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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Getting to happy

Did you know: the holiday season is one of the periods during a calendar year when those who are experiencing feelings of depression and angst actually feel the worst? Watching others bask in the love and attention of family can amplify the feelings of loneliness or unhappiness of those without. Beyond that, the holiday season can be extremely stressful and emotionally draining. It doesn’t have to be; let’s make a deliberate attempt to maintain our peace of mind and general state of happiness.

It is not realistic, is it, to suggest that we all walk around with smiles pasted on our faces, right, but that is not to suggest that we need to do that to be TRULY happy. (I should add, my youngest does walk around with a smile on his face all the time, and it really is quite charming; perhaps that might not work for all of us). Being happy – being in a place where one finds mental peace and contentment, and true enjoyment – this is an art. And, luckily, it IS attainable. Please don’t think I’m calling you a grouch, friends. Not at all. Many of us, though, go through our day-to-day existence, just doing and being … without any enjoyment. Let me describe for you a few key elements of Being Truly Happy. Once you own this, you can help your kids (and your spouse) own it, too. This is the perfect gift for you and for your kids this holiday season. The gift that keeps on giving.

1. Savor Savoring is a quick and easy way to boost optimism as well as reduce stress and negative emotions. Savoring is the practice of noticing the good stuff around you and taking the extra time to prolong and intensify your enjoyment of the moment, making a pleasurable experience last for as long as possible. You know, like when you eat a piece of good chocolate, letting it slowly melt on your tongue. That is savoring. Whether it's preparing a meal, pausing to admire the sunset, or telling a friend your good news story, the idea is to linger, take it in, and enjoy the experience. Eventually it will become a habit that is a keeper. Regularly savoring events and experiences in your life will lead to you regularly being more optimistic, and more satisfied with your life. Savor past experiences with positive reminiscing; savor the present by practicing mindfulness; savor the future through positive anticipation.

2. Be thankful The simple act of identifying and then appreciating the things people do for us is a modern-day wonder drug. It fills us with optimism and self-confidence, knowing that others are there for us, and help us in innumerable ways. It dampens our desires for “more” stuff, and it deepens our relationships with loved ones. And when we express our gratitude to someone, we get kindness and gratitude in return. Positive brings more positive. But keep in mind: you are not thanking people in order to get the reciprocal response; rather, you are thanking people to acknowledge their efforts, positive effect, or to pay your respects. Being thankful can be done in person, with letters, or even in a gratitude journal. Being grateful can be shared or kept private. Being grateful brings a great appreciation to your interactions with others, and perhaps opens your eyes to how your actions affect those around you as well.

3. Aspire To aspire is to feel hopeful, to have a sense of purpose, to be optimistic. Forgot what that feels like? I know, sometimes it can be too busy in the here-and-now to think ahead. To aspire, though, is to deliberately focus on what can be. This is more than just making a New year’s resolution; through aspiration, you are creating a determined path for yourself, giving self-guidance and purpose. Study after study shows that people who have created meaning in their lives are happier and more satisfied with their lives. You too can feel more upbeat about your future and your potential. And who doesn't want that? Genuine optimism is a friend magnet. It also makes your goals seem attainable and your challenges easier to overcome. Bottom line: you'll not only feel more successful, you will be more successful.

A person's level of hope is shown to correlate with how well they perform tasks. Using one's strengths in daily life, studies have found, curbs stress and increases self-esteem and vitality. Another study found that participants who were asked to imagine their future in an optimistic light increased their levels of happiness over the next six months. Believing that your goals are within reach promotes a sense of meaning and purpose in life—a key ingredient of happiness. Remember, goal setting is not just about setting goals, but rather about setting attainable yet challenging goals. And know this: goal setting, too, is a skill that one must develop (usually with practice). You know what you are capable of; be realistic but push yourself. Therein lies the sense of accomplishment.

4. Give Everything about giving is a no-brainer. Obviously, when you give someone something, you make them happier. But what you might not know is that the giver—not the receiver—reaps even more benefits. Being kind not only makes us feel less stressed, isolated and angry, but it makes us feel considerably happier, more connected with the world, and more open to new experiences.

You've heard about the random acts of kindness study? This study asked participants to commit five random acts of kindness each week for six weeks. Whereas the control group experienced a reduction in well-being, those who engaged in acts of kindness showed a 42% increase in happiness. We are happier when we spend money on other people than when we spend money on ourselves. And a 2006 study found that simply reflecting on nice things we have done for other people can lift our mood. When we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly affected. Mortality is delayed. Depression is reduced. Well-being and good fortune are increased. Giving is a good thing.

5. Empathize Empathy is a powerful word packed with lots of different interpretations. It is the ability to care about others. It is the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, behaviors or ideas of others, including those different from ourselves. It is the ability to understand that others have different irritants, different expectations, different wants, and to allow for that to be okay.

If you care about the relationships in your life—and who doesn't?—learning the skill of empathy has enormous payoffs. When we empathize with people, we become less judgmental, less frustrated, angry or disappointed—and we develop patience. We also solidify the bonds with those closest to us. And when we really listen to the points of view of others, they are much more likely to listen to ours. Empathetic people understand that their way is okay, and so is the way of others. Though empathy and compassion are not the same, they often go hand-in-hand. Empathy is feeling the emotions of others while compassion includes the willingness to help. Both contribute to developing our ‘human’ side; having compassion for others will also help us develop our level of compassion for self.

People who have more self-compassion lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical.

So happiness is not just a state of mind. It is also a skill set that can be learned. Be happy. Help your kids be happy. Model for them what behaviors help you to be happier and hopefully they will follow your lead!

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