Your Midlife Pursuit of Happiness: Part 2 - HOW
How to increase your happiness – as researched by and tested on ME
If this is the first post you’re reading on the site or if you didn’t stop in last week, check out part one of this of this 2-part post for an interesting definition of happiness and why it’s such an important pursuit in midlife.
The list includes things that you may not have heard about before, or you may have heard about, but don’t practice or practice regularly.
These are practices that have had a huge impact on my happiness and lead to me becoming happier every day.
Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.
1. Set boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries isn’t something that we are taught to do when we are young. Until recently, I wasn’t even really aware of what it meant to set boundaries.
We can set physical, emotional, and mental boundaries to establish that we are separate from others – our thoughts, feelings, and actions are ours – and others’ thoughts, feelings, and actions are theirs.
What others do is not our responsibility or our fault or our doing. And, that relieves us of the “need” to feel that we are responsible for so much. We can’t and shouldn’t control others…and vice versa. We are only responsible for ourselves and coming to that realization is freeing.
For me personally, this has been particularly challenging as a parent of young “adults.” (And, it was pretty rough for me when they were teenagers too.)
At this point in their lives, my (adult-ish) children can and do make their own decisions. I am here to guide and support, but it is not my responsibility to make sure they do or don’t do something. Neither is it my decision to make regarding the path that they take. I am responsible for me and how I teach them, how I guide them, and how I react to their decisions.
Knowing this and choosing to react accordingly is a weight off of your shoulders, and it really does allow you to be happier!
2. Be mindful of your emotions (and know how long feelings last)
I’ve come to believe that emotions are neither positive nor negative. Some emotions are difficult however; and that’s when it’s important to remember that feelings last for only about 90 seconds.
According to American Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön, as explained in The LIfe Changing 90 Second Secret, “if you allow an emotion to exist for 90 seconds without judging it will disappear. Chödrön describes this feeling as “the hook” as our thoughts hook, line and sink us.”
I put this to the test many times and I found it to be true. Instead of dwelling on the feeling which leads to negative thinking and ruminating about the situation, if I allowed the feeling to be there and acknowledged it without judgement, I would experience clarity.
You know when you are really angry about something and you want to lash out and say mean or hurtful things or do something “irrational,” and the anger just increases and you get all those physical manifestations going on. You’re not really thinking clearly.
Consider this – if you just let the feeling be there for a minute or so, recognize it, and feel its release, you will begin to think clearly, without getting sucked further into the negative spiral. Try it, and try it again, and again. See what happens for you.
Spending less time in and around those strong difficult feelings definitely leads to increased happiness.
3. Meditate Daily or Regularly Practice Mindfulness
Really, anything that quiets your mind helps to increase happiness. The mind is thinking and producing thoughts constantly. Thoughts about everything under the sun, and a lot of those thoughts can be stress producing.
There are thoughts about our worries, how we aren’t good enough or screwed something up, or the thoughts of the long list of things we need to do.
I have been meditating for about two years now and within the past six months or so, I’ve been committed to twice per day. Even if it is just for five minutes.
For me, meditation is a time to just be, it is a break from thoughts. I can feel the tension leaving my body and feel ready to either start my day on a good note or, if it’s at bedtime, I’m relaxed and have released any stress from the day.
There are many different varieties of meditation (meditation practices); some guided, some not. The ones I rely on a lot are within the categories of self-observation, concentration, mindfulness, and visualization.
4. Pay attention to your reactions
In today’s society, people seem to be more quick to react. When you get a text that sounds snarky or critical, you immediately text back a snide reply or something totally defensive.
When someone cuts you off in traffic, you might start yelling and swearing up a storm. When you see a post on Facebook that you don’t agree with, you snap back with your opinion (the truth-LOL).
Many times you want to hit rewind a little bit and take back your reactions. (I’ve been known to quickly apologize for some instinctive reactions. And, my partner and I will have a “do-over.”)
What can you do instead of immediately reacting? Stop and breathe for a few seconds. What is it that is bothering you about this situation/text message/post? What do you really need?
Just be curious about why you may have these feelings. Would your negative response help the situation or lead to more negativity? Know that you have a choice of how you react to the situation.
