Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
Yesterday I woke up and looked outside as a hummingbird danced at the bird feeder. I wondered if the hummingbird feels happiness. What is Happiness? A thousand ideas floated by me – a big yellow emoji to a double rainbow and the faces of my loved ones – before my doggies pounced on me with hugs and kisses.
As I started my day, I had a recollection of how my life has improved a little bit each day as I immersed myself in my own recovery as an adult child and family member of an alcoholic parent. Maybe my happiness comes from knowing where I’ve been and living my truth each day.
Today, I define happiness as a feeling of contentment and peace about oneself. It is the emotional response that the world is okay, there are better days ahead – some would call that hope – and there’s room for possibility. I am ok. I am good enough.
Sure, anyone can have a bad mood, a boss yell at them, a horrible date, or like the book and experience a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day and still find a slice of happiness. True happiness lives in the moments when we feel good about ourselves, our purpose, our passion and our relationships with others.
Still, in my many years as an educator, social worker and interventionist, I’ve seen how those who foster a foundation of happiness while in recovery not only stay committed to their well-being, they create lasting happiness in all parts of life. So what’s the trick?
In recent years, behavioral healthcare scientists and researchers have looked at the science of happiness and their research has uncovered steadfast truths about how we live and interact in an increasingly hyper-connected world. These science-backed truths can help you find happiness and live your best life.
For instance, Business Insider reports that “40% of our happiness is under our control.” That’s a huge amount of control we have over our own happiness! The other 60% is attributed to external factors such as the behaviors of others, unforeseen events and genetics. The key insight is that nearly half of what makes us happy – through our daily activities, thoughts, and interactions with friends, family and coworkers – gives us the power to harness happiness.
The following looks at these behaviors to unlock how we can live happier lives. In conjunction with Time Magazine’s Special Edition on The Science of Happiness, top-notch researchers from UC Berkeley to Harvard Business school and beyond, pulled together key findings related to behaviors that bring a spirit of happiness. Through these mental and physical exercises, happiness can be achieved when these practices are nurtured and cherished in daily living, through recovery, and lasting into our twilight years.
For many of us, there is an assumption that happiness only comes from life’s major milestones — weddings and birthdays, going to college and grad school, first cars and homes, vacations and kids. This false narrative – coupled with the idea that we have to constantly move to accomplish our goals, foregoing happiness, enduring stress and weathering negative feelings – may be why many Americans feel overworked and stressed out. Let’s break through these assumptions, be curious, and take a look at the ways we may discover and ignite happiness:
According to Brene Brown’s article published in Psychology Today, who references nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s research on the four attributes of empathy, there’s a lot we have in our power to use empathy toward a happier well-being:
In focusing on the good stuff, happiness can be achieved by letting go of our past, which may be marred with unpleasant emotions, memories or trauma. Thus, making amends with ourselves and others, and for past actions received and given, the good stuff comes into sharp focus. Once we’ve done that, in concert with exercising the above mentioned daily happiness-building practices, we can look forward to a better tomorrow.
Researchers have come a long way in understanding how humans develop resilience and use it in their lives to weather life’s tough storms. In 1955, Emmy Werner, a developmental psychologist, formed a team from UC Berkeley to create the most important longitudinal study in the field of resilience research.
The 40-year project looked at nearly 700 children in Kauai, Hawaii, who had alcoholic parents. Turns out many of the children “adapted exceedingly well over time.” Werner and her research team found the following ways the children thrived when faced with adversity:
The key to building resilience? A stable support system. “Very few highly resilient people are strong in and by themselves. You need support,” says Steven Southwick of the Yale School of Medicine. Moreover, these tenets for building strong resilience are the very things that 12-Step support groups use in recovery. Turns out, recovery and resilience go hand-in-hand!
What else can you do to build strong resilience? Here are expert tips:
Gratitude – in big ways and small – scientifically helps us feel happier. It’s true: “research suggests [a spirit of gratitude] is beneficial to our bodies and brains. People who are regularly grateful – who acknowledge the goodness in life and the sources of it – are generally healthier and happier.”
Like empathy, gratitude is developed through mindfulness. Giacomo Bono, an adjunct professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills says, “gratitude is the most changeable character strength because it’s about mindfulness – something anyone can do.”
What is mindfulness? In my studies and teachings on the topic, I’ve come to define mindfulness as the conscious awareness of the present moment and the people in it. According to my findings on mindfulness, featured in my keynote presentation on the topic, here’s what mindfulness can do for you:
The key to mindfulness is giving all your attention to what you are doing; to be present, rather than dwell on the past or future. It’s easy for our minds to drift – “How do I make my mortgage payment next month?” to “Why did my sister get all the attention growing up?” to “I’m never going to go on another date again.” – so much that we’re distracted from the moment before us. Beginning with meditation – the touchstone of mindfulness, says researchers – ten minutes a day can get you going toward being more present.
So how do mindfulness and gratitude work in sync? Through mindfulness – a focus on the now – we’re present from the distractions in our lives. When we do that, look to the things that bring us positive feelings in the form of being grateful for what matters. Here are ways to feel grateful for each and every day:
In my many years as an interventionist and social worker, I’ve seen that happiness is a muscle that must be exercised and practiced with each passing day – in recovery and beyond. With these new tools in your toolbox, you can flex happiness and embrace life’s challenges.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com