“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
~ Dalai Lama
After facilitating a values clarification exercise for a group of professionals attending my stress management seminar, I asked a number of participants to share the top 5 values they identified.
“This exercise not only reveals what matters most to us,” I said, “it also helps to reduce stress, because values provide a map that can move us in the direction of our goals. Feeling pleased about where we’re headed in life can be greatly comforting.”
The words “health”, “family”, “harmony” and “success” were common to many of the lists read aloud, yet “happiness” was clearly the one value that was shared by most.
No one was surprised.
“When you’re happy,” one audience member commented, “chances are that everything else will fall into place.”
“And even if things don’t work out the way you want”, someone else said, “You probably won’t be nearly as upset!”
“You’re absolutely right”, I replied, “Neuroscientists now say that the happier we are, the more resilient we’re likely to be. And the more resilient we are, the faster we bounce back from stress. The best news is, even if we weren’t born with a predisposition towards happiness, we can learn to make ourselves happier and, ultimately, healthier.”
This scientific discovery is revolutionary! It means that greater happiness and health is available to us all.
Yet simply knowing that happiness is a deeply held value doesn’t guarantee this capability. To ensure happiness, we need to regularly make choices that are in line with this value. That’s the only way a greater sense of well-being is certain to grow.
I also shared with this group that happiness was one of my top 5 values, yet didn’t experience it as often as I’d wanted, until I recorded all the things that make me happy into a “Bliss List”. Whenever I felt overextended or out of sorts, one look at this list immediately showed me why: I wasn’t doing enough of the things that made me happy!
To turn that around, I had to learn to pay closer attention when I wasn’t feeling happy – and consciously choose to engage more frequently in activities that created greater joy and satisfaction.
I also had to become aware of the stress cues that interfered with my happiness and well-being, such as tension building, feeling unusually tired or easily bothered. With practice, I eventually learned to stop sooner and select an item from my “Bliss List” that could be done almost immediately.
Sometimes taking a short break did the trick; other times a breathing exercise helped to replenish me. Oftentimes, though, doing something fun was needed. So I’d make plans to go hiking, have dinner with a friend, engage in a lively conversation or see a great movie.
“My “Bliss List” hasn’t failed me yet” I told the group. “And it might be just the right remedy for you, too” I suggested. “Plus, it’s not rocket science! Simply by doing our favorite things more frequently,” I continued, “our moods are boosted. It’s much easier to restore happiness when we’re feeling centered, than it is when we’re feeling stressed!”
It’s common sense, we concluded. We simply needed to make happiness a common practice! There’s nothing like a “Bliss List” to get started!
This month’s practice:
If you were to plumb the heart of your own happiness, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being high, where would you come up on the scale? Does your number indicate room for growth?
If so, take heart! Most everyone could use a little help in this arena.
1. Start by Identifying Your Stress Cues.
Mother Nature tends to wave these “red flags” when we’re feeling frazzled. It’s vitally important to become aware of – and deal with – these warning signals early on, so they won’t interfere with your happiness and well-being. The sooner you’re aware of your stress cues, the sooner you can nip them in the bud.
a) Where does your body sequester tension? What do you need to do to release it?
b) How do you behave when you feel overextended or out of sorts? Are you less patient? Easily bothered? Do you tend to hurry? What do you need to do to shift gears?
c) What’s your self-talk – or communication with others – like? Are you feeling more critical than usual? What do you need to do to tame your critic?
2. Cool Down. Breathe. Get centered.
3. Then Create your Bliss List:
This is one of the best stress management tools I’ve encountered and a sure fire way to increase your well-being. If happiness is one of your professed values, make it a priority to create this list and carry it with you. The next time you find your mood plummeting, take out the list, and examine it closely. You’ll probably discover that you’ve not been doing enough of what you enjoy. Pick something on the list, do it and notice what happens.
Here are the steps to creating your Bliss List:
a) Write out a list of things/activities that make you happy. (Take time with this list; don’t eliminate activities that may seem silly.)
b) Put a star next to the items you really enjoy doing.
c) Then put a check mark next to the things you do regularly.
d) Notice if the star and the check mark match up. If not, highlight what you’d like more of.
e) Schedule time to do these things.
The goal is to do what you love as often as you possibly can. If you discover a disparity, attention to these areas is needed to ensure greater happiness and well-being.
Remember: The point is to live the values we profess. If happiness is important to you, aligning your actions with that value is vitally important in creating more joy, meaning and satisfaction.
And, by doing so, your happiness rating is sure to move up a few notches!
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