15 Prescriptions for Happiness
Essential medicine that works but is hard to swallow
Posted Feb 06, 2020
The ups and downs of life can detour you from a happy life. There are days when unhappiness can take up residence in your head and cast a large shadow, darkening your happiness. You can watch it with a dispassionate eye, much as you would observe a blemish on your hand. You step out of the water you’ve been swimming in, hold your life at arm’s length, and get a clearer vision from the riverbank on how happiness has eluded you. This allows you to take stock in 15 essential prescriptions that, though difficult to put into practice, comprise the prescription for the happy life you seek:
- Cultivate Self-Compassion. Studies show you’re happier if you give yourself a healthy dose of self-compassion after you fail, miss a deadline, or make a mistake. Coming down hard on yourself after a fumble reduces your chances of rebounding. Conversely, empathy for yourself after a setback motivates you to get back in the saddle. It’s generally accepted that the more you fill your tank with self-compassion, the more empathy you have for others. So be kind to yourself, talk yourself off the ledge, give yourself a pep talk or positive affirmation. Throw yourself a thumbs-up every time you finish a project, reach a successful milestone, or accomplish a goal.
- Celebrate Highs and Lows Equally. Celebrate the accomplishments and accolades in your life. But don’t take the highs any more seriously than the lows. And don’t take the lows any more seriously than the highs. When you stay off the roller coaster, which you will surely experience, and welcome ups and downs equally, you don't suffer the unpleasant effects of the lows as much. And you’re able to steer the course of your life in the direction you want to go and find the happiness and success you seek—regardless of how dire the circumstances.
- Grow Tough Hide. Character consists of the emotional ruggedness to persevere after 99 failures so you can succeed on the 100th try. Developing thick skin is just as important as completing a task, finishing a project, or reaching your goal. In fact, building your resilience might be a stronger character trait than any actions you take in life. You haven’t failed until you quit. So take the towel you want to throw in, wipe the sweat off your face, and get back into the game.
- Stack Cans Instead Of Cannots. Check your negative attitude. Complaining when things go south doesn’t fix anything and only exacerbates unhappiness. Learn to bounce back from setbacks and bad news by stacking your cans. Avoid blowing things out of proportion; look for gains in losses and the upside of a downside situation; focus on the solution, not the problem; pinpoint opportunity in challenge, step back from roadblocks, and brainstorm how to turn them into stepping stones.
- Stick Your Neck Out. Instead of fleeing from the unknown, stretch into the unfamiliar and unexpected. It’s one of life’s paradoxes. Stepping outside your comfort zone, risking your neck, and embracing novelty actually interject more excitement and happiness. Pinpoint the place in your life where you’ve been hiding, and stick your neck out. What edge can you go to? What unpredictable bridge can you jump off to sprout your wings? What limb can you reach to get to the fruit of the tree?
- Live Your Truth. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t share with your closest loved ones. Even if it’s something no one would ever know, you will know. And you have to live with yourself in your own skin. Whatever your actions are, make sure they’re in line with your personal values in order to live a life with integrity and peace of mind.
- Nurture Heartspeak. The 18 inches from your head to your heart is the longest journey you will ever take. Your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—even someone who has harmed you—and to see their perspective is difficult but powerful. Empathy connects you to others, makes you a more compassionate human being, and frees you from your own narrow thoughts and snap judgments. Heartspeak neutralizes anger and frustration and helps you recognize that everybody you encounter is struggling with their own inner burdens—the same as you are.
- Lighten Up. If you’re like many people, life’s grim hardships have left you with humorless determination, and you think lightheartedness is frivolous or irresponsible. Perhaps you believe you must toil and sweat before you’ve earned the right to enjoy life, feel guilty laughing and smiling, or even have forgotten how to have fun. Laughter is good medicine; its body chemistry uplifts your mood and heals and sustains you. The potential for having fun and looking at the humorous side of life is all around: the funny things children say, a joke someone tells, something silly you do. The prescription for a happy and lengthy life is one or more big belly laughs per day.
- Put Down Your Gavel. You, like everybody you interact with, has that kick-butt judge in your head that bludgeons you for slip-ups. It tells you how worthless, selfish, or inadequate you are. Making judgments is how you make sense of the world, but when it's relentless, it can make you miserable. When you fall short of a goal (and you will), refrain from scolding yourself or putting yourself down. Coming down hard on yourself after defeat undermines your happiness. Put away your gavel. Plan to fail and after the letdown, substitute your kinder, supportive voice to amp up your happiness needle.
- Get Cozy With Uncertainty. If you’re like most people, you count on certainty and predictability for survival purposes. It’s natural to want to know when and how things will happen. And when certainty is upended, it compromises your happiness. The problem is your natural need for predictability doesn’t fit into the nature of life, which is full of ups and downs. The mindset of maybe loosens up your need to have life tailored to your expectations. Getting comfortable with uncertainty prepares you for the inevitable curve balls life will surely throw your way. And when they come you’re able to stay on course and hold onto happiness—no matter the circumstances.
- Shun People Pleasing. We all want to be acknowledged and appreciated. But if you trim yourself to suit everybody else, you whittle yourself down to dust. You’re the sculptor of your happiness. Imagine a huge lump of clay in front of you as you clutch a sculpting knife. Instead of handing the knife to someone else, you carve your joy to your own true form. Relieve yourself of the chronic habit of proving yourself first and pleasing yourself last. Get in the mode of pleasing yourself first and proving yourself second. And never abandon yourself to participate in someone else’s underestimation of yourself.
- Be a Goodwill Hunter. Be as careful about what you say about others as you are about what you say about yourself. Gossiping, badmouthing, and backstabbing are the ingredients for a miserable life. Goodwill, on the other hand, and being a good steward committed to helping others for the common good create a happiness boomerang. Commonly known as the “helper’s high,” dispensing goodwill boosts your mood, calms you down, and even relieves you of stress-related illnesses. Brain scans of benevolent people show stronger immune systems, calmer dispositions, and greater emotional health. Think about what you want people to think about you and reciprocate the favor. Looking for and dispensing goodwill—respect, caring and positive regard—boosts your happiness.
- Create Micro-Chillers. Always have a “to-be list” in the form of micro-chillers alongside your to-do list. A mere five minutes of solitude, reflection, and meditative breathing offsets hardships, relieves stress, enhances mental clarity, and loosens physical tensions. A quiet mind puts on the brakes of the comings and goings in your head and fills it with rich, innovative, and happy thoughts.
- Cop an Attitude of Gratitude. Whatever you focus on expands. Always wanting more increases the feeling that your life is lacking, and you want more and more to make you happy. The secret sauce is to want and express gratitude for what you already have. Studies show that if you express gratitude, it raises your happiness needle by 25 percent. Naming all the things you’re grateful for—the people, situations, and accomplishments that make your life meaningful and worthwhile—suddenly expands with a deeper appreciation and enhanced happiness and fulfillment.
- Be Happy Anyway. When you’re kind, people might be thankless. Forgive them and be kind anyway. If you’re generous, people might take advantage of you. Forgive them and be generous anyway. When you’re successful, some people might be jealous. Continue in your success and forgive them anyway. When you do good, some people might question your motives. Forgive them and do good anyway. Most people who mess with your happiness are just like you—flawed human beings, doing the best they can, deeply loved by their parents, a spouse, a child, or a friend. So if you’re happy and people try to bring you down, forgive all of them and be happy anyway.
Facebook image: Cimermane/Shutterstock