Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to Stay Up When the Economy is Down

5 Tips to Get You Started

How can I be happy when my home is losing its value, my 401k is going down, and the price of everything else is going up?

It's a question I hear a lot lately. It seems that as the financial picture becomes more depressed, so do we. That's why now, more than ever, we need to learn to be happy from the inside out no matter what's going on in our lives.

The good news is that it's possible. Doing the research for my book, I interviewed scores of scientists, as well as one hundred unconditionally happy people, and discovered that there's a state of inner peace and well-being that's isn't dependent on external circumstances. I call this being happy for no reason.

When you're happy for no reason, you don't need to manipulate the world around you to make yourself happy; you bring happiness to your everyday experiences rather than trying to extract happiness from them.

An added benefit of this state is that the happier you are, the more successful you become! Happy people naturally have greater opportunities, better health, deeper friendships, more customers and so on plus they make more money. Research shows that people who are happy earn over $750,000 more in their lifetime than others.

So how can you be happy for no reason?

Science is showing the way. Researchers in the field of positive psychology have found that we each have a "happiness set-point," that determines our level of happiness. No matter what happens, whether it's something as exhilarating as winning the lottery or as challenging as a horrible accident, most people eventually return to their original happiness level. Like your weight set-point, which keeps the scale hovering around the same number, your happiness set-point will remain the same unless you make a concerted effort to change it. In the same way you'd crank up the thermostat to get comfortable on a chilly day, you actually have the power to reprogram your happiness set-point to a higher level of peace and well-being. The secret lies in practicing the habits of happiness.

In the course of my research, I uncovered 21 core happiness habits that anyone can use to become happier and stay that way. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Incline Your Mind Toward Joy. Have you noticed that your mind tends to register the negative events in your life more than the positive? If you get ten compliments in a day and one criticism, what do you remember? For most people, it's the criticism. Scientists call this our "negativity bias"--our primitive survival wiring that causes us to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. To reverse this bias, get into the daily habit of consciously registering the positive around you: the sun on your skin, the taste of a favorite food, a smile or kind word from a co-worker or friend. Once you notice something positive, take a moment to savor it deeply and feel it; make it more than just a mental observation. Spend 20 seconds soaking up the happiness you feel.

2. Let Love Lead. One way to power up your heart's flow is by sending loving kindness to your friends and family, as well as strangers you pass on the street. Next time you're waiting for the elevator at work, stuck in a line at the store or caught up in traffic, send a silent wish to the people you see for their happiness, well-being, and health. Simply wishing others well switches on the "pump" in your own heart that generates love and creates a strong current of happiness.

3. Lighten Your Load. To make a habit of letting go of worries and negative thoughts, start by letting go on the physical level. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien recommends giving or throwing away 27 items a day for nine days. This deceptively simple practice will help you break attachments that no longer serve you.

4. Make Your Cells Happy. Your brain contains a veritable pharmacopeia of natural happiness-enhancing neurochemicals endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine just waiting to be released to every organ and cell in your body. The way that you eat, move, rest, and even your facial expression can shift the balance of your body's feel-good-chemicals, or "Joy Juice," in your favor. To dispense some extra Joy Juice smile. Scientists have discovered that smiling decreases stress hormones and boosts happiness chemicals, which increase the body's T-cells, reduce pain, and enhance relaxation. You may not feel like it, but smiling even artificially to begin with starts the ball rolling and will turn into a real smile in short order.

5. Hang with the Happy. We catch the emotions of those around us just like we catch their colds it's called emotional contagion. So it's important to make wise choices about the company you keep. Create appropriate boundaries with emotional bullies and "happiness vampires" who suck the life out of you. Develop your happiness "dream team" a mastermind or support group you meet with regularly to keep you steady on the path of raising your happiness.

"Happily ever after" isn't just for fairytales or for only the lucky few. Imagine experiencing inner peace and well being as the backdrop for everything else in your life. When you're happy for no reason, it's not that your life always looks perfect it's that however it looks, you'll still be happy!

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