I’m using this photo because I think my friend and I both look pretty happy.
I love this post by Kristen at The Frugal Girl about contentment. I won’t attempt to summarize what she does so well in a thoughtful and detailed post, but the subject is about one of the keys to contentment being looking for the good in a situation: instead of dwelling on what we don’t have, by focusing on what we do have, we’re taking a step toward happiness.
For me, this exercise of focus not only works as a long-term tool for contentment, but as a quick pick-me-up when I quantify it with specific things I am grateful for. I wrote about in this post. I will say up front that I am not a religious person, but I believe that being thankful for the good in your life is the quickest way to get over yourself and gain perspective. Because if you’re anything like me, the problems that worry you would fade in an instant if someone close to you became seriously ill or died.
So thinking about, saying out loud, or writing down what I’m grateful for is the first item on this list.
1. The Gratefuls– I love this one because it can be done anywhere, in less than a minute, and you don’t need to think of new items each time. In fact, my list very often includes my husband and my good health.
2. Smile as if you are actually happy even when you don’t feel that way. Studies have shown this works, and it works for me.
3. Call a friend. If they’re in a good mood, you’ll probably hang up feeling better. And if they’re not, it might make your problems seem smaller and give you some perspective. And if you manage to cheer them up or make them feel a little less alone in the world, you’ll definitely feel better. Which leads me to…
4. Do something for someone else. Volunteering at a soup kitchen will work, but it doesn’t have to be a big commitment to have the effect of taking the focus off of your own problems. Help a friend think through a problem, bake cookies for your coworkers, come to the assistance of an old person who’s having trouble with their grocery bags, whatever it is, the key is to look around and see what needs to be done.
5. Take a walk or do some other kind of exercise. Boosting endorphins is a proven way to raise your spirits. In fact, some studies have shown that taking a walk produces the same effect as taking an anti-depressant. Just getting off the couch and moving around will do wonders, which leads me to…
6. Turn off the TV. I’m not going to go on an anti-TV rant, because there are some good programs on television. But sitting in front of the television for hours at a time makes me feel near suicidal (when I did it once recently after surgery and was unable to concentrate on reading). There are so many mean-spirited programs on television, and the focus is so superficial and beside the point, and the commercials are obviously all about how you’re not good enough so you need to purchase their product, that I honestly can’t imagine how anyone can watch more than an hour or two a day and not become depressed. And that doesn’t even include other factors like all the things you could be doing instead of watching television, or all the snacking you’re probably doing while you sit there. Everybody deserves to be a couch potato once in awhile, but more than that is dangerous.
7. Listen to a favorite “happy song.” Music is one of the quickest paths out of a bummer.
8. Go to your “happy place.” This might sound a little “woo woo” for some people, but it’s a great tool. It can be somewhere you’ve actually been, a place you have fond memories of from your childhood, somewhere you saw in a photograph, or something that exists only in your imagination. But once you have that image, you can always close your eyes and bring it up, and it will bring you an immediate sense of peace.
9. Laugh. If you don’t have a natural ability to see the humor in most situations, collect props that you know make you laugh. DVDs of your favorite comedies or stand-up comedians, or find websites that fit your sense of humor. It’s a cliche, but a lot of times laughter really is the best medicine. It works for me, and it’s one of the many reasons I married my husband. He makes me laugh several times a day.
10. And finally, the happy links I promised you. A couple of years ago, I started saving links people sent me that made me feel good, and I put them in a folder called “inspiration.” I’m sharing some of my favorites here. Most of them are just a few minutes long, and they may not be to your taste. I suggest starting your own folder, or if you’re on Facebook, you can share them with your Facebook friends and you’ll automatically have them saved on your own homepage.
All of these links make me smile and feel happy to be alive. I hope you like them. Please share your favorite pick-me-ups or “happy links” in the Comments section.
Do I need to mention that I am not a licensed psychologist? If you’re deeply depressed or suffering from a life-threatening illness, you need a lot more than a pick-me-up, so please see a doctor to get the help you need and deserve.