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We have been taught that happiness ‘happens' when something good occurs; we all know how to recognise it, but we've neglected to learn how to prime ourselves for happy feelings and rather, tend to just wait for them to come to us. For example, the concept of practising healthy eating habits and working toward better fitness is familiar to all of us, yet we rarely put the same effort into creating happiness-building habits.
Positive psychology is, at least in part, about taking a proactive approach to creating happiness rather than just waiting for it to happen; it's also about finding out and building on what already works rather than just fixing what's broken. Though habits take time to develop, you will, with some effort and discipline, find happiness is easy to achieve if you employ the following strategies. Being happy, as you will see, is as simple as brushing your teeth! Here are some tips to help you create happiness.
1 Have a system in place
Most people know what they should do to live a healthier and happier life. To be fitter and healthier, for example, everyone knows they should eat less fat, sugar and salt, eat more fruit and vegetables and exercise more. Recognising the changes we have to make is not rocket science.
So why do so few people do these things well? The reason is that few people have an effective system in place to achieve change. If you want to develop healthier habits you are far better equipped to succeed if you use a strategy.
Rather than embarking on a regime which aims simply to do away with bad habits, you need a system which at the same time replaces these with new, helpful habits. You will be far more likely to eliminate existing bad habits if you substitute them with positive habits - much in the same way that people who are overweight often have more success losing weight if they substitute undesirable foods with healthier foods, rather than just not eating.
Identify when it is you typically engage in a negative behaviour, and put in place a plan to alter this behaviour in that setting. For example, if you find that your healthy eating plan tends to fail when you eat out at restaurants, find out about the menu before you go, and make a healthy choice in advance. Habits are built into our routine, and often we don't consciously think about engaging in certain sorts of behaviour. Once you single out the circumstances in which you are most likely to revert to ‘old' behaviour, you are able to plan to prevent it.
Reward yourself for making positive changes, and for trying to engage in healthy and productive activities. Remember that even if you are only successful half of the time, you are still training yourself for the future.
2 Train your body and your mind
Most of us recognise that the busy, corporate lifestyle of today takes its toll on the health of society in general. When our bodies are out of shape, functioning poorly and suffering the effects of stress, it is very hard for us to be happy. Those who put effort into exercising, treating their bodies kindly and taking the time to relax are training not only their physique but also their mind to function more efficiently and maximise its capacity for happiness.
3 Beauty doesn't equal happiness
The reality is that ‘beautiful' people are not necessarily any happier than the rest of us. Despite what many people think, being more attractive will not increase our happiness. So, unless you're significantly over- or underweight, or unless your body is ‘unhealthy', accept your body, your face, your hair colour and all the other things that are ‘you', for what they are.
Studies have shown that each person has an inbuilt weight range which they naturally return to. Similarly, you have an inbuilt happiness range within which you move, regardless of your body shape. The level of your happiness is much easier to alter than your physique, so start by identifying what it is that you like about your body.
Avoid thinking about your body as merely an object, but as a vessel or machine that allows you to be active, to perform tasks and to be affectionate toward those you love. Athletic bodies are not always skinny - swimmers require a level of body fat to improve their buoyancy, and downhill skiers require bulky quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles to counteract the forces operating on them as they descend at high speeds. The point is that each athlete maximises their existing strengths and engages in a sport that exploits their natural physicality.
4 Love yourself
We know from research, and you will know anecdotally, that the happiest people tend to have lots of friends, build supportive relationships and often spend time with other happy people. Building lasting and loving relationships is not solely about the other person, but begins with yourself. Understanding your own needs and styles of communication are as important as learning to convey your affection and emotions, as well as building trust. Great friendships do not just happen, but require investment and maintenance. One of the most unlimited sources of happiness, relationships are the cornerstones of who we are and how we live our lives.