It’s not surprising that many people these days are stressed or, dare I say, unhappy.
Take a newspaper, for example. You’ll find negative, and downright depressing, headlines regarding the state of our government, the environment, even the economy. It’s license enough to put anyone in a funk.
So what’s the secret to being happy?
The answer is far simpler than you would think. According to NYU professors, Lerner and Schlechter, the secret to happiness is not one singular secret at all, but rather a series of proactive choices you make to fill your life with joy and meaning. Now for many of us, knowing how to identify those decisions can be difficult. But the field of positive psychology has shown that the following positive interventions can help give you that “happy” head start:
Conscious Acts of Kindness: Hold the door open for someone, stick a dime in a meter about to expire, volunteer to wash the dishes for your spouse or parent. These acts may seem small, but they reap big benefits. According to Lyubomirski, Sheldon, & Schkade’s research in 2005, five acts of kindness during one day can contribute to people feeling much happier – with those feelings lasting for several subsequent days.
Gratitude Visit: Take stock of what you have in your life worth being thankful for. This can be done in a multitude of ways: Keep a daily gratitude journal in which you write down three things you are grateful for or write a gratitude letter to someone you care about. Researchers found that actively exercising gratitude significantly raised levels of happiness and lowered levels of depression (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
Exercise: This is a no brainer. Aside from the physical benefits, exercise also releases neurotransmitters in the brain that enhance mood and act as a natural antidepressant, making exercise the ultimate stress reliever!
Meditation & Mindfulness: Part of the reason why a lot of people are so stressed these days is the busy, hectic schedules we keep. We’re multi-taskers, which after awhile can tax our mental well-being. Meditation is a phenomenal way to quiet the “noise” in our minds, to better connect with our bodies and to become more aware of our present. It also has been shown to improve one’s stress reactivity and recovery, attention, concentration and positive affect. If you are unsure of how to best practice meditation and mindfulness or want to meditate with a group, the PJCC offers mindfulness meditations led by our own Rabbi Lavey Derby, Thursdays from 1:30-2:30 pm.
Now, go on. Try something! You can’t guarantee happiness will happen organically. So start small and see if you find yourself with a smile on your face.