The Creativity Cure

A do-it-yourself prescription for happiness

The Surge in the Search for Happiness

29 Tips Worth Trying

Why has there been a surge in the search for happiness?  What does this say about how we are living?  Happiness books, happiness workshops, happiness sites, happiness tips and instructions. Is it because we feel entitled to ever more satisfaction?  Is it because the current culture is breeding unhappiness?  What could possibly be wrong with so many gratifications just a mouse click or pad touch away?

 

Maybe we fear discomfort or forgot how to live with it. A little discomfort is good. Asceticism is enlivening, empowering. It makes you happy in a proud, “I can do it, I am strong, I don’t need that” manner.  Building things and staying focused on a task is more likely to produce lasting satisfaction than surfing and sitting. And also, as you know, too much immediate gratification leads to dullness and inertia. You can feel yourself spreading and sinking as you and your chair become one.

 

Breadth not depth, excess choice and mailboxes of minutia can paralyze, confuse and make you tired.  On the other hand self-reliance, a time-tested form of self-help, is so useful for inner highs.  A capacity to focus on one thing and do it deeply is great for happiness.  Unless you have an enormous talent for quick, accurate selection you might be too swept up and overwhelmed by all the stimulation.

 

 There was this song from the musical Little Mary Sunshine and the

lyrics were:

 

 “Running hither, running thither, running everywhere and all around.

Running hither running thither, running, running who knows whither.

Running everywhere and running down.”  

 

All this connecting!  Is it really connecting or is it pseudo-connecting?  Maybe you don’t need to connect to the whole world. Maybe all information does not have to be available to you.  Maybe you could have a superior mind if you read 100 of the greatest writers ever, or listened to them on tape while running and then had a nice lunch with a companion who says interesting things.

 

Last week I flew from Texas to New York after participating on a panel at UT Austin on Creativity and Mental Health in the Views and Brews series at the Cactus Cafe sponsored by WKUT.  On the plane home, I caught three headlines on two channels that were something like “Is Social Media Making us Miserable,”  “Is Face Book Making You Envious?” and “The Failure of Social Media. ”

 

A few 20-somethings I treat say that connecting with old friends via the inter-net carried them through hard times.  Maybe it is all about moderation and having enough inner awareness to know what lifts you and what trammels you.  

 

In our book The Creativity Cure, Alton and I offer a Five-Part Prescription (5PP), which increases your chances for happy moments. If you can practice these exercises a few minutes a day, in your own way over time, you might feel different, think different, change habits and feel better.  It is worth it to take some time away from technological immersion and try some other ways of connecting to your self (mind and body) and to others.

 

  1. Insight: Self Knowledge (write down what is on your mind)
  2. Movement: Exercise (sometimes in a green space)
  3. Mind Rest: Relax (you can take a nap)
  4. Your Own Two Hands: (make things, fix things, or tend to the environment alone or with others. Projects, gardens and altruistic acts make people happy)
  5. Mind Shift:  (Shift from a negative to a positive outlook by learning how to alter your thoughts. It can be done)

 

You will notice that in the following list of 29 tips, many are common sense. Many are subsumed under the suggestions in the 5PP.

 

29 Happiness Tips Worth Trying:

 

  1. Set a goal and create habits that help you reach it. Learn a hobby, get in shape
  2. Give to others
  3. Feel gratitude  
  4. Know yourself, seek insight
  5. Get a religion faith or a spiritual life. You will feel safer and more hopeful.
  6. Do nothing, rest, take a nap
  7. Meditatewhile walking if you can’t sit still. Repeat a favorite mantra, psalm, sonnet to calm the mind
  8. Eat right; plants, nuts, fruit and whole grains, high energy food
  9. Meet friends even if you do not feel like going out
  10.  Engage in cultural pursuits as a participant (not just a spectator) however imperfectly: sing, dance, paint, play an instrument, cook a meal
  11. Embrace imperfections. Flaws are natural and beautiful in their own way
  12. Purge clutter
  13. Organize to create open space. Make lists if that makes you happy
  14.  Savor delights and luxuries
  15. Lower your expectations
  16. If someone was a jerk, write about it in a journal and get rid of the story.  These people take up too much mental space. When you get rid of them, and you can, you can be like Juliet in the Fellini film Juliet and the Spirits and walk on to a better life while they burn up.
  17.  Take action, embark, just do it and you overcome the block. Just starting is everything
  18. Explore. Experiment. Seek and ye shall find. Novelty energizes the mind
  19. Develop a deep interest in a subject to achieve FLOW (euphoric moments) in work or with a hobby. Stick with it long enough to achieve mastery. Try many things for a solid month or two. You may be surprised. Even if you are not passionate after the trial periods, pick the most interesting and develop a skill.
  20. Be lighthearted.  It’s a good thing. You don’t always have to be sinking your teeth into the problem. Time and distraction can solve it with less angst.
  21. Shift your thought. Shift your mood. You can train yourself to say No to the ruminative process.
  22.  Maintain meaningful rituals: dinners, holidays, basketball games, movies. Whatever.
  23.  Be frugal, not to be cheap but to have less to deal with and to have clarity. An excess of unnecessary stuff confuses the mind.
  24.  Write it down. Keep a little notebook and record thoughts, impressions, wishes, rages and inspirations. Making things concrete is the first step to changing the situation.
  25. Clean up, especially if you are babysitting at someone else’s house.
  26. Don’t scan, compare and compete to do something just because someone else is doing it. It may not be for you.   
  27. Get outdoors and exercise
  28. Do projects alone or with others that help a family, community, a cause, or your mood. Whatever
  29. Use YOUR OWN TWO HANDS in meaningful ways

 

But know that a little loneliness, emptiness and sadness is part of being human and there is no need to fear such feelings or to try to remove them completely. Negative states can be useful and lead to better decisions.

 

 

Carrie Barron, M.D., is a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It Yourself Prescription for Happiness, which she wrote with her husband, Alton Barron.

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