Happiness Tips from an Expert

My Happy Place Blog is about sharing things that make me happy in the hope that they will make you happy, too.  

It's intentionally lighthearted (party tips, hot baths, clean skincare) and also soulful (the power of positive thinking, meditation, inspirational teachers.) When something perks me up I love to share it with my friends.

But what really makes people happy?   There are lots of scientists out there studying the answer, which thrills me. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley is a great resource. Check them out if you want to dig deep.  

Emilie Scovill, MFT  (Doesn't she look so smart and pretty?  She's like that in real life, too.)

Emilie Scovill, MFT

(Doesn't she look so smart and pretty?  She's like that in real life, too.)

Or, if you're lazy like me, and just want someone to top-line it for you, read on.

I asked my friend Emilie Scovill to share a few tips that you might like. She's a marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with professional women here in the San Francisco Bay area. She knows what really works to stoke happiness. Here's what she said:

"The big idea is to connect with yourself.  So many of us live our lives for others (partners, parents, family members, work, society, etc.), and we may not realize it.  This can begin in childhood within the relationships of our parents/caregivers/attachment figures, and it can have a range of consequences in our lives.

In the process of attempting to please others, we may grow away from our core selves and begin to question our thoughts, our feelings, and silence our intuition.  I’ve known many people (especially women in the super competitive Bay Area) who seem to have it all, but they are dealing with strong feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, and shame despite their accomplishments. 

Getting in touch with the true self may be helpful in increasing your well-being.  It takes time and commitment (especially if you have faced a lifetime of invalidation and/or living for others).  You can do it with the support of a therapist, and/or through self-reflective activities.  Here are four things to try:

1. Identify and validate your own feelings rather than looking for external approval:  You may be surprised to learn how many of us can’t identify what we are really feeling.  Getting in touch with your primary feelings is important.  I was thrilled with the movie Inside Out, because it addressed this very issue.  The themes of the movie are wonderful for our children, and great for us adults to understand.  Our primary feelings can quickly turn into secondary emotions, which become more complicated. So recognizing, understanding, and validating them can increase your well-being.  Have some fun watching the movie and think about the ways you treat your own feelings.

2. Reflect on things that bring YOU joy:  Take some quiet time to list and journal about what makes you feel good and why (not what you think you should like because it's trendy or your peers are into it).  It can be pretty much anything (reading a good book, photography, cooking, running, bird watching, getting a pedicure, etc.)  I’ve talked with many individuals who experience being in “a groove” or losing a sense of time when they are engaged in an activity that speaks to them. (This is because they are being fully present, or "mindful"). In these moments, they describe increased energy and creativity.  If you feel overwhelmed, breath deeply and connect to something on your joy list for some relief. 

3. Find gratitude:  Being thankful for what you have, no matter how small, can be life changing.  Instead of focusing on the things you wish you had, be thankful for what you do have in this moment.  Maybe a stranger let you go ahead of him in the grocery line.  Maybe your friend just called to check in with you.  Maybe your partner unloaded the dishwasher.  Maybe your child is healthy.  Maybe your basic needs are met today.  The list can go on and on.  Focusing on what's going right can change the way you think about life. When you are aware of your blessings, you will probably begin to notice a positive shift in your life.  Gratitude can also tie into finding meaning in our struggles.  

Take time each day to think about something(s) for which you are grateful.  Writing them down in the morning before you start your day is especially powerful. Expressing your thanks to a friend(s), family (including your children), and the guy in line at the grocery store, helps to spread the joy of gratitude and allows others to be aware of gratitude in their own lives.  If you have children, encourage them to think about about  what they are grateful for each day is also great way to get them in this habit.

4. Be a giver:  George Burns said, “If all else fails, try doing something nice for someone who doesn’t expect it.  You’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel.” 

Giving CAN increase your happiness.  What would happen if you gave up the parking space you came upon at the same time (and maybe a second earlier) as the impatient mom glaring at you from behind the other windshield? What about actually stopping to help a stranger who tripped in the crosswalk? 

Giving can also be as simple as truly listening and being present with someone.  Maybe you have time in your schedule to volunteer to help plant a tree in the city or to become a mentor to a child in need.  There are many ways that you can give through kindness.  This can be contagious and inspirational to others."

Thanks, Emilie!  You can get more resources from her website.



P.S. If you're in a mental health state of mind (ha!) you might enjoy this post I wrote called I Hear Voices.