Want to get more out of life? Here’s 10 tips for adding to and sustaining feelings of well-being.
1. SPECIALIZE IN GENERATING AND SHARING POSITIVE ENERGY.
Gratitude generates joy. How often to you count your blessings, sharing with yourself awareness of the good that has entered your life-space of late? Seeing what is good in your circumstances enhances feelings of well-being.
How often to you express appreciation, agreement, and affection to others? How often do you smile at others, link eyes, or literally or in words, pat someone on the shoulder? Sharing positive connections and feelings increases others’ sense of well-being, which in turn will cause you to feel all the more pleasure.
Interestingly, prayer offers an ancient remedy to the tendency to forget to focus on the blessings in your life. Most prayer centers on appreciation, on expressing gratitude to a hiher power—which probably is why church-going another religious observances engender warm and positive “spiritual” feelings. Folks who think appreciative thoughts when they first wake up in the morning and/or just before going to sleep at night reap similar benefits.
And while you’re at it, skip the criticism, complaints, blame, and snippy comments. The negative energy that you generate by these kinds of comments gets doubled before subtracting it from your positivity total. That’s because people remember negative moments more readily and intensely than positive ones.
2. DECIDE TO BE A PROBLEM-SOLVER.
When problems arise, do you find yourself feeling mad, sad, or scared, and then getting stuck in irritation, depression or anxiety? As soon as you hit a bump in life—a dilemma, an annoyance, a tough decision, a conflict an issue—go straight to problem-solving mode, asking yourself what might you do to fix the difficulty.
In most cases, as soon as you figure out a plan of action, your negative feelings will flow away, replaced by satisfying feelings of well-being. One hint though: look for what you yourself can add to a solution. Stay clear of telling others what they could or should do, unless they ask for suggestions from you.
That’s the central theme of my latest book, Prescriptions Without Pills. Why grumble and regret, suffer with anxious feelings, get annoyed, or sink into discouragement when instead you can feel better just by the very act of looking for solutions?
3. HARNESS YOURSELF TO A PROJECT.
I once visited a Sufi guru in Pakistan . One of the favorite sayings of this very wise man was that “Cars run best uphill.” I found his contemporary engineering way of expressing this principle amusing. At the same time, I realized that many religions express this wisdom, and that it highlights an important reality: People feel best when they have a project, a mission, an objective to which they can harness their energies.
Christians emphasize finding a “calling.” Jewish wisdom describes an overall self-enriching goal of making the world a better place. Hikers talk about leaving the trail better than how you found it. Athletes enjoy working toward the goal of getting better and better at their sport. Business people seek to earn money.
Neurobiologists identify that pursuing a goal, a goal of any type, stimulates production of dopamine which is, as writer Loretta Breuning says, a “happy chemical.”
So harness your energies to work projects, to earning money, to raising a family, to creating beauty. Whatever the project, attaching yourself to a project, or multiple projects, is life-enriching.
4. LEARN FROM MISTAKES.
People were not designed to be perfect. To the contrary, we all make mistakes. Regard your errors therefore, errors large or small, as opportunities for growth. See others’ mistakes as learning opportunities as well.
After each mistake that you or others have made, say to yourself “Mistakes are for learning.”
After you have made a mistake, or after those close to you make mistakes, remind yourself to skip the whip. Punishing yourself just adds to your misery. Skip also spending much time or thought on regret, shame, blame, guilt, criticism of yourself or of others, and just about all kinds of punishment.
Instead, look back to learn. Mistakes are for learning.
Then focus your eyes again on the road ahead, the road of self-acceptance, growth and well-being.
5. SEE YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN THE BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT.
Eliminate negative labels. End name-calling toward others and toward yourself as well.
Any time you feel tempted still to use a negative word to describe someone, reframe the phenomenon you observed in an empathic or at least neutral way. For instance, are you thinking that your child is bossy? Label it budding leadership. You think your friend is stupid? Label it uninformed or maybe slow to pick up on new ideas.
Avoid pejorative terms for yourself as well. For instance, change the self-berating thought “I was an idiot” to “I was confused.” Or instead of “This is a stupid thought,” tell yourself, “This is a surprising thought…”
At the same time, accurate observation can be helpful. So instead of saying to yourself or others, “My boss is a nasty snot,” which makes you feel superior but does little to enable you to work effectively with him, aim for non-judgmental descriptions, e.g., “My boss often gets impatient, especially when his expectations have been unrealistic. Keeping up my good humor in that atmosphere is challenging.”
