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Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions--page 10

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
"Happiness is not something you achieve. In fact, the more you try to find happiness, the less likely you will be happy. Happiness occurs by how you live your life."
Now on kindle! Tap to purchase Dr. Frank's articles from Amazon for $2.99. Text-to-speech enabled.


Watching birds at a bird feeder is a simple, yet mindful activity. Mindfulness is something that is available to us at all times. We don't need any special equipment. We don't need to make the time. We simply need to be aware of the moment.

As simple as mindfulness is, it may be difficult initially when you are not used to doing it. However, there are times when mindfulness is more natural and it may be easier for a person to begin mindfulness practice by seeking out those natural times.

For many people those natural moments of mindfulness occur with nature. Watching birds or other animals as they fly or play, noticing the colors of nature such as the contrast of the sky and the trees, watching a sunset, listening to the ocean waves or rain drops on a metal roof can all be moments of mindfulness.

Some people are more mindfully aware when they are exercising or when they are focused on a complicated task. Whatever the situation may be for you, allow yourself to seek out those natural moments of mindfulness. Or to be aware of when they occur and to allow yourself to fully experience them.


Our feelings can often be modified through physical means. Simply the way that you stand can increase your sense of confidence and well-being. Try a simple experiment right now. Stand up, lift your chin, put your shoulders back, breathe deeply, look forward. Do you notice how you feel differently emotionally? Do you feel more confident? If you do, this suggestion can be particularly effective for you.

Whether you are alone or in public, focus on standing or walking with this physical attitude. If you access this attitude frequently, it will become more natural for you and you will begin to feel more confident. It is difficult to feel negative emotions at the same time we feel positive emotions so this exercise is a physical method that can help you change your emotional state.


A method to help improve self-esteem, self-confidence or motivation is to talk to yourself in front of a mirror. If you are like many people, you already talk to yourself in front of a mirror. How many times when you look at yourself in a mirror do you make a comment about yourself (even if it is a thought)?

The problem with many of these comments is that they are negative for many people. The idea of mirror talk is to help you change how you talk to yourself. The power of mirror talk is that you are using several different parts of the brain. For example, if you are trying to motivate yourself with a "You can do this!" you not only are hearing the thought internally but you hear it out loud and you see another person (yourself) saying it to you. The more parts of the brain we use to reinforce a thought, the stronger the thought becomes. This is also why it is a really bad idea to say negative things to yourself in front of a mirror.

If you tend to do that but have trouble changing it by saying something positive, if nothing else just try to refrain from saying anything to yourself so that you don't reinforce the negative.


Another health behavior that can be an obstacle to happiness is what you eat. Eating nutritiously affects overall well-being and long-term quality of life. Eating nutritious foods nourish the brain and help to create more positive moods.

If this is an obstacle for you, initially you may want to focus on small things

that can help make a difference. For instance, if you tend to eat unhealthy snacks, try making sure you have healthier snack choices available.

Or, if you tend to go long periods without eating because you are too busy, you are more likely to make the wrong choices because you become too hungry. So having a healthy snack available may prevent you from getting to that state.

Your body functions best when you eat nutritiously and is able to combat the effects of stress more effectively. Make a commitment to taking small steps in the right direction.


Smiling activates areas of the brain that counter-acts negativity and elevates mood. Smiling stimulates a different part of the brain which releases uplifting chemicals. When we smile memories of pleasant events can be more easily elicited. Sometimes these memories can even be a physical sensation of well-being. Smiling will trigger these different connections and pathways in the brain making them more easily accessible.

As mentioned previously, our visual, auditory, and even tactile or sensation memories are interconnected in the brain through pathways of nerve cells. For instance, with stress, a pathway related to negative events and negative emotions becomes over-activated and reinforced through the ongoing focus on these thoughts, memories, and sensations. As a result, the pathway becomes associated with other things to the point that innocent events can become connected to the negative emotions. For instance, if you tend to dwell on how bad you feel while you are taking a shower, taking a shower can become a trigger for the negative thoughts about feeling bad. Therefore, even on a day when you might not feel particularly bad the shower can trigger some of those associated feelings.

