If you clicked on this article wanting to know the secret to happiness, I hate to tell you that you won’t find it here. I truly don’t think there is a secret to happiness. Joy and fulfillment cannot be found in your fortieth hour of yoga, nor on the last mile of your walk, nor even in the smell of freshly baked cookies you just pulled out of the oven.
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Happiness cannot be bottled or bought, no matter what those enticing Christmas advertisements make you think, and it is not purely circumstantial. Happiness is a state of mind and a lifestyle that you make. There is no secret to happiness, but there are steps you can take to be happier.
Happiness is probably the most intangible feeling in the world. You feel love through your love language, you feel anger through the rush of emotions (and sometimes by letting it out), but feeling happy is like allowing a breeze to pick you up and guide you through your day. It’s a gentle nudge saying, “this is right” that comes to you randomly throughout your day. Happiness often doesn’t linger and it can’t be captured.
Choosing happiness means waking up every day and, no matter what you’re faced with, keeping a positive outlook on life. Happiness isn’t about faking it until you make it either – it’s finding the joy in the mundane. It’s waking up and deciding that the day will be good for you. And that’s what I did for an entire week.
The Math of Happiness
The good news is that humans are preprogrammed to feel happiness often. 60% of happiness is determined by outward circumstances — our environment and genetics. The other 40% is up to us. That means that we have almost half of the control over our emotions and can often train our brains to react positively to our situations.
While 60% of our happiness is governed by outside factors, that 40% can make a huge difference. This explains why some people who seemingly have ‘perfect’ lives are often depressed and lonely. They may have been relying on that 60% a bit too much and not giving the other 40% (whether it be mental health or other uncontrollable brain chemistry factors) enough attention.
Thankfully, though, happiness is the most frequently experienced human emotion. People experience positive emotions 2.5 times more than any other emotion. While the negative emotions are still valid and necessary, it is comforting to know that our brains are geared to feel positive emotions more.
Happiness or Toxic Positivity?
The irony that I’m writing an article about how to be happy is not lost on me. A little over a year ago, I was going through one of the toughest times in my life. But in the past year, I’ve found small ways to reframe my thoughts and become genuinely happier.
Am I happy every day? Absolutely not. I hate Mondays, the cold makes me angry, and SAD is real. But I have learned to choose joy any chance I can and I wanted to focus on that this week.
I truly believe that everyone wants to be happy. But there are times in life where we need to be sad. If we’re grieving a lost one or going through a job loss, it would be inhuman, ignorant, and toxic of me to suggest for you to just put on a happy face and move on.
One thing to note also is the time of year. Often, people feel very sad or lonely during the holidays. Holiday-centered depression is very normal, but for some reason, it comes with a ton of guilt. Many people want to feel joy at Christmas, but it’s not that easy.
When you feel bad about feeling sad, just remember that it’s completely natural to not be happy all of the time. Nothing is wrong with you and you don’t need to change. It’s okay and this season will pass.
This week, I tried to make a conscious decision to choose happiness every chance I got. I sought out activities, people, and exercises that would only grow my joy and improve my mood. Did I find the secret to happiness? No. But did I find small steps to take to make you feel happier? Absolutely.
Eat it Up
The old adage of “You are what you eat” is somewhat true. Food has a huge impact on our emotions and I feel that impact now more than ever. My partner knows if I’m in a bad mood, I just need a little food, and then I’ll be okay. So I made sure to stay fed and happy all week.
I started off the week very food-centered.
One food that was suggested to improve my mood was oranges, but only the smell. Without even planning it, I made a DIY orange and popcorn garland. Not only did the smell improve my mood, but it also helped me get into the festive spirit! Shockingly, drinking coffee is also a huge mood booster. Harvard did a study that found out women who drank two cups of coffee were at a 15% lower risk of depression than those who didn’t. Better double that up, because I’m on my fourth cup right now! Other studies included eggs, carbs, and chocolate as the secret ingredient to happiness. I enjoyed all of those with no hesitation whatsoever. I didn’t necessarily feel my serotonin levels boost, but I did feel comforted and well-fed after.
Work it Out
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Whenever I find a new weekly challenge, I always like to look for a way to incorporate exercise. I work out every morning, but this week I wanted the focus not to be on the workout, but the experience. Health.com says that the happiest people in the world don’t even call their workouts exercise. They just do it, feel the joy, and go on their way. So I focused on three different exercises that are the most cited to boost mental health.
One focus was yoga, which I already do every morning. Another endorphin-booster is dancing. I wanted to focus on two aspects of dance: the mindful part that often comes out when I do barre and the active and cathartic part that comes out when I’m jumping around to pop music. Another form of movement I wanted to practice this week is the ‘Hot Girl Walk.’ This trend emerged on TikTok in the past year and is either four miles long or 10,000 steps. It’s a time to focus on yourself, listen to the music or podcasts you want to hear, and just breathe. And if you’re afraid of the cold, you can do this inside or outside.
