What does happiness mean to you?
Often when people are young, we have a rather regimented idea of happiness – we might have thought, when we were younger, “I’ll be happy when I get to a certain place in my career,” or “I’ll be happy when I win the approval and esteem of my friends,” or “I’ll be happy when I can fit into that beautiful dress at the store,” or “I’ll be happy when I get to go on that nice vacation next summer.”
But as we get older, we learn that this type of happiness – this “externally focused happiness,” this conditional happiness that depends on other people and other forces beyond our control, is really not the ideal model of happiness. Instead, as we get older, we learn how to find happiness in our own everyday lives and our own personal journeys.
Here at Sixty and Me, one of our primary interests is in inspiring women over 60 in how to be happier, how to be more positive, and how to lead a more productive, fulfilling and engaged life. Fortunately, we are living in an era when there is new science of happiness dedicated to helping people “train their brains” and intervene in their own lives in a way that creates feelings of increased resilience and positivity.
Do you want to figure out how to be happier in the new year? Here are six easy steps you can take, starting today:
How happy are you, really? How many days out of a typical week are you mostly content and positive and forward thinking, and how many days each week are you mostly dwelling on negativity or worrying or living in the past? Start a “happiness journal” to evaluate your overall level of happiness.
This could be as simple as marking on a calendar each day with an overall rating for how happy you felt that day (a plus sign for a good day, a minus sign for a bad day, or a zero for a neutral day) and making a few notes of what were the key moments in that day – what affected your mood each day, what happened in your life that was memorable in shifting your mood one direction or another?
After a few weeks, you should have a good sense of where your happiness level stands, and where it is coming from.
There’s an old saying, that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control our attitude to what happens to us. Part of becoming a happier person requires us to retrain our minds for a mindset of greater positivity. Try to see the positives in other people and in yourself.
Forgive people who might have wronged you or let you down – intentionally or not, in ways large and small. Practice gratitude. Make a “gratitude list” of things in your life that you’re grateful for – try to add a few items to the list each day.
These could be big things like “my family, kids, my spouse or significant other or my friends” or small things like “my favorite mug that I drink tea out of in the morning” or “getting to go to the gym each day for yoga class” or whatever makes your life feel whole and happy.
What are the things that you look forward to each week? Who are the people that bring out the best in you? Cultivate a sense of gratitude and remind yourself of your blessings and gifts, and your overall sense of happiness will follow.
Smile more – make it a habit. People can tell when you’re smiling when you talk on the phone, and people will respond to that same sense of positive energy when they see you in person. When you happen to encounter negative people and negative situations, be confident and in control of yourself. Some of the happiest people are also the most powerful, because they have the power of self-control and self-mastery – they won’t let anyone drag them down.
In addition to the small steps each day like writing a gratitude list and smiling more, big changes in your happiness level often come from making big changes in your overall life. Challenge yourself to make one significant change in your life, whether it’s dropping a bad habit or letting go of a negative relationship or embracing a new healthy diet or fitness regimen.
What is one big goal you would love to be able to look back upon and say, “I did this?” Would you like to enter a contest, produce original works of art, save money for a vacation, or make a difference for an organization you care about? Think big, and set small goals to get the results you desire.
Healthy diet and exercise, sleep and self-care are very important to happiness. It’s hard to be happy if we’re not taking good enough care of ourselves. The road to happiness often starts by reclaiming our daily routine – turn off the TV and get away from the Internet well before bedtime.
Try to go to sleep at the same time each night, as this will improve your body’s overall biorhythms (which can also help improve your positive mindset). Treat yourself to fresh, healthy well-prepared food – whether it’s in your own kitchen, as part of a regular social dinner with friends, or at a favorite restaurant.
Some of the happiest people in the world are also the most generous. Often the biggest way to improve our personal sense of happiness is to make other people happy by sharing our gifts. Giving doesn’t always have to be about financial philanthropy – no matter how much discretionary income we have, we all have the potential to volunteer, share, and give back to our communities and to organizations we value.
Could you offer to serve as a mentor to a younger person who wants to get into your career field? Could you volunteer as a tutor to help kids learn to read, or serve on the board of a charitable organization whose mission you admire?
Ask yourself, “What social issues am I most passionate about, and how can I be of service?” A spirit of giving is part of how we build a legacy during our lives – people are often remembered not for their work, but for the people and organizations that they loved enough to serve for free.
No matter what challenges we face in our lives, as women over 60 we have a special opportunity at this time of life to make a plan for how to be happier – and to create a happier world around us at the same time.
What do you think of starting your own personal “Happiness Project” in the New Year?
Watch my interview with Gretchen Rubin on the topic of how to be happier and more positive.