Negativity leads to less happiness. Pausing and breathing leads to increased happiness, because you don’t get stuck in the grip of anger, defensiveness, or even depression. This also takes a bit of practice, especially because what we practice regularly gets hardwired into our brains (another topic/another day). But it’s definitely not difficult to do.
The reaction will pass, just like the other difficult emotions (yes, in approximately 90 seconds).
5. Lastly, recognize your achievements!
Does it sometimes seem like you will never reach your goals or that life is just not turning out the way you thought it would? What’s the point in setting goals anyway?
Well, for one reason, it helps you track your achievements. You know how it feels to cross things off a to do list? People (ok me) go back and write things on their list after they are done, just so they can cross them off.
There are other ways to recognize your accomplishments. I have started to list them each day when I write in my journal. Sometimes these are big tasks; sometimes they are things that I did that I had feared doing; sometimes they have to do with how I treated someone; other times these are things like healthy choices.
Many times we get into a rut and don’t think we are getting anywhere or it’s taking too long to reach our goals, but those little steps or seemingly small achievements are what move us forward each day. Another important part of the process is to take a breath and feel in your body how it is to be making progress and doing good/healthy/positive things. This quick and simple activity also increases happiness.
Midlife Pursuit of Happiness Resources
Needs some resources? I can totally help with that!
Some fantastic resources to help you increase the happiness in your life:
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and other books on improving your life. She says, “I believe there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for becoming happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative; when we know ourselves and what works for us, we can change our habits and our lives.”
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist and New York Times best-selling author of several books, including Hardwiring Happiness.
Peacebeam on the Insight Timer app: Offers offer short audios called Peacebeams that are designed for commuters and busy people to get you calm, connected and out of your headspace into your heartspace in the most stressful times of your day.
Harvesting Happiness with Fleur Chambers, certified mindfulness and meditation teacher.
Happiness International: Happiness Explained: Why Being Happy is More than Just Sunny Days at the Beach.
It would really make me HAPPY if you would leave a comment below! Share your ideas on how to increase happiness. And, let me know if you try or have tried any of the practices I mentioned.
Anytime you have something you want to chat about, questions, or ideas for the blog, send me an email!
This Post Has 10 Comments
These are all great. I’m working on Boundaries right now. I’ve always had a problem with them in almost every aspect of my life. I love the 90-second rule too. I don’t dwell on emotions after things have happened, but I will react to emotions (mainly with those I love the most) and sitting on it for 90 seconds sounds like a much better solution. Thank you!
Thanks again Melanie! Appreciate that you let us know how it is for you! The more openly we share, the better (happier) we feel too. Then we don’t feel so alone with our struggles. I love that we have a midlife community of bloggers to share with too – thanks to you!
Excellent thoughts, Lisa! I know that it can be very difficult to set boundaries and really, truly live by them. It’s so hard, especially with those we love. But it makes a huge difference in our peace of mind, and ultimately our happiness with ourselves. I like the resources you offer, too!
Thanks, Candi! These things we learn, huh? They really do make a big difference!
I enjoyed reading this. I know I do tend to think more before I react, and also will not give in to negative thoughts and have them fester, it really only hurts the person feeling angry. I would like to learn mindfulness more, as I suffer from anxiety and often have trouble quieting my mind. I think we learn many of these things as we get older.
from the midlife blogging group
You’re so right, Jessica! We do learn these when we get older. Thank you so much for reading and for your insights!!
Thank you for this thoughtful article. I will check out the resources too. They sound interesting. It struck me that I really need to work on the 90 second emotional “timer”. I had never thought of looking at emotions as something passing that quickly. I just downloaded the book and will read it in the plane today!
Hey Sandra! I had not known that feelings last about 90 seconds either and wasn’t quite sure I believed it, until I noticed it myself! It’s been huge for me! Let me know how you like the book, if you had a chance to read it. I’m so glad you stopped by to read this and took some things with you!
I’m going to try to notice that 90 second feeling duration. I’ve mainly been a “tamp down” the emotions person and stress has impacted my ability to sleep most of my life. I’m going to give meditation a try. Thanks for the inspiration!!
Love that this was inspiring to you, Deb! Thanks so much for reading! ❤