I've been thinking a lot about happiness setpoints lately.
You know how you have some friends who are always cheery, no matter what? These are the kinds of people who leave you gapemouthed when they say things like, "I have cancer, but you know what? I've noticed that I have a really renewed appreciation for life. I'm squeezing all the good out of every day these days." As unbelievable as these types of people can be, I usually love being around them. I just feel energized being in their presence.
And then there are others who seem to always find the doom and gloom in everything. These are the ones who say, "Sure, it's a pretty day, but I bet the train will be late again." Nothing ever seems to please them, and even though they may be kind and good and their hearts are in the right place, they're often a complete drain to be around.
In the first case, I like to think that those people have pretty high happiness setpoints -- of course, they get down, or sad, or angry, but generally they bounce back quickly, and are able to see the bright side of dark situations. In the second case, I think those people have really low setpoints: they're so busy wallowing in their misery, that they often miss the good in their lives. And I think in both instances, these are just how people approach life naturally: it's genetic. It's just the way they are.
I'd like to think that there's a way to help shift your happiness setpoint in a more positive direction (and I bet this bestselling author would agree with me). I think, much in the same way that I believe that love is both an emotion and a decision, I believe that happiness is an emotion and a decision as well. I think taking care to focus on happiness, making a concerted effort to create circumstances for happiness to fluorish, is sort of imperative for ... well, happiness. Further, I think that by creating a habit of "happiness focus," when things all go pear-shaped, you've already got the tools at your disposal to help negotiate out of dark times.
So. It's important to focus on happiness. The trick is figuring out how to do it.
Gretchen's book has tons of cool tips, of course; however, I'm of the opinion that ultimately, we're going to do what we want, and not do what we don't want (for example, Gretchen is a big proponent of closet organization and making up the bed daily, which is all well and good; however, I promise you while I have very good intentions, I just don't think I have it in me. I'll keep trying). Nonetheless, my failings notwithstanding, if you're looking for concrete tips, her book is a great place to start.
In my case, I'm sort of a hybrid: I'm highly sensitive, and am quick to be hurt or impatient or angry, but on the flip side, it's rare that I stay hurt or impatient or angry. Still, I can't help but notice than in the last couple of years, I've become far happier than I've been in the past -- and I've always been a pretty happy (albeit sensitive) person. So today I thought I'd sort of codify what I've done that has helped make me happy:
1. I put myself on a media diet. I found that nothing could put me in a foul mood more than sitting through half-an-hour (or an hour) of news every day. So I never watch the news on television, and rarely read the local newspaper. It's not that I don't stay up on current events -- but honestly, I do it via Twitter, watching the CNN breaking news Twitter feed or the Breaking News Twitter feed. I find out what's going on in the world in 140 characters or less -- if it sounds interesting, I click on the links to read more. But doing this keeps me from having to watch the hours upon hours of murders and rapes and injuries to children that seem to be all over the local news these days; furthermore, I'm not sure how my life is enriched by learning about these awful things. So I don't.
Also: I quite vigorously cull my social media reading, so that 98% of what I read in blogs or twitter or other social media sites is funny, positive, uplifting or informative. There seems to be a trend in social media where much of the content is actually complaining, masked in snarky, often mean or bitter humour -- I began to realize that if I read these sites (no matter how talented the writer), it affected my outlook on life in a tangible, visceral way. So I stopped reading them, opting instead blogs with a better outlook on life.
I'm a firm believer that "I am what I ingest," and that includes what I read and watch. It's important for my own health.
2. I did a journaling exercise where I wrote down everything that I love to do, to figure out the direction I wanted to take my career. It's one of the best things I've ever done for myself, and I highly recommend it, even if you have no intention of making a career move. It's a great way to keep a compass bearing on happiness for your future professional life.
3. I wrote my life list. I've written before how transformational this has been for me, because it pushes me to ensure that I fill my life with moments of joy -- some of them really intense, others really small and special. The beauty of life lists is that it's all so very personal: things like bungee jumping will never make it onto my list because I can't imagine anything more unpleasant; however, it might make it on yours, because you find it exhilarating. If you're considering making one, please consider this my urging you to go ahead and do it (and I have my tips for writing one right here).
4. And finally, I made a hobby I love a daily practice. Becoming a photoblogger has been one of the best decisions that I made with regard to my happiness: it forces me to slow down and focus on the beauty in my life every single day. Similarly, I've been really good about journaling every day -- it's a way that I can get my head together before I start each morning.
But the thing is: I love doing both of these things. They may not work for you, if you're not into photography or journaling. Perhaps blogging is your thing, or knitting, or reading books, or doing jigsaw puzzles, or meditating, or making art, or making music, or running, or dancing or ... whatever. The thing is that you should take something you love and make it a daily habit, even if you can only squeeze in 15 minutes of it. It will make you happy, I promise.
So anyway, that's what I did. And it really, really worked. I hope you'll take some pointed steps to making (and keeping) yourself happy in your own lives -- but be sure to do it in a personal, joy-filled, non-chore-like way. Simply make sure to do what makes you happy as frequently as you can.
Even so, even after writing all of this, I can't help but remember a tweet I came across from the awesome Dr. Miggy the other day:
And on that note, go be happy, everyone.
Image: Photographed on my kitchen table with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens. Because fresh cut flowers make me happy.