Thursday, January 29, 2009

Eight Keys to Happiness

 by Thelma Mariano 

I visit my mother in a nursing home several days a week. Each time I leave I am grateful for being able to walk into the bright sunshine on my own two legs. There are so many things to be thankful for in my life – among them good health, my skills and abilities and caring relationships. I find that stopping to appreciate what I have helps me to stay positive and has a direct impact on how happy I feel.

A recent global survey published in USA Today indicates that the biggest happiness driver is not wealth, fame or even good looks. Participants in North America cited self-reliance, optimism and feeling good about themselves as more likely to bring lasting satisfaction.

I know that having everything handed to me would NOT make me happy. I need a certain amount of challenge and to feel that I am capable. I also must be free to make choices in my life, feel connected to others and do work that reflects who I am. While some people are genetically predisposed to being cheerful or depressed, I believe that our attitude can make an enormous difference.

During the last ten years, in my work on self-development I came up with a number of ways to increase my level of happiness. I later found that they worked equally well for others.

Here then are what I call my "eight keys to happiness." I practice them in my daily life and, as a life coach, share these keys with clients. They can work for you, too.

1. Be positive
Are you overwhelmed by a sense of dread every time you try something new? Happy people focus on what is possible rather than dwell on the chances for failure. They look at the lighter side and find humour even in sticky situations.

This also applies to inner judgments. Many of us are self-critical when we need to practice a little kindness towards ourselves. Observe your own thoughts – what do you tell yourself about how you are handling things? Maybe you did make a mistake, but you were exhausted.

2. Give yourself credit
Do you complete one project only to rush on to the next? Similarly you may meet challenges of a more personal nature, such as having a difficult conversation with a family member, without acknowledging your own effort. It's important to absorb the satisfaction from your achievements. I have a Victory Log to record all my successes, whenever I do something that's a stretch for me. I recommend that you start one as well. When you review it later, you'll be inspired by what you have done.

3. See the learning
When I am in a trying situation, I ask what I could be learning from it. For instance, looking after a parent with Alzheimer's forced me to develop my own strength and resourcefulness.

4. Find a way to contribute
Some people believe the world owes them – that they are entitled to "the good life" and all its benefits. They become bitter when setbacks occur and tangible rewards stay out of reach.

We need to ask ourselves – what can I offer others? What can I contribute to my family, my community or the world at large that is in line with my skills and abilities? I love this quote by Sarah Bernhardt, a flamboyant French actress in the late 1800s, "It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich."

5. Recognize and act on your values
Recognizing our life values, determining how we want to achieve them and taking steps to act on them is self-empowering. When you realize that you are doing what is most important to you, your happiness level shoots right up. For example, I used to wonder why I was still single until I saw that independence and personal growth are two of my top values. Realizing this helped me to more fully accept where I was.

6. Focus on what you WANT – and take steps towards it
No one likes feeling stuck. It is important to know what you really want and then take some action towards it. Even if progress is slow, you will FEEL better going in the right direction.

7. Allow yourself to dream
Hope is critical to our happiness, yet we often crush our own dreams for fear of being disappointed. Allow yourself to dream! Tapping into the power of your imagination will take you to a happier place and with time, you can make some of your dreams come true.

8. Enjoy life's small pleasures
No matter how stressed you are, take a break from your routine to admire the sunset or share coffee with a friend. It is the moments which make us happiest - yet how many of them slip by unnoticed?

This morning I cycled on a path along the St. Lawrence River, admiring the summer foliage and the great blue herons flying over the water. I could feel the sun on my face, the breeze in my hair and the pleasure of exercising my muscles. Whether I'm outdoors, working or listening to music, I find the more "present" I am in an activity, the more alive I feel.

About Author
Thelma Mariano, life coach and author, is dedicated to bringing clarity and direction to people's lives. See her on-line coaching programs, articles and column at http://www.u-unlimited.ca.


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