what makes you happy?

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

I find joy most days and in most situations. I am generally optimistic and look for the best in people. My faith tells me God is good and so are His plans. Even so, sometimes sadness or stress lands heavy on my shoulders.

The other day an article captured my attention. It offered four practical activities, supported by neurology, that will help make us happy. The four actions are not difficult to apply, even if we are not brain researchers, and they are simple yet powerful. I want to share them with you:

1. Ask, “What am I grateful for?

“Gratitude makes us feel better” + “A grateful attitude improves our mood and increases our energy” = TRUTH. Gratitude activates our brain to produce dopamine and serotonin – chemicals that enable us to see rewards and take action to move toward them. As an additional benefit, when we are grateful for something or someone, those chemicals give us a natural “high” which motivates us to feel it again and so repeat the process.

The article also taught me something new:

Even when life is hard and we can’t find anything for our gratitude list…
it doesn’t matter! The simple act of searching has the same effect!

2. Name your negative feelings.

Pretending not to feel bad or suppressing negative emotions does not work to make us feel better, and sometimes has the opposite effect. Even if we can fake it on the outside, our internal limbic system is reacting.

On the other hand, if we voice our feelings, it reduces the amygdala reaction in our brain. Describing our emotions with a word or two helps diffuse the intensity.

We will increase our happiness
when we state how we feel when we are not happy.

**An interesting side note: Labeling is a primary tool used in hostage situations to diffuse negative emotions.

3. Make a decision.

Making decisions also calms the limbic system, reducing stress and worry. We do not have to make a perfect decision – a good enough decision will help. Deciding gives us a sense of control, and feeling in control reduces the stress hormone cortisol… and increases dopamine activity. In addition, if we do something because we “should” or because we “have to”, we do not get the same benefit.

We feel better when we choose to do something that produces a good result
than when something good happens by chance.

4. Touch people.

When we feel rejection in relationships, our brain circuitry reacts the same way it does for physical pain (activating the anterior cingulate and insula). We all need to feel love and acceptance.

Small touches like handshakes and pats on the back release oxytocin which activates pain-killing endorphins. Holding someone’s hand during a medical procedure lowers the discomfort level. Massage also increases dopamine and serotonin activtity. And the more we care for the person, the more their touch helps.

Hugs are powerful.

So there you have it. Four “easy” activities that can make you more happy. 🙂

Which of these activities can you practice today? What else makes you happy?

You might also want to read: got the gratitude attitude? or learning to be thankful

so grateful for…

sunrise Nicholas Tarling freedigitalphotos.netI woke up too early this morning. I was (more than) a bit grumpy since I really didn’t want to be alert at that hour, but almost immediately some special people came to my mind, and I decided to take advantage of the peaceful quiet to pray for them.

The minutes began to add up as more and more people filled my groggy thoughts, and my grumpiness began to convert into gratitude. I have many wonderful people in my life. They are kind and brave and fun and generous. I began to make a list; I am proud of so many of them…

My mom – Although I know she was afraid of the cancer diagnosis and almost ready to die because of the pain, she chose bravely to undergo the surgery and the chemo treatments. She is making the most of her good days with friends and family, often doing favors for others. It isn’t always easy, but she is strong and an encouragement to me.

My husband – He has traveled to take care of his dad this week; I know it is hard for him there. It is discouraging to experience his dad depressed and weak and sad, a shadow of the man he used to be… Despite the challenges, my husband is sacrificially serving his dad  – cleaning, cooking and being a companion. I miss him when he’s gone, but I am glad he is there with his dad.

My family – In my family and my husband’s family, there are others who do the major share of the care for our elderly parents. While we may fill in from time to time, they are present or on call almost every day. I am impressed by their willing hearts and their attention to innumerable details. I know it is frustrating and exhausting at times. They are my heroes.

My children – I am really proud of my children. They are each one very unique and gifted in so many ways. They are also imperfect and have all kinds of normal challenges and problems, but I love the adults they are becoming. I especially like that they love me too.

My friends – Both those from the past and my new friends from this year have added much joy to my life. I am inspired by their faith and their desire to grow and their determination to keep moving forward. Some of them have had to overcome some very difficult trials and hurts, but I see them committed to healing and wholeness and finding the strength to help others. I have received abundantly from their generous lives, and I am grateful for each one of them.

I never did get back to sleep… my list continued on and on, and I eventually realized it was a very blessed life I was waking up to meet. Not a bad way to start the day.

Who is on your grateful list? Who makes you proud?