I have been in an emotional funk for a while so I made an appointment with a clinical social worker to talk things out. The question I presented was this: As a person who has everything, why don’t I feel happier? At the first appointment, I was asked to fill out a form. Among the many questions were two that stumped me:
Looking hard for an answer to my presenting problem, I wondered if I had found it right there. Fun and relaxation? I don’t really focus on those topics in life. Are they the keys to happiness for me? A little soul searching was probably called for at that point but I turned instead to a Google search asking for a how-to-be-happy formula.
I was interested to see that many major publications carried articles on this topic. Here are three such magazines and a tidbit or two I gleaned from each:
“How to be Happy: 20 Ways to Be Happier Today” by Zack Friedman. The opening lines of the story helped me the most. Friedman tells us that “How can I get happy” is one of the most popular questions on Google with more than six billion search results. Right there I felt better: I’m not alone in needing help with this.
The NYT offers up a variety of “Guides for Living Smarter,” and one of them is “How to Be Happy.” Interestingly, the author, Tara Parker-Pope, makes two points in her guide are that are actually actions suggested by my Apple Watch. If I have been sedentary for the first 50 minutes of an hour, it vibrates, reminding me to get up and move. It also reminds me throughout the day to do a minute of deep breathing. Beyond using movement and controlled breathing, Parker-Pope also suggests that we practice optimism, which was interesting. I never thought of it as a skill I could practice.
“How to Be Happy: 23 Ways to be Happier” by Tchiki Davis, Ph.D. This article contains a quiz you can take to explore your “happiness strengths and weaknesses.” After taking it, you get scores in ten categories: Happiness Planning, Personal Development, Positive Thinking, Self-Confidence, Work-Life Balance, Resiliency, Mindfulness, Life Purpose, Kindness, and Healthy Relationships. Like the New York Times piece, the author’s premise is that all of these are skills that can be practiced. If you are lacking in any of these categories, increasing your skills equals increasing your happiness.
Reading all of this was helpful. It threw out scads of possible action items for people feeling blue and validated the fact that there are many probable causes for unhappiness. In my case, the work-life balance issue spoke to me as loudly as the questionnaire in the doctor’s office. Indeed, as I continued to research/work online, my inner voice began shrieking, “Step away from the computer and go live life!”
So, I’m going to try that. I’m going to beef up the “life” side of the equation by adding more fun and relaxation to my calendar.
I have always been a prolific list-maker and I will put that skill to use now, making two lists. One will be “Fun Things to Do” and the other will be “Great Ways to Relax.” The importance of making the lists is that on emotionally rainy days when things seem bleak, the lists will be tangible reminders of actions I can take to feel better.
My lists are currently very short. According to what I wrote on the intake sheet at the doctor’s office I have four ways to have fun. I can read, watch a movie, hang out with family, or visit a friend. As for methods of relaxation, I only had one: sleep. I guess I was particularly blue on the day of the questionnaire because I can already add to the lists with a handful of options. But that’s my point. When I am blue, I can’t count on myself to remember. So I need to write it down. These lists, by the way, are intended to be works in progress and I will add to them as ideas occur to me.
Perhaps I will embarrass myself to mention a third list I’m planning. It’s called “These People Are My Friends.” On good days I know I am blessed with many friends. On days when I am blue, I can feel all alone in the world. This list will help, not to mention the fact that when I am flying high and seeking lots of adventures, I will have a handy-dandy list of people to consider when I want to do something odd like go to the Sauerkraut Festival.
In my work life, I believe that action is the foundational key to success and that if I take one small step a day in the direction of my professional goal – even if it is a teeny tiny step – I will eventually reach the goal. Using this same philosophy for my Happiness Project, I go forth with lists – and therapist – in hand, anticipating success.
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