Meg Selig
The Happiness Museum could look something like this...
Source: Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AK. Architect: Moshe Safdie. Photo: Meg Selig

Did you know that there is a Happiness Hall of Fame? 

It’s not exactly a physical place, although there is a website here. According to that website, “The Happiness Hall Of Fame is a 501c3 non-profit that recognizes special people that (sic) have advanced the cause of happiness throughout the world.” Inductees are an eclectic bunch—sports figures, the curator of TED talks, comedians, worthwhile organizations such as Make-a-Wish and the Ronald McDonald House, plus researchers and authors on happiness.

Since the inductees include the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco Giants, the local sports teams, I can’t help but wonder if there is a Bay Area bias here. Nonetheless, it’s a fun concept and a great way to highlight people who have made a contribution to the sum total of happiness on the planet.  An induction ceremony is held every November at that hotbed of happiness, the Stanford University Faculty Club. It’s coming up soon!

I am thrilled that there is such a thing as the Happiness Hall of Fame, but why stop there? I‘d like to propose a Happiness Museum. “Museum” may be too static a word for a building dedicated to happiness, which is a dynamic process, but for now let’s use it until we come up with a better term. Still, we have our standards! Everything included in the museum would be based on the latest research.

Let’s see. What would a Happiness Museum look like?  Hmm… 

Entering the Happiness Museum

The museum, a series of geodesic domes, will be located in a park with beautiful sheltering trees, biking and walking trails, and meandering streams, lakes, and ponds.  Guided by numerous research studies showing that spending time in nature can lower stress and increase happiness, the museum itself will feature indoor gardens and waterfalls along every path.  

After entering the museum and buying a ticket (choose your own admission fee), you will receive a “Gratitude Journal.”  Writing down what you are grateful for increases happiness both in the moment and in the future (See more in “Exhibit Hall.”).  If you need a pen, you can buy or borrow one in the Life-is-a-Gift Shop.

The Dining Area

The five-star Happiness Restaurant is located near the entrance, in keeping with this quote by Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Who could be afraid of that?

A friendly host will show you to your table. As you return his warm smile, you already feel happier and here’s why!  Upbeat, attentive servers who love their jobs are eager to wait on you. Like everyone in the Happiness Museum, they are well-paid.  Research shows that you are more likely to feel happy if you earn approximately $50,000/year, so that amount will be the base salary for all employees. Salaries could rise up to $75,000/year or more (Earning up to $75,000/year increases your sense of satisfaction with your life, but after that amount, happiness doesn’t increase much.) 

Beverages will be available at both the restaurant and the gleaming mirrored bar.  Most important, the coffee at the Happiness Restaurant will be celestial, concocted by our specially trained baristas.  After just one cup you’ll experience a happiness boost, better mental focus, and numerous other health benefits. They say that happiness is just a thing called joe, right?

The Inner Peace Exhibit Hall: 8 Keys to Everyday Happiness

Now that you’ve been fortified with food and drink, take a walk to the Inner Peace Exhibit Hall, where research on how to have a happier mind is revealed.  Eight key happiness activities will be displayed on attractive posters, along with other classic findings about happiness and entertaining quotes. Here are the 8 happiness exercises:

“Three Good Things.”  Every night for a week, take out your new Gratitude Journal and write down “Three Good Things” that went well that day.  Figure out what caused the positive events.  You will find that you receive a happiness boost after only one week—and that your positive feelings are even stronger after six months.

“Take in the Good.” One way to do this is to practice the simple activity “have it/enjoy it,” suggested by psychologist Rick Hanson in his book Hardwiring Happiness.  First, have it: Notice when you are having a positive experience, such as gazing at a beautiful sunset. Second, enjoy it: Linger on the experience for at least 5 seconds to install it in your brain. This “positive experiencing” will actually change your brain so that you learn to notice and experience other good things in the future. More here.

