A Unified Theory of Happiness

An East meets West approach.

The Ultimate Happiness Plan

Don't tell me what happiness is, tell me what I can do

“Don’t tell me what happiness is,” a dear friend advised me as gently as she could, “Tell me what I need to do.” After some moments of righteous indignation—after all, I am a serious writer—I decided that breaking things down into doable steps is indeed helpful and that I can and will deliver, right on time for the holidays. Consider my ten steps to be ten gifts, more than you got for Hanukkah and less than you should get for Christmas. I even tell you, when to open your gifts, which is why they constitute a plan, the ultimate happiness plan that is, sanctioned by science, common sense, and Eastern wisdom. So, let the unraveling begin: 

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BEFORE GETTING OUT OF BED: 

1) Say “Good morning”

Just as you wake up, greet the day in three ways:

Say “Good morning” to life as a package full of good and bad things. Say it with an open heart. Accepting life on a fundamental level brings inner strength and peace, a spiritual attitude that carries you for the new day.

Say “Good morning” to yourself. Greet yourself with kindness Self-compassion is enormously important for your well-being. Don’t be so judgmental, but understanding, attentive, and motivating. Be your own best friend.

Say “Good morning” to others you imagine, others you know and others you don’t know. Set the tone for GIVING throughout the day, giving smiles, an open, listening heart, a gift to the poor. Saying “Good morning” will turn into “Good day” and “Good night.” Plant the seed of kindness before the mind gets busy.

2) Scan the Day for the Positive

It is easy to look for the negative as we primarily want to avoid harm. This is known as the negative bias of the brain (1). After greeting the day, steer your attention to something good for which you can be grateful, such as the fact that you are still breathing, able to smell the flowers, smile, and give.

3) Form Your Intention to Be Happy

There is a great Harvard study showing that people who are asked to do their best trying to be happy while listening to jovial music feel way happier than those who are merely asked to listen to jovial music (2). Making up your mind is a powerful pointer.

4) Make a Commitment

Our mind needs a gentle push in the right direction as otherwise, our intentions will remain intentions and you know what road they might pave…. My personal commitment goes like this,

“I pledge myself to the cause of happiness. I will make happiness a priority, and I will put my mind to achieving it. I accept the invitation to the celebration of life.”

Our happiness depends on our willingness to commit ourselves sincerely to it. 

AFTER GETTING OUT OF BED:

5) Nourish

It’s breakfast time. Who doesn’t know that sugar, salt, and fats are to be avoided and fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins are to be consumed mindfully? Instead of doing it for your looks though, do it for your health and happiness. Our body dislikes big abrupt changes. By changing just one or two little things, you can gently start a ripple effect (3).

6) Exercise

Either after breakfast or before dinner get rid of the damaging stress hormone cortisol and increase your endorphin and dopamine levels. Nothing can beat exercise when it comes to healthy brain chemistry. Exercise should not be a choice, but done automatically, like brushing teeth. Start with slipping into your jogging suit and the intent to walk but a minute. Once again, doing something little has the power to start a huge ripple (4).

7) Meditate

Who has time to meditate? You do. For most of us, there is no need to meditate for hours. A minute a day may just do the trick (5). Straighten the spine, close your eyes, and pay attention only to what is. Observing the moment is the key to feeling your connection to the power of the universe. As you learn to meditate for just a minute, you can become mindful about everything. What is life if we do not have the time to stand and stare?

8) Do One Thing towards Your Goal

At an opportune time, do something little towards your main goal in life. Doing a little or doing nothing is the difference between a fulfilled and an unfulfilled life. Follow your goal, even if this means to follow it in snail time (6).

9) Connect in a Meaningful Way

Relationships are indisputable the most important ingredient to happiness. Once a day at least, tell someone how you really think and feel. Share your inner truth and listen to another’s. Learn to connect as connections make us feel alive, as laid out in Chapter Six of my book (www.AUnifiedTheoryofHappiness.com)

GOING TO BED:

10) Get Regular, Good Sleep

Do not deprive yourself from the fountain of youth. Happiness and sleep is a pair and bring each other out. Take sleep seriously and get serious help if you cannot find it (7/8).

After opening up your ten gifts, you might want to pick your favorite. You’ll be back for the others once you have reaped the benefits of one. Happy Holidays you all!

 

(1) Rick Hanson, 2009. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, And Wisdom.

(2) Yuna L. Ferguson, Kennon M. Sheldon. Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2013; 8 (1): 23 DOI

(3) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/unified-theory-happiness/201212/how-create-ripple-effect-in-your-and-others-lives

(4) Ratey & Hagerman (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science for Exercise and the Brain. See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmc0ERKfjP0

(5) How to demystify meditation and learn a powerful, basic minute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6eFFCi12v8

(6) Mihaly Csiskzentmihihalyi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

(7) A fun and true video on the importance of sleep by Arianna Huffington: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nncY-MA1Iu8

(8) Feel better, sleep better: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2013/04/good-nights-sleep-linked-happiness

Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D., is the author of A Unified Theory of Happiness.

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