Have you ever met anyone so happy it didn’t seem quite normal? Like, where are you getting all of those endorphins? We’re packed in the worst smelling elevator of my entire life, listening to R.E.M. and we’re plummeting to our deaths. What are you smiling about?
Conversely, what’s worse are Debbie Downers, people you can’t make laugh for the life of you. They wake up every morning after morning, and on each one their dog has died. You can’t comfort that. And why should you? It’s draining.
It’s important to try to aim for a kind of Goldilocks stasis when it comes to your attitude on life. Not pessimistic and constantly down in the dumps, but not stupid happy either, oblivious to feeling. People gravitate to positivity and optimism. According to UNC scientist Barbara Fredrickson, both benefit the brain, opening it to possibilities, while negativity tends to do the opposite.
Not only that, a study done on supercentenarians (people who live past 110 years of age) in Gerondotology stated that, “Cynical people, who easily become hostile, are more likely to be diabetic and if they have a suspicious nature, are also likely to have raised blood pressure when they get frustrated. However, optimists get ill less often, less seriously and tend to live longer, but over-optimists have a tendency to adopt risky, health threatening lifestyles.”
No matter what age you live to, you want to have an attitude on life akin to Dory’s from Finding Nemo. When they’re trapped inside a whale’s stomach, the movie does a good job showing two main outlooks on life: the half glass empty, and the glass half full. I’m here to tell you how to see the glass half full, at least most of the time. These steps can help you get there.
1) Look for the positive, not the negative.
Dooeeeyyyy. Pretty obvious. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier said than done. I remember back in college creative writing workshops it was all too easy to point out what was wrong with others’ stories. When it came to accepting criticism about my own, however, I felt hurt and angry. It’s extremely easy to be a critic, but far more impressive and healthy to find the good in others and situations around you. This is because for many of us, whether because of nature or nurture, it’s our default to hone in on the faults of others. I’m not going to tell you not to compare yourself to others; we live by comparisons. When you do so, look for the good more often than the bad, and I promise you’ll get more satisfaction. Especially if you tell the person what you find unique about him or her.
2) Appreciate the little things.
Then there’s appreciating the little things that make daily life fun, that create warm feelings on your insides, like the idea of drinking hot chocolate and watching House of Cards, listening to rain on a roof, or noticing how carefree and happy kids walking home from school are (in a non-creepy way). Taking time to notice these things will accumulate and increase your sense of value about your own life, not to mention your well being.
3) Help others, if only to make yourself happy.
It sounds trite, but this is the easiest way to forget about all the dramas and non-dramas whirling around in your life: by putting them into perspective. When you help others, you often realize which of your problems are not as significant as you thought. What’s more, you feel better when you think you’ve made a difference in someone else’s life. You don’t have to give a kidney, you just need to make a concerted effort to catch yourself when you’re complaining about your problems too much. Instead, think about how you can help someone out, with even just a compliment. With time, this will develop into an automatic habit.
Donald Moynihan, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said about an altruism study, “Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: Helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system.”
4) Exercise and eat well.
This is one of those things many of us don’t realize until we’re in our late twenties or later. Correction: plenty of us realize and acknowledge it early on, often while taking another swig of beer, but that’s not the same as getting off your ass and going for a run. Proper exercise and discipline takes a strict adherence to good habits, which are often best formed when young. You know, twenty minutes of exercise, four times a week and don’t forget your veggies. The earlier you can break into the habit of taking a jog or walk every day and cutting down on sugar, the earlier you can start thanking yourself for it. Like when you start going to your high school reunions, and everyone else looks like–well, you look great anyway.
5) Be genuinely interested in others.
By this I mean 1) give the benefit of the doubt when meeting or speaking with others that you may have something in common with or relate to them. And 2) engage against your will. It’s like what they say about smiling (another wonderful way to stay positive): it creates endorphins. Smile if you’re not happy, listen to a story or engage in a conversation if you’re not feeling social. Why? Chances are you’ll surprise yourself by having a good time or learning something. And that’s part of being a cynic, constantly being surprised by what you thought you knew, but didn’t.
6) Be there for your friends and family.
Some have close relationships with friends, some family, some both. The truth is it’s important to have both, more important to your physical health than you might think. Having friends and companions is one of the strongest factors which influence our happiness, stress levels, and overall well being. After college, it’s more difficult to stay in touch with your friends, and obligations tend to get in the way of hanging out with them. That’s why you have to make a conscious effort create time for them, or to attend special occasions or events they are hosting. Being present makes more of a difference than you think, as it’s all too easy for friends to slip away: one study shows we cycle through sets every seven years. Even still, a common regret of people who look back on their life and youths is that they neglected friends or family. Sometimes, it’s better to forgo the night with the significant other to ensure you’re getting enough friend time–not just for them, for you, too.
7) Find out your interests and pursue them.
It’s okay to not know what you want to do with with your life or career, but be active about finding out, not daunted. So many of us don’t find a passion until our forties, yet we’re brought up to declare it in college, if not before. That’s bullshit. If you know what you want to do with your life, that’s amazing. If you’re still looking, think about what you enjoy or makes you happy, then think about how you can turn that into money or a hobby. As long as you’re enjoying the pursuit, you’re on the path to being a more positive person.
8) Have fun, but with self-control.
In a word: moderate. So many of us think that having fun mean getting wasted, high or just doing something crazy. While we may be on our way to the first no-hangover beer, could we just imagine for a second a world without drinking or drugs (most go, ‘No. No, I’d rather not’)? Something tells me we’d still manage to have the same amount of fun.
It’s important to be present, but just as important that you discipline yourself so that you are having fun that does not do damage. If you learn to control your vices and just say ‘no’ to the next drink, you’ll create more respect for yourself. Doing so will send a message to the more unconscious part of your brain that you do give half a shit what you’re doing to it. This will not only reduce any hangovers, but it will allow you to have more self-esteem. In other words, you don’t have to knock yourself out to live in the present.
9) Don’t take your frustrations with yourself out on others.
We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another (and apologized, I hope). When we constantly put our frustrations onto friends, family, and strangers, our relationships start to crumble.
When you know you’ve wronged someone, there’s no need to be too hard on yourself, but there’s every need to try to rectify the situation. Your friend is likely to understand; explain your actions and ask for forgiveness. You will set an example for your friends, increase his or her respect for you, as well as for yourself. And if someone has wronged you, Taylor Swift says it best.
10) Stop cluttering your head with junk.
This is another reason why sports and exercise are great: they allow you to just focus on the task at hand. Throughout our daily lives we are surrounded by criticism, either at ourselves or at others. It doesn’t have to be on the train or on the cover of the supermarket tabloids. It’s on your Facebook, Youtube, TV, and the news. Don’t be oblivious to the negativity around you, but choose what deserves your energy and concern. Don’t account for the opinions of people you don’t know or care for. And don’t let that voice inside your head which likes to criticize talk too much.
Have other tips for living happily? Let us know!