I loved focusing on exercise as an endorphin booster, rather than a way to lose weight. I loved that aspect and used the time I spent working out to focus on my mental health.
Readjust Your Focus
One thing that I was reminded of all week is that happiness is a state of mind. You can successfully train your brain to think on positive thoughts and not dwell on the negative. I’m not saying to be positive about every circumstance, but understand when it’s time to focus on the good and maybe put the bad away for a moment.
There are many ways to reframe your thoughts and retrain your brain. One mindful practice I tried this week was meditation. I absolutely love meditating every morning and going home for Thanksgiving break threw me off my mediation groove. Every morning this week, I pulled out my mediation app and allowed myself to get recentered. Meditating helped me gain control and awareness of my surroundings first thing in the morning and allowed me to keep control over my thoughts all day.
Another way I reframed my thinking to gear toward positivity is through my morning affirmations. Yes, doing daily affirmations was a previous Markey Tries It and one of my most favorite to date. Affirmations allow me to focus on the good in myself and elevate it through recognition.
Finally, when I get downtrodden in life and feel my thoughts begin a negative spiral, I do the ‘whatever challenge.’ This is something I made up completely a few years ago when my depression was at its worst, but it’s helped me through my darkest moments. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy — dwell on these things.” I learned this verse when I was eight years old and it’s helped me through my darkest times. I’ll simply work down the list and think of something true, honorable, just, etc., and then my mood will improve greatly because I’m focusing on the good in life. I tried this exercise a few times this week and it helped exponentially.
The holidays are the perfect time to get together with your friends and loved ones. While the happiest people are more than likely happy alone or in a crowd, everyone can benefit from friendship. Fostering close friendships can take a toll on your mental health sometimes, but it’s integral for us to maintain connections. Your friends impact the way you live life and how you react to problems. If your friends are negative and bring you down, you’ll more than likely adjust to their behavior and begin looking on the negative side of life as well.
One thing I focused on this week was my mood before and after I spent time with friends. While there will be times your friends need you to help them, it shouldn’t be a constant factor in the relationship.
I was blessed this week to have multiple instances of game nights, work nights, and date nights with my loved ones. I can often become very quiet and withdrawn without even knowing it. While companionship is something everyone needs, I think my introverted nature always gets in the way of me wanting to be around people every night.
However, this week I really focused on being present and grateful when I was with my friends. I was able to FaceTime my long-distance friends and have quality time with those who lived here in Nashville with me.
This is another hack to calm your anxiety (which, in turn, ought to make you happier). Finger tracing was popularized on TikTok by clinical psychologist Julie Smith. Finger tracing is exactly what it sounds like. You simply hold your hand out in front of you and trace your fingers from your thumb to your pinky and breathe! You really want to focus on your breath while you trace your fingers. Try to make your exhales longer than your inhales. One way you can track your breathing is to inhale at the top of your fingers and exhale as you slide up and down. Keep repeating this until you’re calm!
This trick works so well. I assume it works especially if you’re struggling with a panic or anxiety attack, but it also helped me right my mind and calm down a bit. There’s something about taking the focus off of your swirling thoughts and putting it on something like a menial task that calms you down. Plus, it’s kind of enchanting to watch.
Don’t Fake It
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I think one of the worst things you can do with happiness is faking it. A study showed that faking happiness can actually cause you to feel sadder in the long run. So don’t fake or force happiness. I truly believe the happiest people are the ones who allow themselves to feel and think through their emotions. Emotions come and go. They’re unreliable and they don’t linger too often. That being said, if you pretend like everything’s fine when it’s not, you might be stuck in a cycle of sadness.
If you’re unhappy, it’s not toxic or rude to attempt to change the situation. Express your emotions, think of a solution, and move on. We’re not meant to feel miserable every day. Surround yourself with people and loved ones who will make you feel true joy and will even go out of their way to help you experience it.
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I had some tough times this week. I’m human, I have struggles, and I deal with them. I woke up some days and was irrationally sad. I woke up other days and sprung out of bed. What matters is that I woke up. Every morning this week, I woke up, I got ready, and I peppered my day with happy moments.
Shockingly, I didn’t uncover the secret to happiness this week. But I did learn to let my negative emotions flow through and out of me. I learned that everything can hold joy and happiness in it, you simply have to look for those pockets of light and love.
I am happy. This week was fun. I didn’t do anything extravagant, honestly, I was in my pajamas almost all week. But I experienced so much joy and love and it fed my soul. So throughout the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, or whatever season you’re in, try to stop and recognize if what you’re doing is adding happiness to your life. Find joy in your everyday tasks. I promise you’ll feel better almost immediately.
Did you like this challenge? What should I try next? Comment below!
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