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Take Action! 10 Ways to Increase Your Happiness
Dr. Robert Holden
Oprah.com   |  
May 18, 2010

Happy woman
When was the last time you took inventory on your happiness? Find out how you stack up with Dr. Robert Holden’s Be Happy Index (or. B.H.I.). Once you have your results, you can examine 10 different areas—self, relationships, work, attitude, gratitude, forgiveness, humor, health, spirituality and now—to increase your happiness, starting right now, with this step-by-step guide.


Self: I know who I am, and I like myself.

Happiness is your original nature—it is what you first experienced before you began to identify with a body, a family role, some school grades, your nationality, your business card, your Social Security number and any other labels you keep. True happiness is being faithful to your true nature. The better you know yourself—what it is you love, what inspires you, what you are made of—the happier you will be. When you forget who you are, something very strange happens—you begin to search for happiness!

Happiness is your spiritual DNA. It is what you experience when you accept yourself, when you relax and when you stop neurosing about being a “size zero,” about “why he hasn’t called” and about “what I should be doing with my life.” You will increase your happiness score significantly if you can begin to accept that the happiness you hope “to get” after you find your true partner, get the dream job, buy the ideal home and earn the right money, is already in you.

Joy is the organic state of your soul. It is not something you achieve; it is something you accept.

Next: Why it’s important to connect with others

Friends

Relationships: My most important relationships get my best attention.

Relationships are the heart of happiness. Social research has found “rich and satisfying relationships” are the only external factors that will move your happiness score from “quite happy” to “very happy.” A common mistake we make is to get so busy pursuing happiness that we fail to give our best time, energy and attention to our relationships. Remind yourself daily that happiness is in the connections you make, in the friendships you keep and in the love that exists between others.

If you want to be happy, be a friend. Identify your most important relationships, and think about how you can be a true friend to your partner, to your children, to your parents, to your colleagues, to your clients, etc. Another way to increase your happiness score is to make a conscious commitment to being the most loving person you can possibly be. Your intention to love and be loved is the absolute key to happiness. Love is the most fun you can have with anyone. In the final analysis, there is no difference between happiness and love.

Next: Do what you love for a living

Woman working

Work: I have a strong sense of purpose, and/or I love my work.

Today’s workplaces are a modern tragedy in which too many people go to work without a sense of joy and love. “The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy,” Malcolm Forbes of Forbes magazine said. In the United States, only 50 percent of employees say they are satisfied with their work. You can increase your happiness score by making your work more purpose-centered. Start with identifying what real success is, what your real value is, how you can be more creative and how you can enjoy yourself more.

The more you can say, “I love my work” and really mean it, the higher your happiness score will be. People who love their work usually feel they are making a significant contribution to a cause they believe in. Reflect, therefore, on what you most want to contribute in your work and in life overall. Remember, you are not here just to find happiness; you are here to extend it. You are inspiration-packed, wisdom-infused, made with love and blessed with talents. Look around today and give what is needed, give what appears to be missing and give what is your joy to give.

Next: Have a good attitude

Positive woman

Attitude: I choose my attitude most of the time.

From zero to 10, how happy have you decided to be today? Is your score 5 out of 10, or 2 out of 10 or 8 out of 10, perhaps? Can you find the place in your mind where you have already made a decision about how good today will be, and how good this year will be and how good your life will be? Choice is a powerful thing. More of anything or everything will not make a difference to your happiness score until you consciously choose to be happy. Therefore, set an intention to be happy today. Decide to make today even more enjoyable than you thought it was going to be.

During Be Happy, my 8-week happiness program, I ask my students this question: Could you be even happier even if nothing in the world around you changed? What is your answer: yes or no? In the most recent class, the score was 100 percent for “yes.” How could this be? Well, common answers include, “I could choose to accept myself more” and “I could choose to see things differently” and “I could choose to enjoy my life more” and “I could start making smarter choices.” The one thing in common all these answers have is choice. Your happiness score rises when you stop chasing happiness and start choosing happiness.

Next: Appreciate your life

Grateful woman

Gratitude: I appreciate my life as it happens.

There are two meta-attitudes that can significantly increase your happiness score. The first is gratitude. The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see. Before you practice gratitude, you are in the dark and there appears to be very little to be grateful for. Once you begin, a new light dawns, sometimes a brilliant light, a light as bright as heaven itself. Gratitude changes your brain; and it changes the world. The more you practice gratitude, the more you will find to be grateful for.

The real gift of gratitude is the more grateful you are, the more present you become. In the English language, the word “present” has three distinct meanings: “here,” “now” and “a gift.” This is surely not a coincidence. Practicing gratitude teaches you that the greatest gifts are always available to you here and now! One way to practice gratitude is to start expressing it. Think about who you are truly grateful for in your life. Do you realize how happy they will be when you tell them? Gratitude is double happiness because it blesses both the giver and the receiver.