Notice small pleasures.  Again, Rick Hanson: "Most opportunities for a good experience arrive with little fanfare. You finished an email, the telephone works, you have a friend.” Even in less-than-ideal situations, you can bring pleasant objects, thoughts, and people to the foreground of your awareness.

Change negative self-talk to encouraging self-talk.  Learn to “catch it, challenge it, change it”—catch your negative thinking, challenge it, and figure out a better, kinder, more motivating way to talk to yourself.  For example: Once you "catch" the thought, “I’ll never get this report done,” your challenge could be, “You’ve done it before," and your new thought could be, "Just begin and take it one step at a time.” (This is a classic exercise from the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tradition.)

Label your negative feelings and watch them shrink.  “Sad.” “Disappointed.” “Anxious.” Brain scientists think that slapping a label on negative feelings moves your focus from the emotional part of your brain to the thinking part, enabling you to reduce emotional pain and maybe do some problem-solving. Word magic! 

“Just thoughts.”  When you find yourself lost in the lengthy stories and fantasies that your busy mind concocts, stop them with this friendly reminder: “Just thoughts.” Saying these two words to yourself will relieve any suffering you may be creating for yourself and bring you back to the present moment.  More here.

Cultivate the “gratitude attitude.”  Focusing on what you are grateful for can actually raise your happiness set-point, according to gratitude researcher Robert A. Emmons.  Moreover, the gratitude attitude increases other positive emotions, such as joy, optimism, pleasure, and enthusiasm, reduces depression, and blocks negative emotions like envy and resentment.

Practice self-compassion. Notice when your critical inner voice appears and counter it with kindness toward yourself. You could adopt the mantra of compassion researcher Kristin Neff: This is a moment of suffering./Suffering is a part of life./May I be kind to myself in this moment./ May I give myself the compassion I need.

The Happy Warrior Gymnasium

Exercise is a potent source of pleasure and happiness as well as of health and longevity, according to a multitude of studies. When you visit the Happy Warrior Gymnasium, you will find:

  • Exercise equipment and an indoor track.
  • A meditation room.
  • A napatorium with comfy recliners and pillows.
  • Classrooms for yoga, t'ai chi, and dance.

Roving physical therapists will help you with your posture, as well as help you understand the link between posture and positive mood. (See #6 here.)

The Elie Wiesel Hall of Meaning

Finding your purpose in life, helping others, relieving the suffering of others, contributing to your community, connecting regularly with friends and family—all these actions play a role in happiness because they make your life more meaningful. 

To this end, the Hall of Meaning will feature the following services and activities:

  • The Carl Rogers Counseling Center. Social support--knowing you can count on someone in troubled times--is a major source of happiness. To this end, licensed mental health professionals will offer short-term solution-focused therapy for visitors, including family and couples therapy. Career counselors will be available to talk one-on-one with anyone who wants to make their work life more meaningful.  Twelve-step programs and classes on communication skills and assertiveness training will be scheduled regularly.   
  • Volunteer database.  You can search here for volunteer opportunities that will make the world a better place. Volunteer work and acts of kindness have been shown in numerous studies to create happiness.
  • Giving. You can make a donation to the charity of your choice from our secure website.

As You Depart...

Researcher Barbara Fredrickson contends that positive emotions such as happiness expand your sense of self and heighten your creativity. So you are probably having some ideas right now about what to add to the Museum. For example, my partner would like a film room where he could watch old movies of the Three Stooges. What else? An art room…a music room…a performance space…pet therapy?  You can use the Comments section of this blog as your virtual Suggestion Box.

(Please use the 9 guidelines for Comments at the beginning of this blog by Lee Jussim.)

© Meg Selig, 2016

For more on happiness, health, and habits, see my book, Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009), or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn by scrolling down to my photo and clicking on the appropriate icon.

References:

Neff, K. Self-Compassion (2011). NY: Harper-Collins.

Hanson, Rick. Hardwiring Happiness. (2013). NY: Harmony Books.

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