Stop waiting for happiness – three easy (and practical) shifts to be happier today
You’ve checked the boxes. You’ve had the career success, the personal achievements or the lifestyle wins and yet… where’s the happiness?
Perhaps, like many of us, you think it’s just a matter of checking a few more boxes. You’ll finally be happy when you have the next title, meet the next financial or health goal, or maybe you’re just waiting for retirement.
What if you didn’t have to wait for happiness? What if you could have a happier life right now – even if you aren’t there yet (wherever “there” is)?
Becky Morrison, lawyer turned Leadership and Happiness Coach and Author of The Happiness Recipe is here to offer you a few practical ways to inject more happiness into your life.
The good news is that you can deploy these tools whenever you need a little bit of happiness. They work even if life isn’t perfect (is it ever?) and they can be used even when times are tough. And most importantly they are easy and practical.
1) Find your essential sources of joy
One of the quickest ways to inject more happiness into every day is to really understand what makes you happy. You might think you already know what makes you happy or you might not have the first clue. Either way, walking through this quick exercise will leave you with an understanding of your essential sources of joy which you can then use to inject happiness into your day whenever you need it.
Step One: Fill in the blank. I am happy when _____.
Spend a few minutes and write down whatever comes up. Don’t judge it.
Step Two: Pick one item and go deeper.
Take one item from your list in Step One and ask yourself: what about this makes me happy? Write down the answer. And then take the answer and ask the question again. Repeat this 5-7 times.
You can repeat this process for as many of the Step One items you want.
Step Three: Identify your essential sources of joy.
Take a look at all your answers and find the things which you could inject into any day at any time. For example, in step one you might have said “I’m happy when I’m on vacation.” You can’t go on vacation at any moment, so that’s not an essential source.
But in step two, as you went deeper you might have found that you love vacation because it allows you to connect with your family, because you love exploring new places or because on vacation you have quiet time with your thoughts. Any of these three could go on the list as your essential sources of joy.
When life is hard, or your day isn’t as happy as you’d like, you can then take whatever feels right off this individualized menu and find a way to make it happen. Having this menu is empowering and you will find that it helps you evaluate opportunities as they enter your life because you can measure those opportunities against your essential sources of joy.
2) Stop borrowing trouble and borrow joy
I am a professional “what-if”-er. I am lawyer by training, so I literally have been trained to anticipate risk. The net impact of this incredibly useful professional skill is that in all areas of my life I find myself planning for what might go wrong. And while I’d like to blame law school for this personality feature, the truth is that it was there long before I became a lawyer.
As a young person, I’d spend lots of time spinning about how I would handle it if things didn’t work out. And when I’d get particularly deep into the spinning my mom would say: “Becky, stop borrowing trouble.” And you know what? I’ve come to learn that she had a point.
There is really very little benefit to spending time and energy anticipating what might go wrong – especially when we have very little opportunity to control the outcome. So I try, whenever I can, to not borrow trouble.
But I’ve also taken it a step further. Not only do I try not to borrow trouble, I try instead to borrow joy. It is natural to think about what could happen when an outcome is unknown. And there’s a reason our first instinct is to borrow trouble.
It turns out we can blame our nervous systems for this personality feature Our nervous system wants to keep us safe, it does that by anticipating threat. When faced with the unknown, trouble is the first place our brain goes. But we’ve got an opportunity to flip the script.
We’ve got an opportunity to ask our beautiful brains to consider what it would look and feel like everything worked out? What are the possible positive outcomes? I call this borrowing joy. Building the muscle to do this is simple but it also takes intention and practice. So I challenge you, starting right now (or the next time you find yourself asking “what-if”) borrow joy instead of trouble.
3) Celebrate daily
By now you’ve probably heard or read something about the importance of gratitude to living a happy life. And I agree. Gratitude matters. Gratitude is also magical because gratitude and negativity can’t really co-exist. I’m all for gratitude, but I’m also all about taking things just a little bit further. I’m going to tell you why adding a regular celebration practice to your life can increase your happiness.
When we want to grow or change, our nervous system (which has the important job of regulating our safety) can sometimes feel uncomfortable. Change is by definition unsafe in the sense that it is unknown. Often our nervous system would really prefer that we stay right where we are – even if there are things about where we are that aren’t great. It knows how to keep us safe where we are, it doesn’t know how to keep us safe where we are trying to go when we are growing and changing.
One thing we can do to enlist our nervous system as a partner in our success is to offer it the happy-making brain chemicals (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins) in healthy ways. You can read more about these chemicals here.
I like to use celebration as a trigger to make this happen. I’m not talking about graduation, wedding, baby shower, birthday, anniversary level celebrations. I’m talking about finding everyday achievements or achievements every day that you can celebrate.
The celebration alone will give you a hit of the reward chemical – dopamine – because you’re recognizing an achievement. But you can also choose ways to celebrate that activate the other happy making chemicals – like connecting with or celebrating with another person to release oxytocin; laughing, dancing or just jumping around to release endorphins; or, connecting with nature for a boost of Serotonin.
In summary, give yourself credit every single day for everything you have already done, and you (and your brain) will be happier.
Happiness doesn’t quire big life changes – just some internal shifts
At the end of the day, having more happiness today doesn’t require radical external transformation but it might require some internal shifts. If you can connect with and understand what makes you happy, find ways to focus not just on risk but also joyful outcomes and celebrate each time you make more progress, you’ll have the beginnings of your recipe for happiness.
Photo by Fuu J