Next: Let go of your hurt and disappointment

Forgiving woman

Forgiveness: I am good at letting go of past hurts and disappointments.

Happiness is easy and natural until you experience your first wound. For this reason, the second meta-attitude that makes such a big difference to your happiness score is forgiveness. You cannot hold onto a grievance and be happy. Why? One reason is you can’t be a victim and be happy. Holding onto a grievance is a sign of a mistaken identity. You are not a victim. Also, holding onto a grievance is really a decision to keep suffering. Forgiveness helps you let go and be happy.

Resentment keeps you stuck in the past; forgiveness brings you back to the present. Resentment costs too much, and it doesn’t make you happy. Resentment is a ball and chain; forgiveness sets you free again. Forgiveness offers you insurance against premature aging, a blocked heart, an unhealed past and an unhappy future. To increase your happiness score, try this forgiveness prayer:

Dear God, I declare today a day of amnesty, in which I gratefully volunteer to hand in all of my resentments and grievances to You. Please help me to handle well all of the peace that must inevitably follow. Amen.

Next: Do you know how to have fun?

Woman enjoying life

Humor: I know how to have fun, and I do.

To be truly happy, you have to get your head around the idea that circumstances don’t matter as much as you think they do. Happiness research studies reveal consistently that most people who score high levels of happiness do not experience markedly better life circumstances. So why are they so happy? Well, one answer is they know how to enjoy their life.

“Most of the time, I don’t have very much fun, and the rest of the time I have no fun at all,” quipped director Woody Allen. Good humor always has an element of truth in it. We’re so preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness that we are in danger of forgetting how to enjoy our lives. We promise ourselves, and each other, that we will enjoy life more after we are happy. Go figure!

Note to self: Remember to enjoy the miracle of existence today. You can increase your happiness score immediately by being more spontaneous today. Disengage the autopilot, switch off the controls, stop being so sensible, issue a friendly restraining order to your superego, and, for God’s sake, let yourself have some fun today.

Next: Take care of your health and well-being 

Healthy woman

Health: I look after myself and take care of my well-being.

You cannot neglect yourself and find happiness. One of the side effects of chasing happiness is you become estranged from yourself. The quicker you chase, the faster time passes and the more difficult it is to locate yourself in your own life. When you don’t stop, you press on in hopes that you will catch up with yourself somewhere down the line. But all the while, you keep leaving yourself behind. Something has to give.

Make some time for yourself today. Check in with yourself. Catch up on your own news. Listen to your heart and to how you really feel. Give yourself some of your own best attention. Stop trying to be strong, and to be positive, and to keep going and simply be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, “What are my needs right now?” And, “How can I be kind to myself today?” In all my years of psychotherapy, I have never met a person who suffered from being too kind to herself.

The better you treat yourself, the better your happiness score will be.

Next: Get in touch with your spirituality 

Spiritual woman

Spirituality: I know what inspires me, supports me and gives me strength.

If you are committed to a spiritual path in your life, you are twice as likely to say you are “very happy,” according to psychology research. Spirituality gives you a context for your life that is greater than your ego can see. The ego, which is basically your self-image, is based on an optical delusion of separation. Its outlook is: Everything Good’s Outside. A strong spiritual faith helps you to connect to what is real, to what is here now and to what has already been given to you.

A daily spiritual practice that you enjoy doing will help to increase your happiness score. The essential aim of any spiritual practice—be it meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, etc.—is to help you remove the blocks to the awareness of the happiness that already exists in the center of you. Spirituality connects you to your “being” so you don’t get lost in going, doing and having. It helps you to identify with the idea that the soul is joy, and to realize that you are what you seek.

Next: How do you view happiness?

Women living in the moment

Now: I believe happiness is a way of traveling.

Some things never change: Your greatest opportunity for healing and happiness has been, will be, still is, now! Since time began, spiritual teachers have taught their students to “be here and now,” to “enjoy the moment” and to “seize the day.” And since time began, spiritual students have repeatedly disregarded their teachers’ wisdom at first. Like the Prodigal Son, we all eventually return to “now” to find our spiritual home and to find true happiness.

Living in the “not now” is a chief cause of unhappiness, pain and lack. We do it because we fear happiness is somewhere else. The strain of not being present in your own life is simply too great. When you miss out on the present, you miss out on so much. No now; no life. The good news is, however, that it is never too late to be present and to really show up in your life. Your happiness score increases the more present you are in your life.

Truth is here, inspiration is here, love is here,

peace is here, help is here, God is here,

joy is here, because you are.

Robert Holden, PhD, and his innovative work on happiness and well-being have been featured on The Oprah Show and Good Morning America and also in two major BBC documentaries, The Happiness Formula and How to Be Happy, shown to more than 30 million TV viewers worldwide. He is the author of the best-selling books Happiness NOW!, Shift Happens! and Success Intelligence. His latest book, Be Happy, is published by Hay House. Robert lives in London with his wife and daughter. 

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