Happiness and the pursuit thereof is part and parcel of being human — yet many times we pursue it in ways that leave us feeling empty.
Part of the reason for this is how we define the word “happiness” — which Webster defines as sort of a one-off event, like winning the lottery or gaining access to the coveted corner office.
But for the purpose of this article, what I’m referring to is not happiness as much as it is a sense of well-being or contentment. Let’s face it, every day annoyances can take the giddy right out of happy in a heartbeat. But contentment is an overall feeling of satisfaction; it builds within us a resilience to those pesky annoyances so that we don’t slam up and down the happiness scale all day long – the emotional equivalent of riding Judge Roy Scream over and over again.
There are specific ways we can “practice” contentment and bring more peace and joy into our lives on a daily basis — here are a few of them:
- Nurture our spirits. It turns out that there’s science that backs this one up — a recent report in JAMA Psychiatry notes that there are structural changes in the cortex of the brain that occur in those who have spiritual or religious faith. In a recent study, adult children of parents with major depressive disorder were 90% less likely to MDD if spirituality or religion was highly important to them. And joining a monastery isn’t necessary — it can be as easy as incorporating meditation techniques, praying and/or writing in a journal.
- Exercise our bodies. Numerous studies have shown that exercise deals a major blow to depressive thoughts. Those feel-good hormones that produce “runner’s high” are very real. Additionally, exercise helps us sleep better, which also is critical to maintaining emotional stasis.
- Learn something new. Every time we master something, whether it’s learning to crochet, brushing up on a foreign language or getting a promotion at work, we confirm to ourselves that we have something to contribute, and that feels pretty good.
- Volunteering and/or random acts of kindness. Ask anyone who works in a soup kitchen or thrift store and they’ll tell you it really is more blessed to give than to receive, because it turns out, it really isn’t all about us.
- Practice gratitude. Remember when Oprah suggested keeping a gratitude journal? It may sound simplistic, but such a tool can be powerful. It really is all about perspective. I love Alanis Morisette’s “You Learn” because what ever we experience in life, we do just that, we learn, even from those annoyances that threaten to rain on our happiness parade.