Being Happy One
Moment at a Time

Happy Woman

Being happy creates a meaningful moment for anyone experiencing it.  In that moment, we feel light and free, not weighed down by cumbersome worries.

Remember the song by Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy?”  The lyric points to the unpredictability of the future, so taking one day at a time, dealing with things as they happen, not worrying about the future is the way to go into the next moment, which is the only next moment guaranteed to us.

Negativity Bias

Humans exhibit a negativity bias, and we are predisposed in experience to the fact that something positive will generally have less of an impact on our thinking and feeling than something equally emotional but negative.  A quote from Chuck Palahniuk puts this in perspective: “It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness.  We have no scar to show for happiness.”

“For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

At the same time, sages and health professionals today advise us that it is costly to be negative.  When we experience negativity, our body chemistry is affected.  Cortisol, the stress hormone, releases into the body and brain. Over time with frequent stressful experiences, cortisol weakens the body’s ability to calm stress down altogether.  To live a happier, healthier life it’s important to “Accentuate the Positive,” as another famous song encourages.

Research in neuropsychology confirms that we have to overcome the brain’s negativity bias.  But it doesn’t happen on its own.  

Neuropsychologist Dr. Rich Hanson claims “The inner strengths we have such as the feeling of happiness, positive emotion, determination, feeling love, confidence—the executive functions—are all built out of the brain… The question is:  How do we get these things into the brain?  Most of the inner strengths that help us cope with life are built from positive experiences of those strengths…  If you want to feel more confident, have more experiences of accomplishment or coping, if you want to have a more loving heart, practice more moments of compassion or kindness to others…”

Being Happy Requires Intention

Taking in the good and remembering to practice what it feels like need to become habits if being happy is our priority.  Commitment to an etiquette-ful life of manners, which embody the kindness and respect we extend to every person, regardless, helps us gain more pleasure and joy.  When we choose to embrace concern for the welfare of others, we feel happier.  

As the etiquette and manners proponent, Amy Vanderbilt, reminds us, “Good manners have much to do with the emotions.  To make them ring true one must feel them, not merely exhibit them.”

You can put this into practice with a daily "Positive Experience Enhancement" exercise:

  • When you wake up in the morning, scan and notice the thoughts that are on your mind.  Select a positive thought and focus on it intentionally.  Let your mind notice all of the positive aspects, thus extending more of the experience into awareness.
  • Mid-day take another thought scan.  Find one pleasant, anger-free or worry-free thought and focus on it.  Breathe, relax and explore it.  Take the time to feel it and to make it an experience in goodness.
  • Do an end of the day thought scan.  Purposefully note the positive actions you took today, actions that were kind, considerate, respectful.  Create an experience in looking closely at how you felt good.  

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

In addition to a daily practice of being happy, keep these propositions in mind.

  • Each of us is the source of our own happiness.  It’s up to us.
  • Self-understanding and mindfulness are part of the happiness equation.  
  • Helping others is foremost.
  • Every person has special gifts to contribute to the common good, and acknowledging others helps them locate their talents.
  • Seeking to find the positive amidst the negative is possible with practice.

There is no prescription for being happy. But we can dwell more intentionally on the circumstances and conditions that have created joy, especially those shared with other people, so that we might create opportunities to repeat those moments.    

And remember: being etiquette-ful is happiness-promoting!

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