What do optimists all have in common? You’re about to find out. We asked some of today’s leading positive psychologists and happiness gurus for the secrets behind their smiles, and share with you their simple strategies for getting—and staying—happy.
Avoid the Negative and Reaffirm the Positive
At one point or another, we all fall into the trap of putting ourselves down. “You might hear yourself say, ‘Why am I so stupid?’ or ‘I’m a total failure’,” says Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, author of Happier and a psychology professor at Harvard University. The key is to catch yourself. The next time this happens, acknowledge the negative phrase as untrue and unrealistic, and try replacing it with a more reasonable thought, such as “I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped.”
Take a Breather
Deep breathing and relaxation techniques can help with a variety of stress-related health problems, which range from panic disorders to depression. Next time you find yourself feeling stressed out, try the following exercise: Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds; exhale the breath through your mouth for eight seconds, again making a whooshing sound. Repeat three more times. (Find this and other stress-reducing breathing exercises at drweil.com)
Reach Full Self-Acceptance
One moment you view yourself as a powerful career woman, in the next, a loving wife or friend. Do you like one role better than the others? Experts say it’s healthy and worthwhile to try and embrace all aspects of your life. “Just as fruits and vegetables ripen into maturity, we also need to fully ripen into our own self-acceptance,” says Sue Patton Thoele, psychotherapist and author of The Mindful Woman. This week, try to get more comfortable in your own skin.
Make the Best of It
We find ourselves waiting in line constantly—in the grocery store, at the DMV, in the pharmacy—and our stress levels seem to rise with every lost second. But what if you shifted your perspective and began to look at waiting time as free time? “When I’m waiting, I do meditation, talk to a neighbor in line, flip through a magazine or use the time to reflect on my day,” says Jay Winner, MD, author of Stress Management Made Simple. Take a cue from the expert and make potential times of stress a time to indulge.
Reward Yourself for a Job Well Done
The outside world may not always celebrate your successes, so if you’re feeling unappreciated, consider rewarding yourself. For instance, if you finish paying an enormous stack of bills and no one thanks you, think of something special you can do for yourself. And, whenever possible, try and engage in activities that are self-satisfying, such as painting or writing in a journal, says Dr. Ben-Shahar. Think of a self-rewarding activity you can do tonight to increase your joy.
Remember, Tolerance is a Virtue
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been rude. People almost always act rudely because they are suffering, says Dr. Winner. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be more likely to respond toward others with empathy instead of anger. Next time you find yourself dealing with Miss Rude, try forgiving her behavior in your mind. You will be surprised at how drastically this reduces inner feelings of hostility and resentment.
Love and Be Loved
One of our most prominent feminine qualities is the natural ability to connect to others. “That’s our juice,” says Thoele. “We love to be understanding and helpful, and possess a strong aptitude for communicating our feelings.” Each day, choose to act in a loving manner toward someone else, no matter how you feel; you’ll find that this fosters deep connections, which in turn will help you achieve authentic happiness.
Remember Words of Wisdom
Try this reframing exercise from Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with a Heart: Close your eyes and think of a stressful situation. Now, imagine a wise person in your life, whether it’s a parent, a religious figure or even a television personality, and visualize what they would say and do in this situation. As you reflect on their advice, recognize that this is your own inner wisdom—and take comfort in the fact that you had the ability to handle the situation all along.
Keep Life Simple
Sometimes your life is more complicated than you can actually handle, says Thoele. When you simplify your life, it’s much easier to reconnect with what makes you most happy. Be mindful of feeling overwhelmed: If you find yourself racing from minute to minute, consider finding a way to readjust your schedule. “If you’ve been out every night this week, and then someone offers you tickets to a play, it is time to say no,” says Thoele. In these moments, choose yourself over yet another activity.
Soldier Through Life
Just as a prisoner of war must survive the brutal conditions of imprisonment while retaining faith that good will eventually prevail, people must face day-to-day realities while maintaining a sense of hope, says Dr. Ben-Shahar. Those who are able to master this will be the happiest in the long run. Next time you are met with a challenge, encourage yourself to be realistically hopeful. Increase your awareness of this practice by finding new ways to spread hope to others.
Experience how a sense of gratitude can have a profound effect on your life by trying this mental exercise: Over the course of the day, look for things you can be grateful for, whether they’re large or small, says Dr. Winner. Then, make one of the following statements to yourself, staying mindful of how it makes you feel: “I am grateful to have (blank),” “Thank you for (blank)” or “I feel privileged to have (blank) in my life.”
Trust in Yourself
“Trust can be an effective antidote for fear and insecurity in your life,” says Thoele. Experts practice disidentification, a technique that helps you recognize that fear is not who you are, but something that you can change. Simply take a moment to breathe in and consider that you are much more than any fearful feelings you have—whether rejection, failure or abandonment—to free yourself from their grip.