Last week my friends and I had a heart-to-heart conversation about an unusually controversial word–happiness. To be honest, it’s not one of those subjects I usually discuss with anyone because to me, happiness is a way of life, a choice in how we feel, not a mood that I announce every day to my friends and family. Just ask my kids, they’ll be the first to tell you that when mom’s happy, we’re all happy, but let’s stick to the topic at hand.
The reason we launched into this discussion was because we all have a mutual connection who, quite frankly, is always miserable. The sky could be raining $100 bills and this individual would complain that it obstructed visibility therefore making it difficult to drive to the grocery store to overpay for fat-laden deli meat or find apples that weren’t covered in bruises. Sigh!
In fairness, this cranky and unpleasant friend has been dealt some of life’s unfair hands–job demotion, broken engagement, a chronic medical condition that limits physical activity, and most recently car theft, but then again, there are plenty of other folks I know who’ve experienced similar situations, or worse, and still find a way to navigate through their troubles with a smile on their face and don’t blame the rest of the world for their hardships.
With the winter holiday season upon us, though many of us find this one of the most magical and happy times of the year, the fact is, for many people, it is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness, and anxiety.
Because it’s not always easy to find peace and joy in this hectic holiday season, this year I’ve decided I’d like to take a simpler, happier approach to how my family launches into this crazy but magical time of year by practicing the “12 Days of Holiday Happiness“.
Day # 1: Know that happiness is a choice.
As Aristotle once said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” In order to turn happiness into something you create, adopt small habits such as reflecting on something positive that happened to you recently and replay in your mind often.
Day #2: Consciously smile and make eye contact with others.
Go ahead, you can do it! Next time you are in the grocery store or at line in the bank, make the effort to connect with others by sharing your smile. You never know how your genuine smile can make a difference in another person’s life.
Day #3: Enjoy your sense of smell.
If you’re looking to feel more cheerful, it may be time to stop and smell the roses — literally. Researchers at the University of Florida found that the scent of roses has a positive influence on your emotions. If roses don’t do it for you, enjoy the scents of the season–pine, cinnamon and nutmeg, or homemade cookies baking in the oven.
Day #4: Practice simple acts of kindness.
For years research has shown that one of the quickest ways to feel better about yourself is to do something nice for someone else. Whether it’s buying a coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru lane or bringing a home cooked meal to the single mom in your neighborhood, giving unconditionally is a sure way to boost your spirits.
Day #5: Listen to upbeat music.
The sounds of the holidays are inspiring. If you don’t generally listen to music, have fun finding new channels to listen to on your way to work or try out one of the cable music channels you might normally not take time to enjoy.
Day #6: Seek out others who make you feel good.
Stray away from the Eeyores in your life and instead gravitate towards positive people who make happiness contagious.
Day #7: Certain foods can make you happier.
The key to a quick boost of happiness may lie in your diet. Foods like nuts, chicken, and milk all contain higher levels of tryptophan, which can lead to the production of serotonin, a chemical that helps induce calm and happiness.
Day #8: Practicing gratitude can help you lead a happier life.
When you’re thankful, you’re more likely to be a more joyful person. Expressing gratitude has proven to generate a more optimistic outlook on life and can even help lower stress. Many folks who practice the daily art of gratitude keep a daily journal recording the top things they are grateful for each day.
Day #9: Exercise can make you a more exuberant person.
Bad day? Running or power walking it out may be your solution. Research has shown that just 20 minutes of physical activity can have subtle, positive mood benefits that can last far beyond the extension of your workout.
Day #10: Focus on life’s ordinary moments.
Instead of feeling disappointed that you won’t be heading to the Caribbean this year, focus on some of the average, ordinary moments that give you joy instead such as enjoying your favorite cup of tea on a cold afternoon or reading your child his/her favorite bedtime story each night. Extraordinary milestones like buying a new car or going on an exotic vacation do spike our happiness, but the everyday moments are the fabric of our lives.
Day #11: Spend more time with your pets.
When we pet our furry friends, oxytocin (also known as “the cuddle hormone”)releases in our brains, making us instantly happier. Even better, our pets love us unconditionally!
Day #12: Color happiness into your environment.
Our world is full of colors that can inspire us every day. Experts have shown that color can stimulate hormones that affect our moods. Shades of blue, green and yellow are top on the color wheel for evoking feelings of joy.
Oops, one more–
Day #13: Share.
Share this article with my unhappy friend with the hopes that someday he/she will know happiness. And prayers to all of you for a very healthy, blessed holiday season!
Copyright 2014, Cheryl Butler