Jan was recovering from major surgery. She was depressed because she didn’t have the energy to enjoy her previous active lifestyle.
Jan loves to be on the go. She’s always meeting friends for golf, for lunch and shopping, for an hour at the gym, an afternoon at the movies. She takes classes and attends workshops and loves to entertain. And now it was all she could do to get dressed in the morning and stroll around the block. She was frustrated and bored.
As we played with finding a way to reframe her situation so she could more easily embrace it, I asked her how she felt about the trying to adopt a mindset of contentment.
“I hate it!” she spat out such vehemence that I laughed in stunned surprise. Personally, I love contentment. It’s one of my favorite feelings. It had never dawned on me that anyone could find it as distasteful as Jan apparently did.
Eventually we came up with the phrase “joyful ease” to represent a mindset she could enjoy cultivating. She could learn to go slowly buoyantly, she decided, floating with ease on her way to greater stamina and strength.
The Flavors of Happiness
That experience with Jan showed me that, just as we all have our own set of personal strengths, we have our personal preferences for particular flavors of happiness, too.
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson In her landmark book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life identifies ten primary positive emotions. Each of them has the power to make us feel upbeat or uplifted. In other words, they’re the different flavors that we group together in the big category, “Happiness.”
Read through the following list of the primary positive emotions slowly, and as you do, try to sense how each one feels in your body. Notice which ones seem to hold a special attraction for you, which ones shine more brightly or resonate more clearly with you. Which ones make your happiness taste buds tingle?
Finding Your Own Brand of Happiness
Your happiness preferences aren’t inborn, fixed traits, and you’re capable of enjoying every one of the positive emotions. But you’re likely to experience some of them more frequently or more deeply than others.
I have a cousin, for example, who meets life with enormous humor. He has a real talent for finding fun in almost any situation. And he creates fun in unexpected ways, too. At a family wedding, he once gave a loud wolf-whistle right in church as the mother of the bride walked down the aisle.
No doubt, he would find himself strongly identifying with the emotions of amusement and joy.
Identifying which flavors of happiness feel most natural or familiar to you will help you notice them more often.
All of the positive emotions have in common that they don’t linger long. They’re like brief passages of music that play on our inner radios and then float away. They may impact our mood and color the feel of our day, but they’re fleeting in themselves, all too often gone and forgotten before we consciously registered their presence.
However, when we notice them as they’re happening, we can choose to savor them, to give them our full attention and to immerse ourselves in them. That makes them more vivid and allows their particular harmony to reverberate inside us with greater richness.
When you know what kinds of happiness you most enjoy, you’re also in a better position to create experiences that will produce them. You can intentionally make time to spend doing the kinds of things you’ll genuinely enjoy.
How to Build More Happiness
The key to experiencing more happiness is to simply pay more attention to those times when it dances into your life.
Start by deciding which of the ten primary flavors are your “signature” happiness feelings. Focus on those for a while, using as many of the activities below as you like. Then, over time, experiment with adding more flavors, one or two at a time, until you’re fully aware of them all.
- Try beginning each day with a conscious intention to notice when you’re experiencing one of your signature flavors of happiness. Notice what triggered it. And in the evening, take a moment to replay your happiness moments, savoring the memory of them.
- After you’ve identified your preferred flavors of happiness, pick one or two to focus on for the next week or so. Focusing on one of them at a time, think of a time when you were feeling that feeling. Let yourself recall as many details of the situation as possible—the physical surroundings, who was with you, what the weather was like or what the room was like, the colors and sounds around you. Make your focus feeling as intense as you can. Then notice how it feels in your body, and say to yourself, “This is [name the feeling].” Pay special attention to how your face feels. Then, as you go through the week, let your body signal you when it is feeling the same way and you’ll be able to enjoy the current happiness more fully.
- To broaden your awareness of your signature happiness feelings, you may want to look each of them up in a thesaurus (thesaurus.com) and scout out other feelings that fall in the same family. My favorite, “contentment,” for instance, is a member of the “serenity” family.
- If you want some variety in your happiness practice, write each of the ten primary emotions on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in small basket or bowl. Draw one out at random each morning and let it be your focus of the day. Watch for it, and enjoy it when it appears.
- Play with keeping a happiness log or journal where you jot down what positive emotions you experienced during the day and what triggered them.
- Create a family ritual where each member shares his or her happiness stories with each other over a meal. Or enlist a friend to be your happiness buddy and exchange happiness stories on a regular basis. (Research shows that simply sharing happy stories increases happiness, by the way. This one is truly a win-win.)
- Share a happiness experience on your favorite social media site every day
What we focus on expands in our experience. Let yourself play with your signature happiness feelings daily and they’ll grow by leaps and bounds.
Research shows that happiness is contagious by at least three degrees. When you’re happier, so are your friends, and your friends’ friends, and their friends. So by expanding your own experience of happiness, you’re literally making the world a happier place. You can rightly consider being happy a public service.
Most of all, expand your happiness because it adds richness and health and well-being to your life –in all the flavors that are most delicious for you. As Houston auto dealer Tommie Vaughn says, “You only get one go at it… might as well Rock it.”
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Remember, sharing happy stories boosts your level! If you enjoyed this article, pass it along to your network.
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photo by hortongrou