Ten Tips to Become Happier

Kevin W Chen, Ph.D. MPH, Yang-Sheng
Waking Times 

Have you ever wished that, instead of learning about history or the speed of light in school, we were also taught something more practical, like how to be happy?  Well, your wish has come true. Recently, a new subject has appeared in education, not in high school but at universities.  The course is called Positive Psychology, and its underlying promise is that we can learn to be happier, just as we can learn to ride a bike or to speak a foreign language.

Positive psychology may be the youngest branch in modern psychology, with less than 30 years of history, although its subject is one of the oldest and most fundamental human emotions –  happiness.  Positive Psychology is the scientific study and exploration of the human strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to develop and thrive.  This new discipline of psychology is founded by those who want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives (instead of simply avoiding depression or anxiety), to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, joy, work, and play.

Dr. Maslow once said, “the science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side; it has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illness, his sins but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations.”  Traditional clinical psychology is based on the disease model, and the best outcome is from disease to neutral state (the zero) or no disease; neither depression nor anxiety. In contrast, positive psychology is based on the health model of human behavior by focusing on building up strengths or virtues, and pursuit of positive emotion, happiness and flourishing.  Happiness isn’t the negation of unhappiness. The knowledge of positive psychology can help prevent disease or failure through cultivating positive characteristics and emotions. More importantly,

positive psychology focuses on what works in real life so as to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life.

Two years ago, I had the privilege to take the corresponding course “Foundation of Positive Psychology” through the University of Pennsylvania, taught by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, whose teaching of Positive Psychology had made it the most popular course in Harvard University at the time (with 800+ students in one semester). You can find out more about Dr. Ben-Shahar from his web site (http://www.talbenshahar.com).

At the end of this inspirational course, Dr. Ben-Shahar summarized the course with his top 10 tips to become happier. I would like to share these tips with some materials I learned from the course so that the readers may get a basic idea of how to apply these tips in their own pursuit of happiness:

1. The questions you ask will define the places to go to, and create your reality.

“What kind of reality do I want to create?”  The questions will define or determine how you will think or behave next.  If you ask “what’s wrong?” you would automatically look for wrong-doing or mistakes….  Instead, how about asking “What is most meaningful to me?” “What is most pleasant to me?” “What is my strength?” – find any overlap in answers to these queries will lead you to a more positive reality “What works best?”  My favorite questions in a difficult or stressful situation: “What is one thing that is good about this?” or “What can I learn from this situation?”

2. Believe in yourself and others (think outside of the box).

Belief is a self-filling prophecy, and attitude is everything.  Never underestimate the power of belief.  People can go to wars and sacrifice themselves for a simple belief; therefore, starting with a positive belief and constructive attitude could make everything work differently.  You cannot achieve or enjoy happiness with a negative attitude.  If you want to be happy, choose to be happy, and believe in yourself that you can always be happier…

3. Learn to fail (or fail to learn!)

The foundation of success is failure, no shortcut!  Failure is an important part of life or any successful progress, which offers unique and necessary lessons for moving closer to success. Do not be afraid of failure, and do not fail to learn from failures. It is true that failure does not feel as good as success, but we learn precious lessons from it. We may simply label ‘failure” as the successful identification of what does not work.

4. Give yourself permission to be human

It is the foundation of mental health – accept both painful and joyful experiences. Embrace your emotions, not just positive ones like joy or enthusiasm, but also emotions like anger, fear or sadness.  Do not try to deny or run away from them.  Expecting to be happy all the time is unrealistic and ultimately impossible – doing so will only lead to disappointment and greater unhappiness.  Perfectionism does not bring happiness. Every human-being makes mistakes, and has negative motions; therefore, allowing yourself to be human implies living in reality while finding the beautiful self through both pains and joys.

5. Open up (journal and/or in person)

Expressing yourself (writing, talking to friends or therapist) will assist in feeling emotions – live a life with integrity by being real and truthful to your own values and feelings.  Talking about traumatic or negative experiences offers an opportunity to heal by allowing the mind to put it in context, reframe and find benefits… Do not suppress or hide your feelings; do not close your mind and emotions. Talking to your friends or therapist if you have problem, or just writing down how you feel will channel out the feeling…

6. Being a benefit finder (express gratitude, and appreciate what we already have)

Find out what works best in all situations, including the worst situation, and actively (purposefully) find the benefits in every situation and event. Create rituals and keep a gratitude journal. Happiness rarely visits those who frequently complain and are too cynical. Yes, nobody is perfect and everything has two sides, by being a benefit finder you would live a much happier and more peaceful life.  Remember that there is always someone living a worse life than you… The happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they just make the best out of everything.

