(originally published via The Chopra Centre)
Happiness happens by choice—not by chance. If you want to increase your sense of personal well-being, there are simple habits you can adopt to help your levels of positivity increase.
Happy habit formation is a hot topic and everyone from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, are writing about how to be happier. Rubin says, “People often assume that the same approach will work for everyone, that the same habits will work for everyone, and that everyone has the same aptitude and appetite for forming habits, but from my observation, that's not true.” And Anchor points out: “You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body.
Forming a Foundation for HappinessBefore beginning any new happiness practice your need to ensure you are building your happiness on a stable foundation. A foundation for happiness begins with:
1. Spend Mindful Time Each Day
Whether you meditate each day with the sunrise or take a mindful walk in nature on your lunch, taking time to connect with yourself releases stress and allows you to relax, connect, and unleash creativity.
2. Foster Connection
Happy people feel connected at work, at home, and in their community. Finding people to engage with who share your passions or encourage your growth is a way to increase your sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself. Volunteer. Invite a friend for lunch. Plan a picnic.
3. Look for the Positive
Your neural pathways strengthen with use. As you focus your awareness on noticing positive things, your brain becomes better and better at finding positive things. Much like the old Where’s Waldo? books, the more frequently you find Waldo, the easier he becomes to find.
4. Behave Authentically
Say yes when you want to. Say no when you want to. Start speaking from your true voice or not at all. As you become more comfortable with who you are, expressing who you are becomes easier.
5. Schedule Fun Time
Most children engage in one fun activity after another for much of their day. Fun might be playing at the park, finger painting, or being read to at bedtime. As an adult, you can benefit greatly by inserting little bursts of play into your day. A sing-a-long on the morning commute or a dance party while preparing dinner can release tension. Know yourself and use this knowledge to move toward things that feel playful and leave you smiling.
6. Feel and Express Gratitude
The quickest way to increase happiness is through gratitude. By acknowledging the good things in your life, your community, or the world, you attract more things to your life to be thankful for.
Knowing that happiness is a choice means if you aren’t quite as happy as you want to be, you can change that. Remember to treat yourself with kindness and compassion as you move toward implementing your plan. If you have a day that feels less than happy, where anger or sadness prevail, remember that just the awareness that you want to feel differently is the first step to living your happiest life.
Knowing that happiness is a choice means if you aren’t quite as happy as you want to be, you can make changes now. Join Deepak Chopra for our 7-day yoga & meditation retreat, Seduction of Spirit as you re-discover what makes you happiest in life. Click here to learn more.
Imagine being surrounded by people speaking a language you have never heard before. Now take it one step further and picture this happening in the dark, on a roller coaster. This might offer a little insight as to what it could be like to lack the ability to pick up on emotional cues through facial patterns.
My eldest daughter is severely autistic so I am extremely familiar with the inability to read faces. For people on the autism spectrum or those with schizophrenia, this ability that many of us take for granted is a large piece of their day to day challenge.
For years people have been judged by their cognitive ability or IQ but in recent years science is catching up to what moms like me have known all along, having a low IQ and a low EQ or emotional intelligence don’t always go hand in hand.
Emotional intelligence is defined as one’s ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. This includes emotional awareness as well as emotional regulation. (Goleman)
People who suffer from a lack of emotional intelligence can perceived as cold or distant. This can lead to loneliness or depression as an added challenge. To learn how strong your ability to recognize emotions is check out this online emotional intelligence test.
There is a difference between recognizing emotion and having an empathetic reaction to emotion. Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions and it is coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. (Davis)
Personally, I’ve had to work hard to discern differences in facial expressions- this leads me to believe that further research on the connection between genetics and autism is probably going to show distinct differences in the way parents of the emotionally blind process faces visually. I’m very aware that my own facial recognition skills are poor so although I feel very skilled in cognitive empathy I do note that the affective recognition that is required in emotional recognition is a key to empathy. The Greater Good Science Center has a test for empathy too.
Emotional response seems a combination of learned and innate. In Malcolm Gladwell’s essay The Naked Face he explores whether extreme ability to read faces can be learned or is a gift. I would note that intuition or gut reaction is simply our brain processing information at lightening speed. Listening to the intuition is the real skill. I would love to see more studies about flexing that muscle- can we practice trusting our intuition when it matters? I know my intuition never leads me astray and I also know that sometimes I allow logic or peer pressure to overrule my gut. It takes practice- it does not just happen.
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Ever wonder why you feel an immediate lift when someone who passes by on the street smiles? These are your mirror neurons at work. When someone smiles at you these neurons react by creating the same chemical release as if you yourself had smiled. (Neuroimage 2005)
I have wondered if we are feeding a downward spiral of negative emotion by getting caught in someone’s sadness or anger. My friends and colleagues know I describe myself as having teflon- I am aware of others’ emotions and yet I don’t feel a need to join them in order to be a good friend. I can listen or help without changing my emotional equilibrium. Spongy people (I am borrowing this term from a colleague or mine Martha Beck) take on the emotional climate of those around them.
I’d love to hear what you think- is it better to be teflon or spongy? And in case you are curious, alexithymia is a condition in which one is unable to recognize emotions (both their own and the emotions of others).
Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional intelligence.
Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of personality and social psychology, 44(1), 113-126.
Gladwell, M. (2002). The naked face. The New Yorker, 5, 38-49.
Neuroimage. 2005 Jun;26(2):581-91. Epub 2005 Mar 21