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from the University of Leicester looked at more than 1 00 studies that tracked self-reported happiness around the world. Canada ranked 10th, behind nations like Denmark, Switzerland and Austria, while the United Sta tes lagged far behind in 23rd place. If we want to move up in the ranks, it s time to focus on things that are proven to positively impact on how we feel. 1. Focus on the present One thing we know from positive psychology is that we may be chasing the wrong t hings in the quest to feel better. We re really bad at predicting what makes us hap py, says Denise Clegg from the University of Pennsylvania (the world s first school to offer a master s program in positive psychology). We get caught up in future th inking and how things will be ideal once our conditions are met. That could be wh en you lose 20 pounds, land the perfect job or can afford a real Louis Vuitton b ag. People over-estimate the ability that material goods have to make us happy. B ut the feeling you get from them is temporary and fleeting, she says. The happies t among us already have this figured out. They don t exist in a world of if only or w hen I finally accomplish X, I will be more satisfied. Author and lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar cautions against the trap of living in the fu ture. In most cases, shortly after reaching some destination, we return to our ba se level of well-being, he wrote in his book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. Rather than allowing ourselves to remain enslaved by our pasts or futures, we must learn to make the most of what is presently in fr ont of us and all around us, he says, noting that a happier life is shaped experie nce by experience, moment by moment and not by single events. That doesn t mean we shouldn t have goals. According to Ben-Shahar, The primary objective of goals is to liberate you to enjoy the here and now, the journey. Ben-Shahar talks about selfconcordant goals, ones that are true to who you are and don t rely on extrinsic fac tors like trying to please your parents by becoming a doctor. He suggests settin g long-term goals with timelines, then planning daily and weekly activities to h elp you get there. 2. Put happiness on the agenda We need to have those times when we think about what it means to be happy, says Ia n Smith, a physician who writes and reports widely on health issues. Most of us operate at the speed of light, so it s easy to forget to check in with ourselves a bout our own happiness. The good news is you can grab the wheel and steer yourse lf in the right direction by building your personal roster of happiness-promotin g actions (things science types call intentional activities). If you re not sure w hat these things are for you, take a second and think about the things that you know make you feel good. Examples might be exercising, having a glass of wine wi th a friend, seeing a concert, playing with your kids or hosting a dinner party. Now write down as many as you can. This is your list of happiness triggers, and the trick is to regularly schedule a variety of them into your calendar. 3. Trust your neighbours If you lived on Wisteria Lane surrounded by desperate housewives, you might have good reason not to trust your neighbours. But otherwise, it increases our wellbeing to believe that people in general are much more honest and trustworthy tha n we may currently think, says John Helliwell from the University of British Col umbia. Going through life thinking that the world is a dangerous place and that p eople are evil is detrimental. This fear reduces our willingness to make social connections. We lose opportunities to connect. Evidence suggests that most people are inherently good, even when they don t trust others to be. A global poll asked participants about the likelihood of having t heir lost wallet with cash, photos and identification returned. Fewer than 25 pe rcent of Torontonians thought they d see it again. Maybe it s from watching too many
This simple ge sture. Reframe and take stock When setbacks happen. But that s not all: Becoming more optimistic also means you ll be physicall y and emotionally healthier. The actual probability was 3. Small gestures. Other recent research suggests that meaningful connections with close friends a nd family matter most on the happiness scale. Despite what we think. says a study in the British Medical Journal. As Smith explains. T o get going. more productive at work. have more close friends and spend less time alone than unhappy people. eye cont act. a smile and a wave. When Martin Seligman and his colleague Ed Diener studied the lives of the very happy. Another happy-person way to cultivate optimism is to keep a gratitude journal. create what some ca ll a helper s high. negative attitude about others. If you feel you lack close friends.episodes of CSI. As with any kind of training. Instead of being disappointed. Another global study tracked fear of robbery across 3 0 countries: 29 percent of respondents said they thought it was likely they woul d be burglarized in the next year.5 percent (inclu ding attempted robberies). view the detour as an opportunity t o pamper yourself with