The Habits of Happy People, Part 2 of 8

thank you sign
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their mind to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Activities, choices, habits. As Lincoln alludes to above, these are what distinguish happy people from those who talk of happiness or chase it or complain that they don’t have enough of it but don’t seem to be able to attain the happiness they crave.

Let’s make up our mind to be happy as we learn about the first of the 5 Habits of Happy People that I will cover in this series.

Habit #1: Gratitude and optimism.

Gratitude and optimism allow us to look on the bright side and have a positive outlook – by choice, if not by disposition. If we aren’t naturally grateful or optimistic people, we will have to make up our minds to find something to be grateful or optimistic about in any given situation.

Think about it: It is hard to feel sad or down when we are thanking someone else and noticing the good in our lives. Noticing the good makes us feel good.

We can begin to feel happier by finding something to be thankful for: a job that enables us to pay the bills, a vehicle to get around in, a roof over our heads. Or someone in our lives: an understanding boss, a good friend, a neighbor who looks after our pets or who just stays out of our hair. Or the resources around us: the sun that shines, the rain that falls and waters the plants, beautiful beaches or forests, a safe community.

A woman I know writes notes on the outside of envelopes that she sends in the mail. To the mail carriers, she writes, “Thank you for the work you do. Smile!” This woman is so thoughtful and considerate. The act of writing those little notes probably does more for her than for the mail carriers who deliver those envelopes.

Like her, we can draw our attention to the things we are grateful for and allow our mind to rest on them. Notice these things as we go about our day. Show gratitude.

Optimism is also about finding the positive side of things. Being optimistic is as simple as believing in ourselves and the strength that we have to get through. We can practice optimism by thinking to ourselves that we will make it through the day or the week and that we have what it takes to do so.

Researchers have tested the effects of optimism on happiness by having folks write about what they called their Best Possible Selves. The research participants were asked to imagine themselves in 5 years. If all in their life had gone as well as they could expect and they had been their best possible self, what would their life be like?

We, too, can meditate on our best possible self and what that means to us.

Optimism comes into play when we avoid overthinking and making social comparisons. We can ask, “Does it really matter?” or “Will this matter to me in a day, a week, or a year?” If not, let it go.

And as far as social comparisons, really the only time that comparing ourselves to others works for us is when we are thinking, “I have it so good,” or “It could always be worse.” If we are comparing ourselves to someone else and saying, “I wish I had what they had. I am so envious,” that is not conducive to happiness.

We can begin practicing Habit #1 by picking up a card or a piece of paper or opening an email and drafting a thank-you note to someone who has helped us. Express gratitude to a teacher, parent, co-worker, family friend, pastor or whomever. Thank that person, and, ideally, send or give the note to that person.

Notice the happiness welling up inside as we choose to bring more gratitude and optimism into our lives.

To read the other blogs in this series:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8


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