“This part of my life…this…little part…is called ‘happiness’.”
Above is a movie line during the final scene of the American movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness”, uttered by Chris Gardner, after he was successful in an interview as a broker in one company. He walked out of the building, into the street, his face was contorted into near tears, and he was clapping by himself amongst the throng of office workers.
As you ponder about it, happiness as a concept is a little evasive – what does it mean, really, and can you actually become a “happier” person? What does “searching for happiness” truly look like in practice?
Think of happiness like a muscle, there are some specific exercises and habits that you can develop to become “happier”. The more you can work on this muscle, the more you can increase the level of your happiness.
What are the habits that you can develop to boost your mood to become happier? Let’s learn together, shall we…?
- Meditate and practice mindfulness
According to David and Hayes (2011), developing a mindfulness practice offers myriad positive benefits for the body and mind.
However, sometimes, it is easier said than done.
In this millennial world where most people are hustling and bustling, you might struggle to insert this practice of mindfulness into your life.
The very first step that you can do is to introduce it into your daily routine. Like any exercise, mindfulness benefits from regular practice. Schedule on a specific time of the day that you can practice mindfulness and stick with it. Researchers often use a mindfulness intervention plan that takes place across many weeks (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010).
Davis and Hayes (2011) suggested that during the time that you have set aside, perform one of the following exercises : a body scan, deep breathing, or mindful meditation.
A. Body scan: During the body scan exercise, try to focus inwardly on your body and the way that it feels. Your task is to develop an awareness of sensations in your body. Breathe deeply, and remain aware of your bodily sensations without trying to change them.
B. Three-minute breathing: During this exercise, the participant is guided through three points where they become aware, focus their attention on their breathing, and extend their attention. Focusing on one’s breath is meant to act as an anchor.
C. Mindful breathing while focusing on your breath: Sit somewhere quiet in a seated position. While seated, focus on your breathing. Inhale deeply for three seconds and slowly exhale for three seconds. Use your breath as your anchor; when you find your thoughts wandering, come back to your breath and inhale deeply for three seconds, followed by a deep exhalation for three seconds. In many exercises, the time limit for this exercise is three minutes.
2. Move and stay active every day
Picture this! You are cycling each day in your neighbourhood park, feeling the thumping of your heart, the caress of the evening wind onto your face, the pumping of oxygen to your brain and the surge of endorphins.
According to Dr Art Kramer, a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health at Northeastern University, “What everyone agrees on at this point is that exercise has the ability to change your mood because it has a dramatic impact on your brain.”
What kinds of exercise are best for happiness?
Dr Art said that while all physical activity is beneficial, aerobic activity (cardio exercises such as running, cycling or swimming) seems to be best for your brain, though it is crucial to note that could be because there are simply more studies done on aerobic activity at this point of time. His advice : to engage in an exercise that you prefer the most because you will actually do it in the first place – and doing something, whatever it is, is pretty much always better than doing nothing.
- Practice not-so-random acts of kindness
You are lounging on the sofa, watching your favourite television sitcom, when suddenly the doorbell rings. It is a parcel sent by your best friend, she sends you a pair of trainers. You feel a sudden rush of appreciation towards your friend, since the week before you had a phone call with her, complaining how you want to stay active and exercise however your trainers that you own are in a shabby condition.
A random act of kindness may deliver a quick high, however it has minuscule potential in fostering interpersonal relationships or building the kingdom. However, a deliberate act of kindness, towards someone you know who has a specific need actually holds more power and impact than random good deeds (Gosselin, 2020).
Observe the people in your life. Notice the details. What makes them etch that huge grin on their faces? What stresses them out and causes the worry lines on their foreheads? When might they be in need of extra encouragement? When you are more intentional in your giving, and seeing that amazing smiles on the faces of the important people in your life, this would definitely boost your mood and make you display that same smile as well.
- Recognize gratitude
Let us all mind travelling to a merchant neighbourhood in Osaka, Japan; where you cycle to a small Japanese shop selling stationeries. While paying for the journals and coloured pens, you speak with the elderly owner. What you realize, this elderly man has exhibited the same recurring theme as the other elderly citizens that you have spoken to in this city. They carried a sense of “quiet hope” in them.
The scenario was actually a real-life scenario experienced by Dr Iza Kavedija, a senior lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Exeter. She has published a report in the journal Anthropology and Aging, which has revealed the ways how Japan’s older people maintain their mental health as much as their physical health, and it appears to come down to an “attitude of gratitude”. They exhibited “quiet hope,” with a belief that things would work out “somehow” (the term used is nantonaku, which loosely translates to “for some reason or another”). She described how the elderly Japanese that she had observed were not in denial about the realities of growing old, instead they chose to focus on all of the good they’ve enjoyed along the way. In essence, they accepted the uncertainty of their future and didn’t allow it to stop them from living an engaging life—which provided peace of mind, and a sense of hope or optimism.
Dr Kavedija concludes, “While people in Japan might hesitate to say they are happy, gratitude is mentioned frequently. Through appreciation, dependence on others is not seen as simply a burden or a potential source of embarrassment, but also as moving and deeply meaningful. Meaningful relationships and encounters with others comprise a valuable foundation for what Japanese people call ikigai, or that which makes life worth living.”
- Hunt for happiness
You are going for a short stroll in the park, and from one corner of your eyes, you notice a child, blowing giant bubbles, and how the child is smiling widely, his eyes are tracking the movement of one of the bubbles as it flies through the blue sky, lands on the ground and pops. As it pops, the child guffaws, his hearty laugh makes you chuckle too.
Dr Deepika Chopra, a Doctor of Psychology, (2018) has suggested in keeping a positivity journal, spending 10 minutes a day three times a week writing down a positive experience they had that day. This practice will soon make the brain more open to easily receive and notice other positive experiences, and you will soon be a natural happiness seeker. This idea of hunting for happiness and going for a “happiness scavenger hunt” can also increase your mindfulness practice.
Chopra, D. (2018, May 14). An optimism expert on how to raise kids with a ‘glass half full’ perspective. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-raise-optimistic-kids
Daly, A. (2020, June 17). 6 reasons exercise makes you happy. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10798/6-reasons-why-exercise-makes-you-happy.html
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research. Psychotherapy, 48(2), 198-208.
Gosselin, S. H. (2020, November 09). Practice non-random acts of kindness. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.boundless.org/relationships/practice-non-random-acts-of-kindness/
Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Consult Clin Psychol,, 78(2), 169-183. doi:10.1037/a0018555
Kavedija, I. (2020). An Attitude of Gratitude: Older Japanese in the Hopeful Present. Anthropology and Aging, 41(2), 59-71. doi:10.14393/ufu.di.
Sullivan, E. (2021, January 25). What Japanese people in their 80s & 90s can teach us about Staying Hopeful. Retrieved March 31, 2021, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/what-we-can-learn-about-hope-from-older-people-of-japan