Equally important, as you see yourself having a habit that does not serve you well, ask yourself, “If I look at that habit in the best possible light, what is it trying to accomplish?” Once your intention has become clear to you, ask a second key question: “And what might be a better, less problematic and more effective, way to accomplish that intention?”
Ah, now you are staying on the pathways of well-being.
6. AGREE, AUGMENT, AND ADD INSTEAD OF DISAGREEING.
When someone expresses an opinion with which you disagree, skip the “But…” Also skip the negation– “That’s not true!” Those responses turn a friendly discussion into an adversarial argument.
“I’m right and you are wrong” assumptions also invite fights.
Instead, listen closely to find at least one aspect of what you are hearing that you can agree with. Verbalize your agreement with that specific bit of information.
“I hate babies. They are ugly and burdensome.”
“Yes, … I agree that they are often funny-looking, especially when they are newborns.”
Then, after you have agreed to something specific that you heard, begin with the words, “And at the same time…” to add your alternative viewpoint.
“And at the same time, I love holding babies. They are so soft and warm.”
With agree and add, you stay on the road to win-win. You can be right, and the other can be right as well. Feeling right, and enabling others to feel right, raises your sense of well-being.
7. IF IT’S IN THE PAST IT’S FOR THE GOOD.
Once something has already happened, you can decide the impact it will have on your life and on your feelings.
You can harbor resentment if it was something that hurt you. You can sink into disappointment and grieve for too long.
Or you can decide, “If it’s in the past, my job is to make it turn out for the good.”
8. CHERISH YOUR CIRCLE OF LOVED ONES AND FRIENDS.
Make time for your friends and family members.
Do fun activities with them.
Verbalize your positive feelings toward them. You will feel your loving feelings then all the more strongly, and you will receive back positives as well. Expressions of appreciation and affection breed appreciation and affection in return, creating more well-being for everyone.
9. TREAT YOUR ANGER AS A STOP SIGN.
Expressing anger creates further anger, both within you and within the person you have addressed in an angry tone. So any time that you begin to feel angry, regard anger is a stop sign.
What do you do at a stop sign? Would you pick up the stop sign and clobber people with it? No. At a stop sign you pause to look about, figure out what’s going on, and decide how to proceed.
As you stop in response to feeling angry, you may need first to change the topic in order to give yourself time to calm down. It may help also to take several slow deep breaths to refresh and calm your energies. Consciously release the tension that had been building in your muscles.
If changing the subject for a bit and taking a few calming breaths does not suffice to cool you, remove yourself from the triggering situation. Then distract yourself for a bit—maybe read a magazine, play with children, or finish a work project—to be sure you are not bringing the provocative situation with you in your head, e.g., “He shouldn’t…!”
Return when you feel calm enough to talk cooperatively about the problem. If you can’t calm down enough to dialogue in problem-solving mode, or they can’t, leave again.
Early and frequent exits prevent needless angers from spoiling your relationships.
While acting in anger is seldom constructive, treasure your anger feelings. That’s because a feeling of anger at any level—mild irritation, growing frustration, as well as feeling outright mad—indicates that there is something you want that you are not getting, or something you are getting that you do not want.
So value your anger as an important indicator that there is a problematic situation that you need to pay attention to. Then put the anger aside so that you can calm down in order to figure out how to handle the situation cooperatively, cleverly and effectively.
10. ENJOY LIFE’S PLEASURES. LET LAUGHTER FLOW.
Indulge in life’s free sources of joy:
Let yourself play and be playful. Sing a song, or put music on your favorite electronic device. Go outside and enjoy natural greenery and sunshine. Connect with friends and family. Do something new, go somewhere new, meet someone new, as new anything tends to generate positive feelings. Move around and exercise, even if all you do is run in place. Look for beauty. Make something. Give something to someone, to anyone. Do an act of kindness. Express appreciation. All of these actions are natural emotional uppers.
The more that you let yourself enjoy, laugh, give to others, and appreciate your blessings, the happier and more filled with well-being your life will become.
Happiness is a choice. Enjoy!
© Susan Heitler, PhD, 2016