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Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions--page 9

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."
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SUGGESTION 30: HAVE A GOOD CRY

Emotional crying can contribute to happiness because it affects the chemical balance. It might seem odd to suggest crying to help create the conditions for happiness. But if you have read the articles on this website about happiness, you may understand that happiness is having FULL access to ALL emotions, not just having good feelings all the time.

Emotional crying due to sadness, pain, or anger has a beneficial impact on our ability to cope with stressful situations in life. When a person is stressed there is a build-up of the stress hormone, cortisol. Although in small amounts, cortisol helps us to cope with stress, excessive amounts can create health problems and contribute to a negative emotional reaction. It is believed that emotional crying removes excess cortisol from the system.

In addition, crying can cause a release of endorphins for reasons similar to laughter, and thereby, reducing pain and increasing the sense of well-being.

A good cry doesn't even have to be about your own problems. Watching a sad movie that triggers emotional crying can have the same type of release. The bottom line is that a good emotional cry can release tension and help you feel better.

SUGGESTION 31: TREAT YOURSELF

Doing something kind for yourself can help you feel more positive towards yourself. Too often, people are too busy, overwhelmed, or stressed to focus on taking care of themselves. This can be an obstacle to creating the conditions for happiness.

If this is the case for you, it is important to try and break out of this cycle. One way of doing this is by being kind to yourself and giving yourself a treat. It is hard to be negative at the same time you are doing some positive.

Allow yourself to mindfully enjoy your treat. In other words allow yourself to fully focus on the experience. If you treat yourself to a piece of chocolate, for instance, purchase a high quality chocolate and then fully savor the smell, the taste, and the texture. Take your time and allow it to completely melt in your mouth. When you swallow it, notice the experience of swallowing and the lingering effects of the chocolate in your mouth.

With this exercise, obviously it is important to not treat yourself to something over which you don't have control. For example, don't treat yourself to a glass of wine if you are an alcoholic and can't stop with just one.

SUGGESTION 32: FEEL JOY FOR SOMEONE ELSE

Focusing on feeling joy for someone else can contribute to your own happiness. The interesting thing about fully feeling joy for someone else is that it usually triggers positive emotions within you.

Allow yourself to fully feel the joy of another person's good fortune without comparing your situation negatively. A more advanced technique is to focus on a stranger or even someone you don't like and allow yourself to feel joy for them without judging whether they deserve it or not.

This website includes a Loving Kindness Meditation which comes from the Buddhist psychology practice (not the religion) which helps you focus positively on others.

SUGGESTION 33: DO A MINDFULNESS EXERCISE

Mindfulness exercises can lead to greater contentment and inner peacefulness. Stress, agitation, and despair are the opposites of contentment and peacefulness. The more you cultivate mindfulness, the more you begin to replace negative emotions with more positive ones.

Mindfulness can be as simple as focusing on your present experience. You may say that your present experience isn't that pleasant and you don't want to fully focus on it. However, mindfulness focuses on your immediate sights, sounds, smells, and tactile experiences without critical evaluation or judgment which allows you to experience the moment in a different way.

To learn more about practicing mindfulness read the article "Why Are Meditative Relaxation and Mindfulness Important?" Then you can begin to practice mindfulness for a few moments here and there throughout your day. The nice thing about mindfulness is that it doesn't have to take any extra time--you can do it with any activity in which you are already engaged. READ MORE: page 10



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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



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Dr. Monica Frank



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