Secrets of Happiness: 4 Tips for a Healthy Emotional Life
Our Environment Does Not Make Us Happy - We Do!
Happiness is available within. We can return to joy in seconds.
Can We Choose Happiness?
Many people think that our feelings are a result of what happens to us.
That is simply not true, unless we believe it. Our feelings do respond to what happens to us, but they arise within us, and we can learn to influence and even direct them.
The proof is in the photo above. I took all these shots in under three minutes - they are all of children of about the same age riding the same fairground ride. Look at their expressions! You will see eight different emotions as eight different children - eight unique human beings - respond to the same experience.
You are a unique human being. You don't have to respond in typical ways, or follow old patterns. You can choose happiness.
A Girl With a Broken Leg
A Few Seconds Later, She's Happy
Seconds Later, She's Thoughtful
Now Is the Time to Be Happy
Think about it: Whatever we feel, we’re feeling it right now. Last night, my brother, my wife and I were sharing stories of my mother. It was her birthday, but she passed away eight years ago. Now, I felt sad when she died. And I feel happy at birthday parties. How do I feel on the birthday of someone who has died? Both sad and happy, and the feelings change from one to the other very fast. At least, that’s what I felt as the three of us shared fond memories of our mother.
Earlier the same day, I saw this young girl with the purple cast on her leg. She was even sadder than you see in this picture. She was so low, I couldn’t imagine what would cheer her up. I went to get my camera and came right back, and look how happy she was! And, in fact, she changed from happy to sad again in under ten seconds. Then, in less than ten seconds, she’d changed from laughing to thoughtful.
The Four Secrets of Happiness
The little girl with the purple cast shows us the first two of our 4 secrets to happiness. Here they all are:
- It takes only a few seconds to become happy.
- It takes only a few seconds to become sad, anxious, angry, or miserable again.
- Kids can change their feelings in seconds.
- As adults, we forget how to change our feelings that fast – but we can re-lean the art of choosing happiness!
It Takes Only a Few Seconds to Become Happy
If we’re feeling sad or low, we can become happy in about 30 seconds. It takes that long for our entire hormonal system to shift, flooding us with endorphins, and making us feel great. And you don’t need cocaine, alcohol, or happy pills to do it.
All it takes is a genuine smile and a happy thought or memory.
The problem is that the smile has to be genuine. To learn about the dangers of faking happiness or pushing yourself to be happy, please read this article about how gratitude and happiness are not the same as positive thinking.
I should make a quick note – if you’re really angry or upset or scared, it can take a bit longer to relax – 15 minutes for women, and 20 minutes for men. But, in any case, happiness is only half an hour away – or less!
Placid Now, Killer in a Second!
It takes only a few seconds to become sad, anxious, angry, or miserable again
And, of course, the moment our attention shifts, our mood changes. Someone steps on our toe. We miss the elevator. We find out we locked our keys in the car. We get a text from the stalker geek we thought we dumped. Boom! We’re down in the dumps.
The hormonal shift to any kind of misery takes the same 30 seconds that the hormonal shift to joy does. And the shift to fear or anger is even faster. That’s a survival skill that’s built into us. We can shift to fight or flight almost instantly. In fact, we can get angry almost as fast as this alligator – lazing in the sun right now – can. He may be getting some shut-eye, but he’s a fraction of a second away from eating you or me for lunch!
It takes a bit longer to climb out anger or fear than it does to fall into it. But we can.
Kids Can Change Their Feelings in Seconds
Kids, cats, dogs (and all other mammals, too) can change their mood in seconds. That’s the way any animal who is living experientially is, just naturally. Our feelings flow within seconds of our experience. Like the girl in the photo, any child can be bored one moment, and grinning the next.
If you don’t believe me, try picking up a cat who doesn’t want to be picked up. But put on some body armor first!
As a kid, even you could do that.
As a kid, I could too, I guess. But most of my childhood memories are pretty miserable.
As kids, we naturally live in the moment.
Growing up means losing that skill. We learn, instead, how to stuff our feelings. How to not know how we feel. How to fake a feeling. How to get stuck in an attitude or a memory and stay miserable or frustrated or anxious or depressed.