7. Simplify your life (do less instead of more, time affluence)

Modern society promotes the notion more is better, or faster is better, which does not really bring happiness. Technology brings us more convenience or efficiency, but less time to enjoy life.  Next time when you make a choice on anything from purchasing a cell phone to accepting an invitation to an event, simpler is probably better for your well-being and happiness.  Do not live with an overwhelming sense that you are running out of time, doing so makes it impossible to enjoy or dedicate yourself fully to any activities that make you happy.

8. Cultivate relationships

A close intimate relationship is the number one predictor of our well-being; therefore, spending quality time with the important person in your life will make a big difference in your general satisfaction in life, and the feeling of happiness. Cultivating relationships also means investing time and energy for closer and positively-oriented relationships, and let go of the relationship that brings nothing but negativity to your life.

9. Remember the mind-body connection

A healthy mind is based on a healthy body, it can be more difficult to feel happy when you are physically sick, or feel sleepy and stressed.  So if you want to keep your mind positive and your spirit up, start with getting an adequate amount of sleep, pay attention to your diet and get regular exercises.  The common formula for a happy life includes active exercise, breathing & mindfulness practice (e.g. meditation), good sleep, and human touch (for example, hugs) – these are the key to the mind-body connection.

10. Differentiate yourself (be known)

Open up to knowing and being known, being real and truthful— really know who you are and what your life means. Live the life that matches your values. One good exercise is to write down what you like about yourself, what you value most, and what you are good at, so as to build up a positive and realistic self-esteem.

Most importantly (which becomes tip #11), introduce behavioral change NOW (today) to lead yourself for a happier life — to become a practical idealist and make a difference in your own life. “Be the change you want to see.”  Happiness is not a goal in life, but a continuous process starting now.  We can always expect to be happier…  One of the most recommended actions by Dr. Ben-Shahar, as well as by Dr. Andrew Weil (in his new bookSpontaneous Happiness), is to start writing appreciation journal, or recall three things you enjoyed and appreciated every day  before going to bed.  By simply asking yourself everyday: “What am I grateful for right now?” “What do I appreciate in my life?” and allowing yourself to really feel that gratitude, you will become at least 25% happier.

For more information about positive psychology, I highly recommend the web site from University of Pennsylvania — “Authentic Happpiness” (http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx)

May this short introduction help you find your way to becoming happier!

About the Author

Kevin W Chen, Ph.D., MPH is an associate professor at the Center for Integrative Medicine and Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine (USA).  Dr. Chen was educated in the universities of both China and the United States, and has years of experience and training in blending eastern and western perspectives, and in the practice of life-nurturing methods. As a long-time practitioner of Qigong Yang Sheng, he is one of the few scientists in the U.S. to have both hands-on knowledge of mind-body practice, and an active research career in mind-body medicine, which is funded through grants by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and various foundations.  Dr. Chen devotes his career and life to the practice of Yang Sheng, and promotion of self-healing and mind-body-spirit integration through the non-profit organization, World Institute for Self Healing (WISH) http://www.wishus.org

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  • Bobby

    “Happy” is a relative term. There are jazz muscians, great ones, that have spent their whole lives in smoky cafe’s and restuarants, doing what they wanted to do, and they were happy. My uncle sold his machine shop fifty years ago and became an alfalfa farmer in California,and lived happily till his death at 88. I don’t believe in rules or formulas, outside of a persons whole psych or inner being. The key, I believe, is to try and get quiet. Spend some time with the TV off, the computer off, away from small talk, and do some very deep and relaxing examination of yourself. You will realize what it is that makes you happy, if your’e honest about what you discover.

  • notasecondtime

    Though I tend to agree with most of this, a great deal of it is essentially Buddhism, and particularly, Zen.

  • Excerpt from Revolution 222
    The Boblovian Address – Don’t be afraid to be Happy!

