cultivate joy


I'm in the middle of a 10-week course on positive psychology coaching (which I hope to bring to you lovelies just as soon as possible!), and I'm just loving what I'm learning.  For example, in one of the books I'm reading, I've learned that research indicates that when it comes to happiness, only 10% of your happiness is determined by what has happened to you -- that is, whether life is easy or difficult.  Your happiness "setpoint" (i.e., your genetic propensity for happiness) is makes up 50% of the determination of your happiness.  And get this -- a full forty-percent of our happiness is based on our behaviour -- in other words, our practice of cultivating happiness.  To be clear, this doesn't mean that anti-depressants and other interventions don't work -- remember for some folks, their happiness "setpoint" is genetically predisposed to be lower -- but it does mean that cultivating happiness habits can be a potent complement to doctor's orders.

Isn't that fascinating?

Further, during yesterday's lesson, the instructor talked about the 4 things that research shows the happiest people do.  They are:

1.  Actively nurture relationships.  Obviously, nurturing your close relationships -- your best friends, your family-- can result in happiness.  But research shows that nurturing the relationships of those with whom you have loose ties, like your neighbours, or your favourite barista, or your neighbourhood crossing guard also helps boost happiness.

2.  Cope effectively with difficulties.  This is obviously more difficult, but research shows that those who accept pain is a part of being human, and cultivate optimism and resilience, tend to be happier people.  This could obviously be a blog post in and of itself, but if you're interested in how to cultivate resilience, I can't recommend Brené Brown's Rising Strong enough; also, Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion (including the self-compassion break) is also a favourite.

So, while neither of the above two points is surprising, the following two that really struck a chord with me:

3.  Get out and do.  Happy people commit to the sustained pursuit of personally important goals, and they get regular exercise and emphasize the pursuit of physical leisure.  It turns out that working out does have an anti-depressant effect; however, research shows that not working out has an actually depressive effect.  (This is not good news for people who struggle with maintaining a regular workout schedule.  And by "people," I mean "me."  Ahem.)

4.  Add more of the good. Happy people pursue the good, and practice both self-kindness and gratitude.

Well, you know I loved this last point.  I've shared my thoughts on gratitude before here, and as you know, I've had a pretty dogged gratitude practice for decades.  Every night, before I go to sleep, I come up with at least one good thing that happened to me during the day.  And I've mentioned before that the practice has changed my life.  But here are two things I don't think I've ever mentioned before that are related to the last point above, and which have been happy bi-products of a dedicated gratitude practice:

a)  A dedicated gratitude practice makes you start looking for things to be grateful for.  After you're used to making a note for what you're grateful for every night, you'll start finding yourself for looking or moments in your day that you can add to your list in the evening.  Little things like, "Man, it was so good to hear from my college roommate out-of-the-blue today -- that's totally going on my list tonight."  "That was a great little conversation with the check-out guy at the grocery store.  I've seen him so many times, it was cool to find out that he's a student, too!  That's going on my list."  Things that you might not have otherwise given a second thought to will now bear reflection.  But also:

b)  On really crappy days, you'll start going out of your way to make something good happen, for the sole purpose of having something on your listThis is the secret sauce right here:  when your day is going awfully, knowing that you need to be grateful for something will make you do something kind for yourself.  Maybe it'll be a good long conversation with your best friend after work.  Or buying yourself some grocery-store flowers.  Or an extra-long bath and a book before bed.  You'll just start adding more of the good.

And the magic of creating this practice is at the end of the month -- or year, you will look back and suddenly realize that you inadvertently cultivated joy.

And that's always a good thing.


Soundtrack:  Thank U by Alanis Morissette