Here's Your Magic Wand to Be Measurably Happier
Five strategies to change your happiness set-point.
Posted Jul 01, 2020
The world has been pretty challenging lately. Do you, like me, have a list of things you'd like to change? We could start with society, move on to our children, and finish up with ourselves. Do you think you’d be happier if you could wave a wand and make things more perfect? Join the club! I wish I could hand you that wand.
But I'm afraid I have bad news. Your life will never be perfect. You will never be perfect. Your child will never be perfect. And while we're working on evolving our society, perfection is probably not in the cards. None of us will ever be perfect; we're human.
There's something even worse, I'm afraid. Research shows that even desirable changes in our lives don't necessarily make us happier for long, unless we change our happiness set points.
But I have good news, too.
You actually already have that magic wand, not for perfection, but for more happiness, even with things exactly as they are. Scientists have proven that you can change your happiness set-point so that you feel measurably happier.
Here are five strategies you can use, starting today.
1. Choose gratitude. Feeling appreciation and gratitude makes us measurably happier. There is suffering in every life, and sometimes it seems there is a whole lot more dark than light. But even in the hard times, there are so many blessings. Try to find a way to focus on those as much as you can. (If it helps, remind yourself that much of our growth comes from overcoming those challenging hurdles.)
For parents, simply appreciating your child—delighting in them, enjoying them—can put the joy back into being a parent. Side benefit: Feeling our delight in them is transformative for children.
2. Choose to make the most of life by seeing the bright side, even when there's a setback. Optimists are healthier, happier, have more fulfilling relationships, and live longer.
3. Choose to stay conscious and present, even with discomfort. Humans don't like discomfort. So when we start to feel uncomfortable, we run in the other direction, or we numb ourselves out. But that just deadens our feelings of aliveness and joy. The only way around uncomfortable emotions is through. Those feelings of sadness or frustration are there for a reason—they're messages. Once we're willing to feel them, we get the message, and the emotions begin to dissipate.
Want to practice getting comfortable with discomfort? Just sit for ten minutes with your eyes closed and notice what you experience. Discomfort is bound to come up. Don't try to change your breath or your thoughts or the sensations in your body; just notice them. When you notice discomfort, don't try to make it go away—just notice, and flood yourself with compassion and love.
Notice that I'm describing a basic meditation here. Research shows that an hour a day of any kind of meditation can rewire your brain and change your happiness set point in only eight weeks. But even 10 minutes a day, repeated for long enough, will be just as effective.
Over time, you'll notice that you're less defensive, less prone to take things personally, that you're curious instead of uncomfortable with your discomfort, and that you feel a whole lot more alive and joyful.
4. Choose what is. We all wish things were perfect. But you don’t need perfection to be happy. In fact, pursuing perfection actually sabotages happiness. That's because we're always holding the reality of our experience up to some ideal that can never be attained, instead of appreciating what we have. It's like we're always fighting with life.
So give up on perfection and accept what is. You can still take action to change things. But you'll do that more effectively from a positive, appreciative mindset.
5. Choose love. The path to happiness requires you to accept and love yourself just the way you are, messy imperfections and all. In fact, I sometimes think that the only thing that really matters in parenting is for the parent to deeply love and accept him or herself.
That's because your unconditional love for yourself is what allows you to love your child unconditionally. We know that's what every child needs, and deserves. In fact, unconditional love, even when you're setting limits, cures a whole lot of problem behavior—and maturation cures most of the rest. (For a whole series on healing your ability to love unconditionally, start here.)
These practices will change your life over time. But why not start today, by talking to yourself like someone you appreciate and adore? As meditation teacher Stephen Levine reminded us, "Nothing has to be different for you to be whole.”
You'll find that accepting yourself spills over into how you talk to your child. And your child's inner voice, when he grows up, will come from how you talk to him or her now.
Nothing has to be different for you to love yourself, wholly and completely, exactly as you are. Nothing is stopping you from being happier, starting today.
What are you waiting for?