    Once evening rolled around, a deal had been negotiated to allow a
    live feed from the stage to the world. None of us had a clue as to
    what Boblovia would do or say. He had spent most of his time that
    day with his notebooks. Around eight o’clock in the evening the
    stage lights dimmed. Slowly a single spotlight grew in intensity
    revealing Bob sitting on a small platform littered with large
    cushions. He wore his robe, of course, and he had done little to comb
    out his wild hair and beard. Baba Bob came to my mind. He looked
    like some holy mystic from the east. No introduction was made, nor
    was any needed.
    The crowd roared to their feet. Everyone present felt the
    tremendous energy coming from the moment, a moment we all
    knew, for whatever reason, was going down in history. Bob rose to
    his feet, hands near his sides, palms open. He acknowledged the
    crowd with nods and a warm smile. After nearly five minutes of
    constant applause, he sat down. He motioned for the crowd to quiet
    and then he spoke.
    “Can everyone hear me?” Again, another stupendous roar rose
    from the crowd. A chant started, “Can you hear me?” repeated over
    and over; it was crazy.
    Finally, after settling the crowd back down, he started again. “The
    Emperor of Boblovia requests a zone of silence extending from his
    borders to yours for the next hour. All those in concordance please
    signify by remaining silent.” The silence was interrupted
    immediately by a voice from afar, “We love Boblovia.” Laughter
    trickled over the audience.
    “Thank you, my love for you as well, but I can see we need to
    further our negotiations a bit more,” more laughter and then
    complete calm and quiet. The stage was set. “Welcome fellow Ascended Travelers. It’s wonderful being free,free from ourselves finally. It’s been a long journey, and our journey continues. Awaken and come together.”
    Bob calmly gazed out over the gathering for nearly a minute
    before he continued. He had everyone’s rapt attention. “Please let me
    read this to you – A very wise person once told me, ‘don’t be afraid
    of being happy.’ I had to ask myself, was I afraid of being happy?
    What was I afraid of? I looked around me. I thought I was happy. I
    had many comforts and some success. I knew living means accepting things as they happen, and that not all of what happens in life is happy stuff. I was sure that I had acquired enough understanding to realize life is full of ups-and-downs and that I had found happiness through all that life dished out. Life had been very good to me; nonetheless, there has always been an underlying sense of not being completely happy, a sense that things should be better. This was a feeling I carried with me most of my life. On one hand I understand that suffering is derived from wanting and desiring, but on the other hand, how could I even possibly feel happy when there is so much suffering and injustice all around me? Was my compassion and empathy for other’s suffering an obstacle for experiencing happiness? I concluded that I knew a great deal about suffering, but very little about happiness.I certainly have experienced suffering, as all of us have. We love,we lose, hearts break, minor and major disappointments all occur as we travel through life. Happiness seems interwoven through all these tribulations, but our sorrows make up most of our emotional burden that only is occasionally lightened by the presence of happiness.
    Why is suffering so easily grasped on to and carried by us when
    happiness is so elusive to our grasp and is so fleeting in its
    experience? Wouldn’t it seem that both would be equally as easy, or
    equally as difficult, to hold on to? What possibly would make me fear happiness? Perhaps I was attached to suffering because it was so readily available. It always seems to be around when we look for it, why not happiness? I look around for happiness. Yes, there it is in
    nature’s beauty, in deep contemplation, in a baby’s smile, however, I
    failed in attaching myself to it like I was able to do with unhappiness. Think. Okay, the middle way, the Tao of living, the balance of all things equal attachment/un-attachment to both
    happiness and unhappiness. That type of understanding provides a path where I can be equally unaffected by both emotions. I’ve walked that path and thought I had overcome suffering, and that led me here to the role of the fool. It worked for a while. I could face each and call it that. That’s that, and that’s that. The long thing is the long body of Buddha, the short thing is the short body of Buddha, I’m Buddha, you’re Buddha. But damn it, I still like happiness better, even after experiencing, at times, the perfection of the Tao, the perfection of all creation. Think, think, boil it down. We each have a responsibility to ourselves for how we want to feel. Just as I can never be responsible for your unhappiness or you for mine; no one can be responsible for each other’s happiness. We all need to accept our own personal, individual responsibility towards attaining happiness. This is true in every sense and, of course, we all are waking up to that. Great. So have I answered the question? Why am I afraid to be happy? Because in this culture, if you go around being truly happy, they will lock you up. It’s about as simple as that.
