The habit of happiness

Happiness is in our nature. We are born with the ability to be happy. And then life happens. Our life experiences affect our attitude about happiness. They influence how much we believe we deserve happiness or convince us we don’t deserve it. Especially in stressful situations like caregiving, feelings of happiness can be rare!

A happiness set point

Research suggests that we each develop a happiness “set point”—a level of happiness or unhappiness that is our usual attitude. Like a bad habit, we may feel at the mercy of our happiness quotient. But like a habit, it can be broken and reset to a new level.

Happiness training

If caregiving has taken your level of happiness down a few notches from usual, or you would like to raise your set point a bit, some simple mental exercises can help. Far from self-help mumbo jumbo, research has shown brain training to be effective.

Make strategic choices

You wouldn’t start training for a marathon with a 26-mile run. Similarly, there are many ways to strengthen your happiness. Be choosy about which happiness exercises you try first.

  • Start with a quick win. Some exercises are more difficult than others. For instance, mindfulness techniques are very effective. But they take time to master. Instead, try an easier strategy, such as consciously savoring an experience you enjoy. Extend the pleasure by telling others about it.
  • Pick a strategy that is fun. In happiness studies, researchers found some strategies were considered more fun than others. For instance, study participants reported that reflecting at the end of the day on three things that went well was more enjoyable than practicing forgiveness.
  • Get the biggest bang for your efforts. Some strategies are more effective than others. Exercising, for instance, is a proven winner in terms of improving mood quickly. Plus it has other health benefits.