When people say they choose not to worry or they choose to be happy, I think it’s misleading. It trivializes the difficulties many people have with happiness. On the other hand, with some exceptions, I also have trouble believing that happiness is an innate talent inert to efforts to cultivate it.
I consider happiness like a skill. It’s very common for people to confuse skills with innate talents, just consider the last time someone told you they “can’t do art” or said how lucky you were that you could do math. It’s less common to hear people going the other way – telling each other to “be better” at something as if for some inscrutable reason they simply hadn’t considered the possibility of having skill, but I can admit that at times I have been tempted to say things like that.
There are a number of external factors that make happiness easier.
- Low stress
- Strong social support
- Natural light
There are also actions we can take that tend to make us happier.
- Regular sleep
None of these are exactly building up happiness like a skill, though. They are indirect practices – like lifting weights to be better at wrestling. However, I have a personal approach to mindfulness that is, in my personal experience, the practice of happiness. To practice happiness, at any time of day, whatever you’re doing, take your attention and see if it’s on something making you happy. If there’s anything about what you’re doing that makes you happy, train your attention on that. Practice forgetting what upsets you and thinking instead about what makes you happy.
For instance, if your friends upset you, consider what has led them to make the upsetting decision and how good you will feel if you can rise above it. Think about how much you like your friends and how much better your relationship will be if you handle this situation well. If it’s hard in the moment, try to remember something in the past you liked about them. If your work is frustrating, think about the people you’re helping or think about the money you’re making, or even just focus on doing your job as well as you can. You’ll be surprised how hard all this can be, but if you keep at it, you may be surprised by how much it can help.
For more thoughts on depression and dealing with it, see the excellent blog by my friend Laura – http://www.lauravslaura.com/
Image Credit: http://thefairgo.com/road-to-happiness/