The Habit of Happiness

We tend to think that happiness is something that we need to strive for, but this just makes it continuously around the corner – and thus, never attainable.

Happiness isn’t a one-time destination; it is a habit. A lifestyle, if you will.

Once you get into the hang of it, it’s just like brushing your teeth – you are in the habit of doing it because you have been doing it ever since you were a little kid.

But brushing your teeth is a physical activity, your mind thinks – I have learned it, and practiced this skill, so that is why I can do it now. Happiness is a feeling, so how do I make it suddenly poof out of thin air?

Same answer: Practice.

(You know, unhappiness is a habit, too. Are you unconsciously in that habit?)

Emotions are habitual. They are our accustomed reactions to situations, ingrained in us over time. (Your friend is late again; you are angry and feel unappreciated). Though changing them is hard (and unfamiliar and shakes our current reality), it is possible. And the only way to change them is one step at a time, one instance at a time, one conscious effort at a time. (Your friend is late again; you feel the anger coming on, you breathe, and decide to think of something you enjoy. You relax and feel a sense of joy. You let the anger go. You choose this new reaction and continue to reinforce it each time the situation occurs to replace your old reaction of anger.)

There are larger, umbrella, habits which are supported by the structures of smaller habits. So, using the earlier example of brushing your teeth, you could say that the larger habit is the “habit of health”, and the smaller habit of brushing your teeth is a component of that. When you exercise regularly, eat well, take care of your personal hygiene, you are in the habit of health. To get there, you start with one component, let’s say personal hygiene, and in particular, brushing your teeth. Then you break it down further into each moment you brush your teeth. And you do it regularly, until it becomes a habit.

If happiness is the umbrella habit, what are the smaller elements that compose it for you? Maybe it is “happiness is spending quality time with loved ones” or “letting anger go and letting joy in” or “taking a moment to myself and just being.”

There is no negative reality here that you need to cling to. (By being angry at your friend who is always late, you are not changing the fact that she is always late, you are not “punishing” her – you are taking away from your own enjoyment of life.)

You get to create your own reality. One step at a time.

It’s about accepting what is in the moment, and choosing how to react to it that will give you a good feeling. And doing that over and over and over again until you don’t have to think about it anymore – it will just become a habit.

A way to go about this is to notice the many small habits that bring about unhappiness in your life and counteract them as they happen in the moment. Habits like complaining, reacting negatively, worrying, having a pity party, etc. all support unhappiness.

So, when you start to complain – stop. Mention what is positive about the situation (honestly and genuinely and with feeling). When you start to have a pity party – stop. Play a happy song, talk to a friend, or look a pretty picture. Any small step gets you in forward motion.

Your habit of happiness will get strengthened (as habits do) every time you do it.