Monday, January 11, 2010

How to really be happy in 2010

How to really be happy in 2010

By Cindi Dixon
Amiee's Place Foundation
January 11, 2010

Happy New Year!  We all say it.  We all want it.  But can we make it so?  There is no disputing times have been tough all over.  Never before has the turning of a calendar page been so symbolic to new beginnings.  The poor economy, foreclosures, war, job loss, health care issues, and so on.  Everywhere we turn the news these days is so grim, eventually even the most optimistic glass-is-half-full among us needs a dose of sunshine.  But what, if anything, can we do to harness our own destiny in the midst of turmoil?

Whether you have experienced the loss of a job, a loved one, a home, a marriage or have simply experienced an unwanted life change, where do you go from here?  According to author Dan Baker, PhD, “One thing happy people know is that they don’t get to be happy all the time.  They can appreciate the moments, the little victories, the small miracles and the relationships with one another.”  After the death of his infant son and a lengthy healing process, Baker has a renewed sense of purpose and finds himself to be a leading author on the subject of happiness.  In the face of great adversity, can happiness be learned?  Experts agree the answer to this question is yes!

Ten easy tips to making yourself happy

  1.  You have to want to be happy.  Recognizing that you want to make a change is the first step toward achieving your desired goal.  Happiness can be learned and you are your best teacher!
  2. Allow yourself time to feel unhappy, sad, depressed, angry or otherwise, but keep it short.  Feel the feelings, give yourself a real cutoff time, like “after a bath/run/drink tonight, I’ll move on.”  A beautiful thing about being human is we can feel, and be aware we feel, many different feelings at the same time.  Learn to focus yourself on positive things in your life.
  3. Smile.  Psychology 101 classes often have an experiment where students walk around with an intentional frown.  By the following day they report a notably higher rate of unhappiness.  Simply reversing the experiment and having students smile, regardless of how they felt at the beginning, they were reportedly much happier by the following day.  So no matter how you feel inside, put on a smile and it’s guaranteed to lift your spirits.
  4. Focus on now.  Zen philosophy makes happiness attainable through Zen Habits You can teach this to yourself just as though it is another language, if you are new to this.  Although cliché, yesterday is in the past, tomorrow is not guaranteed.  When you are experiencing extreme difficulty in life, one day at a time can become one hour or one minute at a time.  Know this and accept that it’s OK.  It is where you need to be while you tell yourself today’s down will be tomorrow’s up.
  5. Stay positive.  Not all of us are optimists by nature, but everyone can learn to be.  This can be easy if you continually refocus on the good.  Ritualize, or make habit, spending time thinking about things that are good in your life.  Zen Buddhists call it zazen, or practice.  This simply means sitting in meditation, but practice is needed to attain the goal of a quiet mind.  Christians may call it prayer, Muslims, salah.  Wake up in the morning, before getting out of bed, think of three things in your world for which you truly give thanks.  Experience that feeling in each moment.  This will give you a positive focus later in the day when challenges may arise.
  6. Embrace romance.  If you have a partner, most likely they are experiencing the difficult life event with you, in their own way.  A kindness offered in love is a gift to your-self.  Even though romance maybe the last thing on your mind, set aside time to give love to your partner.  This doesn’t have to cost anything or even take you out of the house.  A gentle backrub, a warm bath, a special meal, or anything that will allow you to focus completely on the needs of your partner will also give your mind time to be still and enjoy the warmth you are creating for your loved one.  This action works just as well with a child, parent, loved one, or friend.
  7. Exercise.  This can be a challenge on days where you don’t want to get out of bed.  Individual levels of physical activity vary greatly and wherever yours was, chances are, during a difficult life event, it’s no longer where it used to be.  Know this!  Have patience with yourself and set attainable goals.  After years of dealing with the terminal illness of our child, our exercise routine was a distant memory.  One day we found a kite in a discount store for a few dollars and spent a memorable afternoon in our backyard flying our kite.  This was a great kick-start to getting outside and having some activity without feeling pressured.  Take a walk to a nearby store, toss a ball around.  Think of things you enjoyed as a child and go enjoy!
  8. Pay it forward.  When you are feeling down, reconnecting with the human spirit can be very uplifting.  Practice a random act of kindness for someone and enjoy their surprise!  Hold a door open for someone. Assist an elderly person at the grocery store.  Donate a cherished item to a classroom or maybe even volunteer to read or help out.  Last Thanksgiving the news broadcast a story from a local Starbucks that a person in the drive-through paid for a cup of coffee for the car behind him.  This kind gesture went on until closing that day with each customer returning the favor to the next person in line.
  9. Simplify your life. We get caught up in doing so much.  Our days fly by and we remember very little of what we have truly accomplished each day.  Something that can be learned from survivors of tragedy or great loss is that much of what we spend time on does not matter in the big picture.  So today, forget about doing laundry and take a long walk.  Decide to return phone calls over the weekend and read a book or take a nap.  Begin using a calendar to remember important events, like paying the electric bill.  Most things can wait.
  10. Love yourself.  If you just need a day in bed today, embrace it!  Watch old movies, give yourself a pedicure, have a glass of wine for breakfast!  We have mistakenly come to believe that putting our needs first is somehow selfish.  After all, how can you love anyone else if you are not loving yourself?  Pamper yourself the way you do your loved ones.  Be your own best friend when giving yourself advice.  Tell yourself you are where you need to be and you are going to make the most of every experience.  Make it a happy one!

Each of these ideas is something we can practice consciously every day, wherever you happen to be on your journey.  If you are reading this and have not experienced grief, or have at another time worked through it in your own way, these are simple daily exercises, or meditations, that will improve your quality of life and increase your sense of happiness.  There are countless books written on each of these subjects that can go into greater detail should you wish to read more.  As with many things we know, they work if you just do it.  Happiness transcends today, it transcends family, religion and though.  Happiness is always there for you to acknowledge and embrace it.  Sadness, hope, joy, fear and pain…it is human to feel many things simultaneously.  Understanding you are in control of your happiness and can do simple things to bring joy into your life is divine! 

Please share your tips to being happy with us and your ideas may be selected for our upcoming book.  Visit to post your contributions.  For a recommended reading list on the topic of happiness, please email me at cindi (at)


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