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

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Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions--page 8

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."


Another obstacle to happiness is how we approach life problems. Certainly, some characteristics may not be changeable, but others may be learned patterns of thinking and behavior. One of these patterns is perfectionism. Many people who are perfectionists don't recognize their perfectionistic demands. They tend to believe that perfectionism is BEING perfect and they don't feel they ARE perfect, therefore they must not be perfectionsists.

However, that is inaccurate. Perfectionism is the tendency to be harsh or critical with yourself when you don't meet expectations or demands that are unreasonable. It is a belief that you SHOULD be perfect.

For example, an unreasonable demand is "I should be able to meet other people's expectations no matter what." Such a demand is unreasonable because sometimes others' may have expectations that are unreasonable given the time you have or other demands on you. In this scenario you might have trouble saying "No" to someone which can lead to stress and reduce your opportunity for happiness.

If you recognize that you have perfectionistic demands, you want to begin to recognize them as being unreasonable and then change them to a realistic desire. For instance, with the earlier demand statement you could say "Just because someone has an expectation doesn't mean it is reasonable. I need to decide what is best for me and refuse unreasonable expectations."

Keep in mind that just recognizing a demand for what it is can be a significant step towards changing it because when you say it is unreasonable you are changing your thinking about it.


Sunshine has health benefits. When you have the opportunity, sitting in the sun can increase vitamin D which research has been shown to improve mood. Every little thing you do adds up to create the conditions for happiness. As little as 15 minutes of sunshine a day can help uplift your mood.

Not only does sitting in the sun provide vitamin D that helps people feel better, it also provides a change of scenery, fresh air, light, warmth, listening to the sounds of nature, feeling a gentle breeze, all of which are mindful experiences and can be uplifting to some degree.


Exercise is a natural mood elevator and contributes to overall health which helps increase the opportunity for happiness. Not only has research shown that exercise can be a mood elevator, regular exercise of 20-30 minutes 4-5 times a week can have the same benefit as anti-depressants. And without the side effects! This does not mean you should stop taking any prescribed anti-depressants and start exercising. That should only be done in consultation with your doctor.

Of course, the most difficult aspect of exercise for many people is doing it. If you find that is the case, try increasing your activity level gradually. The nice thing about exercise is that it creates energy so once you can get past the initial inertia, you may begin to feel benefits. Even starting with a few minutes can move you in the right direction. Be sure not to over-do exercise or it may counteract the benefits you can obtain.


Taking care of your body by stretching helps to reduce the effects of stress. Have you ever noticed how relaxed most cats seem? When they transition from a resting position, they usually stretch first. Stretching your muscles keeps your body in better condition, improves balance, and helps to reduce injuries.

Stretching doesn't have to be very involved. You can take a few moments throughout the day, perhaps when you are getting up from bed or a chair, and focus on stretching your muscles. To enhance the experience even more, combine your stretching with slow, focused breathing. Included on this website is a short stretching audio.


Scientific research has shown that laughter releases endorphins, a natural pain-killing chemical in the body which increases a sense of well-being. Endorphins are released with activity or other behaviors that may elicit pain (even mild pain). It is believed that the abdominal contractions involved with laughter, especially hearty laughter exhausting the muscles, causes the endorphins to release.

However, even if you don't laugh when you are watching a comedy, you are still activating different areas of the brain that are associated with a positive mood.


Thinking of an experience you've enjoyed at some point can effect you in much the same way as the actual experience. Our brain doesn't always distinguish between an actual experience and our memory of an experience. That is why a sad memory can cause us to cry.

Therefore, when we think about something that we have enjoyed in the past, we are likely to elicit many of the same emotions as when we actually experienced it. When doing this activity try and focus on the past enjoyment in a mindful way. Focus fully on the experience and when any negative or distracting thoughts occur just gently re-focus yourself on the memory.

Keeping track of positive events in the Happiness Journal included in the Happy Habits or by writing them down can help you review and focus on experiences you have enjoyed. READ MORE: page 9


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 Tau 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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