Make Yourself Happy

Dear Roxanne,

I oversee a small staff that includes one person who is frankly a downer. Not clinical depression or anything, just a kind of determination to be unhappy ALL THE TIME. I talked to her once about it and she said it’s a “family thing.” Her parents and sisters are the same, and there’s nothing she can do about it. But it kills her productivity, so as a manager, I feel that I need to get to the bottom of it. Is she right? —Gene W.

Dear Gene,

She’s partly right…and mostly wrong. Yes, a good portion of our general attitude is hard-wired. But an awful lot is still in our control. Let me bring an expert into the conversation to show you what I mean. Then you can help her find her way into a happier AND more productive place —Roxanne

Make Yourself Happy

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, says that half of a person’s happiness is predetermined by their genes. That’s a lot…but that’s not all. Ten percent of a person’s happiness is based on that person’s life circumstances—where they live, who they live with, the social class they were born into, and so on.

That leaves 40 percent of a person’s happiness that is based on things they can influence—the intentional activities and thoughts you choose that either increase or decrease happiness. That’s incredibly good news. We control 40 percent of our happiness!

So if you’re busily blaming life’s circumstances, stuff a sock in it! Life’s circumstances are NOT what are making you unhappy. You make you unhappy.

What about the antithesis of happiness—depression? According to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control, one in ten Americans over age 12 are now on antidepressants—a 400 percent increase since 1988. Now THAT is depressing.

While researchers are finding that a fair amount of depression has to do with the influence of unhealthy foods on brain chemistry, the astonishing fact is that a good share of our unhappiness has to do with the way you choose to think—how you frame events and conversations in your life.

It is how you interpret events, people, and things on a daily basis that makes the difference.

Is a rainy day a good thing or a bad thing? It’s neither. It’s neutral. YOU decide if it’s good or bad. AND you decide that about all things in your life—that is what determines a fair amount of your mental state of happiness.

When you interpret things as “good” instead of “bad,” you must develop a habit of interpreting things as good. That changes the dendrites in your brain; so suddenly your brain finds it easier to interpret things as good. You have rewired your brain for happiness.

When we become clear that most of life’s events are neutral and waiting for us to attach meaning, we regain the ability to find happiness.

What is one of the best ways to create happiness according to happiness experts? Find meaningful work. Even better, they say: make your work meaningful!

So do you choose joy, or not?

Try this:

  • Make a list of all the things about your job that you can be grateful for. (My boss isn’t a screamer. I get a paycheck every two weeks. I hardly ever have to work on a weekend. I get opportunities to learn. My teammates tell me when I’m a doofus…so I’m being coached to grow as a person.) Make the list long. Just decide to keep writing for at least five minutes…keep writing…
  • Make a list of your five biggest complaints.
  • For each complaint, reframe it. For example, “My boss micromanages me.” can be reframed to “My boss cares enough about me and about keeping me out of trouble to step into my work when I need help.”
  • How can YOU create rituals of joy at work? At home? Try it for a week. See if suddenly the world doesn’t miraculously seem to be filled with nicer people!

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