“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” written into our Declaration of Independence, is etched in our minds from now to eternity. It is such a well-known phrase that you may overlook what an incredibly powerful statement it really is.
So if you’ll stay with me for a moment, I’d like to focus on that last word, “happiness.” You know, I hear lots of folks say they really want happiness, but sadly, I don’t see many people actually doing much to be very happy.
Being the forever curious type, I asked around to find out, "what can we really do to be happy?” And what I learned is really surprising.
First, there are things that definitely do not make people happy, despite popular wisdom and supposed common knowledge. On that list are money, things and fame. You probably don’t have to look very far to find some miserable lottery winners or sad celebrities to vividly prove those points.
But according to experts who study psychology, brains, moods and behavior, happiness really is something money can’t buy. And here’s the most important secret: Happiness is not something that happens to you or around you. The real key to happiness has been inside you all along.
In fact, when lots of happy people are studied, a few common traits of happiness become very clear.
- Optimism: Those “glass half full” folks.
- Love: Truly caring about others as much as or more than yourself.
- Courage: The strength and will to do “the right thing.”
- Sense of choice: Research shows that people who describe themselves as “autonomous” and “self-governing” are up to three times more likely to be satisfied with their lives.
- Proactivity: Translation - try new experiences. Neurology researchers have found that diving into a fresh experience triggers the production of dopamine, one of the body’s “feel-good” chemicals.
- Security: True security means feeling good about your current place in life.
- Good health: Obviously mind and body are connected, so when our body feels good, it's much easier for our brains to feel good, too. The easiest way to achieve this optimal state of being: Get moving. Regular activity -- be it walking, dancing or playing Frisbee with your dog -- releases endorphins (the substances responsible for a runner’s high) and increases levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin.
- Spirituality: People who tap into their spiritual side have greater life satisfaction than those who don’t, according to a growing body of research.
- Altruism: Giving without expectation is one of the easiest ways to feel good about yourself, your world and life in general.
- Perspective: Happy people mentally frame life experiences so that the good features prominently in the forefront, while the bad is that fuzzy, out-of-focus backdrop.
- Humor: Find a way, a reason or an excuse to laugh out loud, every day. Laughter also releases those feel-good brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, while levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop.
- Purpose: Having a reason to jump out of bed every morning is one of the strongest sources of happiness because it gives you something positive to focus your life on.
Our forefathers valued happiness so much that they carved it into our nation’s very foundation. They actually fought and died for your right to be happy. I really hope we can celebrate their sacrifice by putting some of these ideas to good use!