The first person who taught me about happiness said that the difference between a child and an adult is that as children, we know when we are pretending to be unhappy. The day we forget we are pretending, we become adults.
As Adults, We've Forgotten How to Change Our Feelings Fast
As adults, we forget how to change our feelings that fast – but we can re-lean the art of choosing happiness!
So being an adult means that we think we can’t change our feelings fast. And we’re stuck in those thoughts.
I do a lot of my coaching by taking walks through my neighborhood and talking as we walk. It keeps things flowing. I was doing this once, and my client got lost in her personal misery. It was a beautiful Florida day. I asked her to stop and tell me what she saw. She looked up and said, “Right here! In front of us! A foreclosed house! Think of those people who lost their homes.” She almost started to cry. There she was, lost in her misery, which was all about money.
I laughed. Gently, but I laughed. I tried again to help her see the blue sky, the rising sun, the scattering of puffy clouds. I asked her to feel the wind, but she just couldn’t do it. She was too committed to her misery.
Jump out of your misery! You can. It takes practice, but happiness can, once again, become a state we create, just as it was when we were children. And believe me - I know from experience - that it's a lot easier to get out of debt - or to become healthy - if we're happy while we are doing it! Misery and stress lead to bad decisions, more problems in life, and poorer health. Happiness brings clarity and, in clarity, we make good decisions and have the energy to make health and prosperity happen.
In a word, starting with happiness, we thrive!
Make Yourself Happy - Right Now!
Try Right Now!
Please try this experiment. You can use the photo of the beautiful sunrise you see above. It will all take less than three minutes.
Before you start, take a moment to note how you are feeling. How tense or relaxed are you? What feelings are up?
Stop and close your eyes. Let go of everything. Straighten your back just a bit. Don't sit ramrod straight, just relax and breathe. Again, let go of whatever is bugging you. Then open your eyes and look at the picture.
Let your eyes, heart, and mind wander into the picture. Find things you like. Did you notice the birds?
After a minute or two, just ask yourself: How am I feeling now?
It would be great if you would put your answer into the poll below. Sharing your experience could help a lot of people.
Did You Become Happy?
If you tried the experiment, please share:
The Times it Takes to Change a Feeling
Sad or Anxious
Angry or Scared
15 - 20 minutes
15 - 20 minutes
Angry or Scared
Master of Peace and Joy
How Far Can We Go?
There’s no question we can learn to make the shift into happiness simply by relaxing, breathing, straightening up, and focusing on something beautiful or wonderful. And that thing can be here and now, or it can be a memory. Or, if we loosen up a bit, we just laugh at the absurdity of life.
You might be thinking that I’m just talking about getting rid of normal stress. And I am talking about getting rid of normal stress. But choosing happiness goes far deeper than that. Consider these situations:
- For the last eight years, I’ve suffered severe pain most days of the week. And I’ve learned to stay happy. Now, that happiness is turning into health.
- My wife has rheumatoid arthritis. But she is learning to get happy. She even dreams of dancing – and will be starting soon.
- One of my mentors, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote a beautiful poem about how he had to walk a mile in the rain, carrying the body of his brother, who had been killed in the war, just to bury his brother's body. But this man knows how to do walking meditation. He felt sadness over his brother. But he also enjoyed the beautiful dripping of the rain, and was aware when one small yellow flower poked it’s face up out of the mud. The flower, he felt, deserved as much joy from him as his brother called for grief.
- Victor Frankl, the great psychologist, survived the Nazi concentration camps. He understood the importance of focusing our attention. He saw that, when people in dire circumstances give up hope, they die. He was so strongly disciplined in his mind that, many years later, a child of a holocaust survivor asked him how long it took for him to get over his anger at the Nazis for imprisoning him and killing his entire family. He replied, “My dear, I never was angry.”
I really hope you never have to learn how to be happy in excruciating pain, with a disabling illness, burying a loved one, or trapped in prison. But know that you can do it, just as we have. Ultimately, our ability to be happy is unlimited.
But don’t worry about that for now. Just practice, maybe three times a day, loosening up and feeling the joy!