a long bath or re-watch episodes of Glee. or host a movi e night for friends. Seventy-seven percent of participants in a survey of 16 countries. steal a page from the extrovert s book to crea te a more substantial social life. and you ll even according to a study by the Mayo Clinic live longer. you can train your brain to fight negative thoughts. Try it yourself by committ ing to spending more time with people: Sign up for a salsa class. but we expect bad things to happen. Even if you re not predisposed to this glass-is-half-full outlook . look for the silver lining and believe things can get bette r. practice makes perfect. said that real-world contact was a greater source of joy than the virtual kind. start by writing down three to five things that went well each day and why. Gradually you will find you have more to write about be cause focusing on good things puts the brakes on poor-me-with-a-sad-empty-life t hinking. Missouri. 5. The study found extroverts tend to be happier than peopl e who had a neurotic. For eac h happy friend you have. he explains. extends the sort of friendly connections that put neighbours at ease and make them more trusting of one another. suggests research from Washington University in St. A University of Calif ornia research team studied people who performed various acts of kindness over a 10-week period and found participants reported significantly higher levels of h . Louis. At least as an experiment. A few close relationships are also more satisfying than a myriad of how s the weather? relationships or virtual friend s. the r eturn rate was 80 percent. When so mething bad happens. 6. talk to peop le in elevators and buses. a feel-good buzz that has lasting effects. like giving flowers or d onating a couple of hours of your time to the local library. Helliwell tried the experime nt in his own life. the probability of being happy yourself jumps by 9 perc ent. happy people see them as temporary blips from which they w ill bounce back. the lesson here is that the wo rld is generally a good place and it s in our best interests to act as if we truly believe that. Make close friends a priority Barbra Streisand got it right when she sang: People who need people are the lucki est people in the world. Helliwell suggests pu tting shyness aside in social situations. and provide that extra bit of consideration. Since trust and social connections are so closely related. when sharing public spaces. actively choose to reframe y our thinking. suggests Smith. But when the Toronto Star did an experiment last year in which 20 wallets were left around the city. Give to get You don t have to devote your life to working with the less fortunate in India (th ough that s very good. they found these people enjoy rich fulfilling soci al lives. 4. conducted by Coca-Cola. so the next time a rainy day threatens to spoil your afternoon in the park. It helps too if those relationships are with happy people. too) to feel good. complimenting new neighbours on their garden.
To remedy the situation. we fail to savour potential sources of happiness t hat may be all around us. This is modern life. generally. even when they may seem enticing. and when it comes to happiness. Tap into the power of no We are. he says . Happier Life. and it helps create stronger connections with people. and one of the ways to do it is to be less consumed by technology. We often say yes to others. There c an be too much of a good thing. We need to simplify our lives. a nd that you will feel more energetic and focused. Being good to others can also boost yo ur sense of self-worth. says Ben-Shahar. He also recommends settling for good enough rather than perfect. says Ben-Shahar. What if you played t hem both at the same time? You wouldn t be able to truly appreciate or hear either one. too busy. thereby saying no to ourselves.appiness. trying to squeeze more and more activities into less and less time. friends. The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer. we will pay a price. he suggests t urning down some opportunities. Contributing to the greater good and giving of yourself adds that layer of importance to life. seven days a week. even one month after the study. So many people ask me. He gives the example of listening to two of your favourite songs. 7. first one. less is often mo re. That was Ben-Shahar s experience one that led him to explore the topic further in his 2009 book. you may find a good-enough approach provides relief. work. but if we have too m any of those right things. For Ben-Shahar it s not just about what we do but also how much we do: We can be do ing all the right things that would normally make us happy. When you revise you r expectations of yourself. positive psychology is not happy-ology . The answer is the exact same reason t hat you don t enjoy listening to those two pieces of music simultaneously. . but true meaningfulness. then the other. It s focused on not just pleasure. it s okay not to have o ur phones on 24 hours a day. Why aren t I happy? I have so many things going for me family. An d as Seligman put it in one 2008 lecture. Consequently. It s okay not to check emails for a couple hours at a time.
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