By Catherine DiBenedetto
You can actually choose to feel happier every day -- that's the simple premise behind the new Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness. It's the work of Amit Sood, MD, chair of the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo, who has devoted his career to learning how we can live with less stress and more joy. His conclusion: Happiness is a habit that you can build over time. Here are six ways you can start today, as outlined in Dr. Sood's book.
Think charitably about others
Often when we meet someone new, we unconsciously size her up: We focus on physical details (what she's wearing, how attractive she is) and assess possible threats (she dresses better than you, she's prettier than you). But every time you do that, Dr. Sood writes, "you deplete yourself of vital energy." Instead, remind yourself that this person is inevitably dealing with the unique challenges of her life, whatever they might be, and send her a silent blessing: I wish you well. Happiness starts with kindness, he explains, because when you treat others generously, you naturally feel better yourself.
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Accept your transience
Dr. Sood has known several terminal patients who were the happiest they'd ever been in their last six months: "Each entire day became a flow experience," he writes. The truth is, we all have limited time (an average of 28,740 days, to be precise), and by 2115, almost everyone alive now will be gone. But that shouldn't be a depressing thought: "When you recognize that you are a transient traveler on this planet, you'll take the more scenic route," Dr. Sood says. By that, he means you'll find it easier to live in the present, appreciating the beauty of your life--and feel a whole lot happier in the process.
Ask yourself: Will this matter five years from now?
A nasty email, a parking ticket, a loss on an investment -- any of these would have ruined Dr. Sood's day when he was younger, he admits in the book. "But now I try my best to choose a different response. I zoom out of the experience," he writes. If the unpleasant event or situation won't matter five years from now, he doesn't let it matter in the moment.
Reframe negative thoughts
As you rush to check off items on an ever-growing to-do list, you think, I hate being so busy. But the trick, according to Dr. Sood, is to halt that unpleasant thought and try to find the silver lining of your workload. For example, you might tell yourself, I'm grateful to be able to help so many people. Or, I'm grateful my clients have so much confidence in me. Or, I'm grateful to be able to work from the comfort of my home. "With practice your gratitude threshold changes," he writes. "You become automatically grateful for the many little--and larger--gifts that life offers."
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Find what went right within what went wrong
Dr. Sood cites Matthew Henry, an 18th century Bible scholar, as someone who understood this notion well. After his purse was robbed, Henry wrote this in his journal: "Let me be thankful, first because I was never robbed before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed." Whether you've been mugged or injured, passed over or laid off, acknowledging that things could be worse helps preserve your energy (and sanity), according to Dr. Sood, so you can better focus on fixing the problem.
Practice an emotion-releasing exercise
Old hurts and grudges tend to pile up in our minds--but it doesn't have to be that way. Like happiness, forgiveness is also a choice, Dr. Sood reminds us, though not an easy one. Letting go of anger can sometimes take a great deal of time and effort, which is why he suggests using emotion-releasing exercises like this one to help you along: The next time you're at the beach, write any grievances you have in the sand close to the shore. Then step back and watch the waves wash the words away. Keep that imagery in your mind. Replay as needed.