The ABC's of Happiness
May 02, 2014 11:08AM
By By Liza Bertini, MS, Life Coach
The science of happiness is called positive psychology. Defined as “the scientific study of optimal human functioning”, it provides practical tools for better living. The endless research on happiness draws unsurprising conclusions; for example, lasting happiness is said not to come from possessing material things but from pursuing positive experiences. We derive greater long-term happiness from acquiring experiences rather than goods. So when you have the choice, go on that vacation instead of buying that new couch. In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, she concludes that 50 percent of a person’s happiness level is genetically determined, 10 percent is affected by life circumstances and situation and the rest of happiness is subject to self-control and attitude. While some of us may focus on changing our circumstances, successfully doing so would only increase or decrease our true level of happiness by 10 percent. What we should focus on is the 40 percent that is under our control.
By combining teachings from yoga philosophy and information gathered from researching positive psychology, I put together a “happiness formula”. Let’s call it the ABC’s of Happiness. I believe that if you incorporate the following into your life as best you can on a daily basis, you will simply be happier. Give it a try—you have nothing to lose.
The A’s of Happiness
It’s said that living authentically is when what you think, feel, say and do are all in alignment. Though it is a hard task, the more we practice living authentically, the more whole and fulfilled we will feel. Being authentic is a product of uncovering the true Self, knowing what you want, living your soul’s purpose, speaking your truth and living with integrity. Yoga facilitates being in touch with one’s inner wisdom so that authenticity may blossom. Take time each day to be quiet and watch your breath, thoughts and emotions with non-judgmental awareness. In this quiet, let your inner wisdom be revealed.
If 40 percent of our happiness is a result of our attitude, then by God… work on this one! Change your perspective of or reaction to your circumstances by finding the lesson and seeing the good within each situation. Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., and expert in positive psychology, says, “Things do not necessarily happen for the best but I can choose to make the best of things that happen.” When we are faced with hardship, we have a choice. We can treat it as a purely negative experience or we can actively seek to identify and understand the lesson within it. We don’t have to be happy about every situation but when a challenging one presents itself, we can use it as an opportunity for growth and development. To help turn things around, make a habit of finding something positive in every situation.
Start loving and caring for yourself. Stop judging and putting yourself down. Notice how you speak to yourself. The more we can accept who we are and our life as it is, the more happiness will fill our lives. The Yoga Sutra by Patanjali states that “yoga is seeing life the way it is.” Lose the judgment and cynicism and accept as much as you can. Life is already hard and the more we resist it, the more we will struggle.
The B’s of Happiness
Yoga is about finding balance—not just in postures, but of the mind, body and spirit. The Buddha taught that to reduce suffering, one must find the middle path. Take a serious look at all areas of your life, including work, fun, family, friends, relationships, spirituality, finances, home and health and note which areas need more of your energy and attention. Consider all areas in order to feel balanced and fulfilled. Consider letting go what no longer serves you. Consider striving what you yearn for. Have some fun, stop worrying and breathe.
Immerse yourself in the moment. Treat all activities as “yogic activities”—stay present in each detail of the task. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Do the dishes as though you were washing the baby Buddha.” When you brush your teeth, do just that; don’t think of what you must do next. When you listen to a friend, just listen; don’t think of what you’ll say next. Monotasking creates time for space in the mind. Impatient thoughts, rushed actions, boredom and frustration cease when you give your attention to every detail. Stay present to keep you from brooding over the past or worrying about the future—this will only cause unhappiness. Savor life. No event or activity, no matter how potentially enjoyable, will bring us pleasure if we are hurrying on to the next task.
Each day, think of three things for which you are grateful. Cultivating gratitude reminds us of the good things in our life and how much we already have. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, suggests writing down your happiest moment of each day, no matter how small. Keep this in a journal and notice what brings joy to your life.
The C’s of Happiness
We must notice when we are influenced by others’ expectations, behaving according to habitual patterns or passively reacting rather than actively creating the life we truly want. We each have the ability to choose our own path. When we forget this, we risk losing happiness. Choosing to choose is not always easy and it takes courage and effort. The journey is sometimes full of uncertainty but resist choosing unhappiness over uncertainty. There are far more possibilities than we are aware of and remembering that will contribute to greater happiness and wholeness.
Having strong social bonds has shown to be the most meaningful contributor to happiness. Research shows that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter, you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy”. Having a supportive community is crucial in times of challenge and adversity. Not only does having close friendships increase happiness, it has also been proven to lengthen life expectancy, boost immunity and reduce risk of depression. So, reach out to your friends. Remember birthdays, start a meet-up group, join Devotion’s book club or have a party.
Buddhism teaches that the best way to reduce suffering is to have compassion for yourself and others. Yoga teaches to be kind to yourself, have patience with others and try to see people for who they really are without prejudgment. Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Notice the beauty within each person you meet. Remember that the way you treat others will create a ripple effect. Forgive and know that no one is perfect. Cultivate a life of service and give more than you receive. Smile at a stranger, help a friend, do a good deed… every day. Show compassion and change your life and your happiness.
Liza Bertini, MS, E-RYT 500, a Kripalu yoga teacher, entrepreneur and life coach, is the founder and director of Devotion Yoga, in Hoboken and LBI. Her dharma is to foster community and provide experiences that inspire others to live conscious, healthy, full and authentic lives. She offers individual and group coaching sessions for women. Find out more at LizaBertini.com.