: 6 Habits for Happiness

Over the past two decades, research on mindfulness, the science of happiness, and the neurobiology of the brain suggests that happiness is not a choice, but rather something we do. In fact, trying to be happy is counterproductive. So, if trying to be happy doesn't work, then what does? Well, research indicates that practicing certain habits induces a sense of well-being, which doesn't mean being happy all the time, but rather that we feel contentment with our lives despite life's ups and downs, and isn't that what happiness is all about, feeling good about our lives? So, what are these habits for happiness?

Habit #1: TAKING CARE OF OUR BODIES because a mountain of research supports the notion that regular exercise, a good diet, and proper sleep are highly associated with improved mental health. In other words, for our brains to remain healthy, we need to feed them regular exercise, a good diet, and proper sleep.

Habit #2: DEVELOPING CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS because our brains seem to be hard-wired to need emotional support from others AND to give it as well. However, it's the quality of these relationships that matters, not the quantity, because research suggests it's difficult to develop a sense of well-being and contentment if we live in emotional isolation. Thus, having at least a few close and emotionally intimate relationships helps feed our brains to keep them healthy.

HABIT #3: PRACTICING MINDFULNESS, which means savoring the joys of life while directly facing its challenges without obsessing on them. It means being intentionally and fully present to the unfolding of our lives with an attitude of curiosity and wonder rather than with constant judgment. Practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation develops and strengthens the mid-prefrontal cortex, the most highly evolved part of our brain, which then weakens its connection to our lower brain stress reactions, thus, allowing us to respond to life's challenges rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner.  Living mindfully is a proven practice for decreasing stress, improving emotional regulation, and improving self-care, all of which help to create a sense of well-being and contentment with our lives.

 Below is Carl's 5-minute YouTube video of this article:

HABIT #4: LIVING A MEANINGFUL LIFE by engaging in activities that create a sense of purpose. For some, living a meaningful life might be achieved through religious or spiritual practices. For others, it might be found through work or volunteer activities. Random acts of kindness and practicing loving-kindness meditations have been shown to decrease depression. Purposeful activity for a greater good and feeling connected to something greater than ourselves are highly correlated with an increased sense of well-being and contentment.

HABIT #5: DEVELOPING OPTIMISM AND GRATITUDE, which has been shown by much research to improve physical and mental health.  Even more encouraging is research that demonstrates that optimism and gratitude can be learned through practice, such as by maintaining a daily gratitude list, keeping a journal of three good things that happen each day, and writing letters of gratitude that are read aloud to persons we appreciate. Think of optimism and gratitude as polishes that keep our brains shining.

HABIT #6: UNCOVERING AND RECOGNIZING OUR OWN STRENGTHS, which is correlated with a sense of well-being and contentment. This makes sense because depressed persons tend to be highly critical of themselves. Learning to value and build on our strengths, rather than condemn our weaknesses, will enhance our sense of well-being and happiness. To uncover your strengths, go to the University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center and take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths to uncover your four greatest strengths.

So, as you can see, happiness is not something that just happens to us. Rather, it's something we do. Unfortunately, many of us learned "bad" habits growing amid dysfunction, abuse, trauma, or tragedy. The good news, however, is that we can learn to "do happiness" by slowly introducing these 6 habits into our daily routines, one step at a time, which is like giving water, rich soil, and sunshine to a wilted flower. And then we can watch our happiness bloom.

Good luck on your journey to contentment! And if you've like help creating more happiness in your life, then click on the photo below to apply for online therapy.

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All Text and many photos by Carl Benedict

"Our very life depends on everything's recurring till we answer from within."  Robert Frost