However, the same is true of other behaviors. Smiling, for instance, is most often associated with positive events and feelings. Therefore, when you smile, even if it is deliberate, those positive associations are closer to the surface of your memory and more easily elicited. The more you smile, even privately, the more you are likely to experience those positive memories and feelings. READ MORE: page 11


The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)--page 1

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
"...happiness doesn't come with fireworks and a parade. Instead, it sneaks in quietly as the night so that you don't realize it has been there for awhile."
The first and most important key to finding happiness may be the most difficult for many people (especially those reading this article): To find happiness you must not seek it! In other words, the more you try to find happiness, the more it will elude you. I think Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) said it best, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

However, don't be discouraged. You can do many things to create a life where happiness is more likely to find you. Yet, the same caveat applies: If you do everything for the purpose of finding happiness, you may achieve much, but you are not likely to find happiness. Researcher Mauss and colleagues (2012) who found that the higher the value a person places on being happy, the more likely they are to be unhappy, stated, “encouraging a mindset to maximize happiness (as some “self-help” books do) may be counterproductive.”

The reason happiness becomes elusive the more you strive for it is due to creating a fixed desire of achieving happiness. If you have read some of my previous articles, you know that a fixed desire is a demand that something has to occur, or be true, or be achieved in order to be happy. Demands, or “shoulds,” are irrational thinking styles that create conditions for stress and unhappiness. Most of the time these demands take the form of “To be happy, I must be thin and wealthy” or “I must find the love of my dreams” or “I must have a fulfilling job.” In fact, a fixed desire can be almost anything. It could be "I should feel good today" or "My son should get an A on his exam."

However, typically the demands are not completely under the control of the individual and/or they are externally focused which means that the individual may not be able to make these things occur even with a great deal of effort. Therefore, this demand attitude allows happiness to be at the whim of the external world.

In the case of happiness itself, many people make the attainment of happiness a fixed desire: “I must be happy.” However, it is only when we realize that we don't need to be happy that we can find happiness. As William Saroyan (1908-1981) said in My Heart's in the Highlands “The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness.”

The difference between a fixed desire and a desire or a goal is that the latter doesn't connect personal happiness with the outcome. For instance, a person may desire to find a fulfilling job but doesn't demand that it has to occur.

Interestingly, people who have desires rather than demands may be more likely to achieve their goals (Berg, Janoff-Bulman, & Cotter, 2001) possibly because they are more motivated and less discouraged. When the very essence of happiness is dependent upon the achievement of a goal, striving towards that goal can be quite overwhelming and even frightening: “What if I fail?”

The one time I experienced test anxiety was just as I started to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) that would affect my entrance into graduate school to become a psychologist. Just before I picked up my pencil, I said to myself, “This is the most important test you will ever take. If you don't do well, your life will be ruined.” My anxiety shot up as I opened the booklet to read the first question which might as well have been written in Russian because I couldn't comprehend a single word. Fortunately, I knew enough about self-talk and recognized what I had done to myself, so I put my pencil down, did five minutes of deep breathing and told myself, “This test doesn't matter. If you fail, all it means is that your life will take a different path.” That is the difference between a fixed desire and a desire.

The Tao te Ching (also known as “The Book of the Way” which I think of as early cognitive therapy) states, “If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” If you reflect on this statement you may realize that to give everything up, you must also give up the desire to be given everything. Very paradoxical and mind-boggling, isn't it? But that is the first step: To find happiness you must not seek it.

Similarly, Charles Dickens stated in his novel The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, “Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”

However, that being said, let's discuss how to achieve happiness. Actually, how to create the conditions so that happiness can find you. The work to finding happiness is to remove the obstacles to happiness. READ MORE: page 2

Intro  to Secret of Happiness--page 1

What Is Happiness?--page 2

Is Happiness Possible for Everyone?--page 3

What Intentional Behaviors Can Influence Happiness?--page 4

How Do You Choose Which Intentional Behaviors to Pursue?--page 5

A Final Word About How to Know Happiness When it Finds You--page 6

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

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