The Secret to Happiness

The Secret to Happiness - Feelings Magnets Blog

Looking at the number of self-help books, online courses and retreats that exist it’s clear that we all just want to be happy and are willing to try many things to get there. I was hungry for tools, thirsty for advice and I devoured books and courses that seemed to contain answers. They all seemed to promise to give us the answer to happiness, to fulfilment, to finding our purpose or to abundance. At some point, I found myself very critical and suspicious of all these words of wisdom or step-be-step manuals to happiness. I thought, how can each of them be promising us the ultimate answer to all our problems? If they worked, there wouldn’t need to be so many of these books and courses.
Then I realized that many of them actually say similar things just in slightly different ways. They are not reinventing the wheel. I also realized that some things really resonated with me and others didn’t click at all. Sometimes I also needed to hear or read the same thing in several different ways before it really sunk in. While talking to friends, I also realized that what clicked for me, didn’t necessarily click for them. So, I concluded that maybe there was a place for all of these books, courses and tools because we are all different and may need different things to help us along the way.
One size doesn’t fit all
What will bring us happiness and fulfilment doesn’t come in a ready to assemble box like a piece of IKEA furniture. We can’t all just go out and buy the same box, assemble it according to the instructions and then find pure bliss. It’s a little more adventurous than that. It’s more like we all have an empty toolbox that we get to fill. We get to try out different tools, decide which ones we like, which ones are useful to us and then either put them in our toolbox, or not. Ultimately, we may have some tools that are the same from one person to another but we may also have some unique ones.
Imagine your life like a visit to a workshop that has every possible tool in the world. You get to go into that workshop, try out all the tools – some that look familiar and some that you have never laid your eyes on before and that you may have no idea how to use. You get to experiment with all of them and then decide which ones you want to have in your toolbox. You choose the tools that you like to use the most, the ones that work for you and the ones that help you do what you want to do. Once you have your toolbox, you can take it with you wherever you go and you can pull out the tools you need when you need them. That’s what seems to be the best road to happiness, and it’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. Actually, it’s more like a mega real-life experiment.
Tools for happiness

Now, there are some tools in a toolbox that are commonly considered useful, like a hammer and the basic screw drivers. Let’s call these the “popular tools”. When it comes to tools for our happiness toolbox, there are also some “popular tools” that have been shown to increase our positive emotions and to decrease our “negative” emotions and ultimately to improve our well-being. (Remember feelings aren’t really negative or bad. More on this here: Are Negative Emotions Really Negative?). These “popular tools” are sometimes referred to as Positive Psychology Interventions (PPI’s) and they revolve around certain themes like gratitude, savouring, and strengths. Here are a couple that I suggest you try out and see which of these, if any, have a positive impact on you.

  1. Expressing gratitude: taking a few minutes from time to time (ex. once a week or even when we feel down) to write down things in our lives that we are grateful for. These can be big things or also little things like being grateful that my breathing happens automatically or that the sun is shining. Write them down as a list, or on a slip of paper and then put them into a “gratitude jar”. You might also like to write a gratitude letter to someone who had an important impact on your life. Ideally you then go visit them with your letter and read it to them.
  2. Challenge your thoughts: when you notice yourself feeling down, observe your thoughts and words. We might find that we are overthinking, ruminating, comparing ourselves to others, judging ourselves or others and overall, we might be thinking pessimistically. Catch these thoughts and interrogate them as you would a suspect. Challenge them, find holes in what they are saying, see what evidence there is to support them or prove them wrong. This takes some practice because we might be used to thinking in a certain way. But the good news is that thoughts are not facts and we can manage our thoughts. The key question for each thought is not is it true or is it real, but “is this helpful?”
  3. Random acts of kindness: from time to time do a random act of kindness. Smile at a stranger, hold the door for them, refill someone’s parking meter, pay for the coffee of the next person in line, and so on. The list is endless and you can get really creative with this.

Pick some of these to try, or all of them. Give them a real go and then make a call if you want to include these in your happiness toolbox. Observe the things you already do that may bring you joy and add these in your toolbox too. Then get creative and try out new things… maybe it’s dancing in the living room, maybe it’s journaling, singing in the car or meditating. Your toolbox will be ever evolving and you can endlessly experiment to see what practices or habits contribute to your happiness. Get curious, be open and go for it. That’s the secret to happiness, build your personal happiness toolbox.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could, some blunders and absurdities have crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

 – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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