    For me to be really happy all of the time, then the rest of the world needs to be happy too. Really, what choice do I have? What is keeping the world unhappy? Each of us in our own way may have found this inner happiness, but if you are like me, you find the unhappiness of the world at large as a hindrance towards the type of happiness that only comes when the entire world is vibrating at a higher positive energy. What can I do to help raise that energy on a global scale?
    You create your own reality. Yes, each individual reality experienced by an individual is entirely created by that individual, whether through highly attuned conscious activity or subconsciously experienced through the filters of our senses. Either way, asleep or completely awakened, we are physically manifesting our reality. I’ve tried it both ways. Awakened, I’ve not been able to step out of the shadow of the collective suffering of humanity; awake it is more as if we crate c-r-a-t-e our reality. The effort of creating becomes burdensome when we realize that we also share in the creation of all the suffering that lingers deep inside each of us.
    Being asleep, on the other hand, we effortlessly create our reality
    in our dreams. Oh, if only life was like a dream, effortless creation
    continuously. Wouldn’t it be nice if we shared in a collective dream
    where we could creatively create instead of a crating around a
    collective reality that is supported by our shared ignorance of any
    alternative? Of course, there we have it. By recognizing that we share in this ignorance, we can awaken to the dream. Once the dream is identified, it can be changed. This dream can end and another one
    can begin. How simple is that?”
    The entire time Bob was speaking, Rogerdonia was astutely typing in phrases and points of emphasis into his laptop making the words appear on the stage’s backdrop. Who’s Afraid to be Happy? Your Happiness is Your Responsibility. Do You C-R-A-T-E Your
    Own Reality? DREAM A NEW DREAM.
    Bob looked up from his notebook and out over the sea of people. “Perhaps it’s not all that hard. We just stop dreaming one dream, and start dreaming another. But to make that switch from the old dream to the new dream, we must pass through a moment of complete
    stillness. We must stop and see with our souls our old dream and turn away from it, and then, focus on our new dream. Quick, don’t just do something! Sit there! Stop, look and then move forward.
    Ideas are the seeds of dreams. All of us here share this idea of
    collective individual sovereignty. We have moved into the perfect
    moment when a single idea can be shared simultaneously aided by our new technologies. An idea, a seed, can grow within each of us and together we create a new dream that flowers from our hearts. We dream a world of working together as enlightened individuals, people operating from the power of personal freedom that will bring forth helping, sharing, giving, receiving, loving and laughter, comfort and sympathy, a dream not c-r-a-t-e-d by us, rather, a dream that is shaped by our common sharing of the idea of free individual sovereignty, the idea that we each need to take care of our own selves, and the only way to do that is by taking care of each other.
    We now journey forward with a new opportunity before us. I am so thankful that I get to be a part of this; I am thankful for being able to share an idea with all of you. I am thankful for all of you. Thank you.”
    Behind him, displayed in red, white and blue were the words rippling in a digital wind, From Boblovia with Love that transitioned into 222 Revolution The New Dream Begins February 22nd. A cacophony of horns, cheers, and shouts of 222 vibrated ever louder. Rogerdonia fed the tumultuous sound back through the PA increasing the crescendo to a deafening roar. With another touch of a button he cued the dazzling display of patriotic fireworks. It was fucking amazing.

  • Happiness attracts success. Most successful people are not happy, because they stressed themselves out so much while becoming successful. They want to be around happy people to hopefully learn the secret of happiness.

    Fake it ’til you make it. If you always seem to have a grin on your face like the cat that ate the bird, people will wonder what secret makes you so happy, inviting you to inner circles, eventually making you as happy as you’ve pretended to be.

  • dimitri

    From Universityland, the Land of the Pampered and Well Fed, a.k.a. La La Land of NHI grants, comes more hypothetical advice. If you can procure Enlightenment in nine hours like a good Buddha, then you can probably master these 11 (?) steps. (One more and it becomes a Twelve Step Self Realization Program.)

    The old news is that happiness is the top of the mountain from which the necessary descent is steep and perilous.

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