By Donald B. Ardell, Ph.D.
Many of us think of happiness as a luxury, but in reality it is essential to health -- beyond the margins of simply not being sick.
In the immortal preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
These glorious words actually pointed the way for future Americans to embrace wellness by being responsible, taking control of their lives and focusing upon optimal outcomes, not merely a coping existence. This was an early mind/body perception of well-being -- and if that’s not wellness, what is?
When I think of that immortal sentence, I automatically feel a little happier and a little healthier. So take a deep breath, smile and ponder
1. Exercise more. Besides whatever else you do for exercise, take the stairs when possible, walk briskly or jog in place naked! Any one or a variation of these activities done for a total of 30 minutes daily could make you happier -- especially the latter!
By the way, the latest research suggests that it is a less familiar neuromodulator called norepinephrine, not endorphins, that provides that natural "feel good" sensation with exercise. Whatever it is, enjoy it!
2. Rub somebody the right way. Arrange for a massage at least once a week. A 30-minute massage is not very expensive and you can always do a trade. (This is one case where giving can be as good as receiving.) A good massage is a definite happiness booster.
3. Take charge of your brain! Organize your thoughts in positive ways. Thinking this way will help you make the best of whatever occurs throughout the day. It will add to your happiness and reduce any tendency to flee into misery.
4. Act childish -- when nobody’s looking. Do something you enjoyed as a kid that you have not done for years or decades. You don’t always have to be dignified, mature, adult and serious -- especially when you are alone or with another playful adult. Dress up in something wacky, blow bubbles, throw a theatrical temper tantrum, etc. Anything that will give you a good laugh.
5. Instead of blessings, count your chuckles! Discover if you are fit for humor by seeing if you can record at least 10 good laughs at least one day out of seven. Laughs count a lot toward the pursut of happiness. Mirthful times will lower your blood pressure, stress level and worry index and raise your energy, spirits and optimism. Laughter and assorted pleasures strengthen your immune system, metabolize bad vibes and serve in 1001 ways to make your everyday life richer and fuller.
6. Celebrate differences. Work at appreciating the diversity of appearances, styles, religions, politics, values and opinions at variance with your own. This is one of the most effective ways to eliminate negative stressors.
We are all inclined to make subtle judgments and even efforts to change people to think or be more like ourselves. Yet it’s almost never worth the grief. Live your own life and wish others well in trying to do the same. A high tolerance level will definitely make you happier.
7. Discover the meaning of life! Well, at least decide to go on a lifelong quest to gather insights about why you’re here and what it’s all about. Rely primarily upon the rich database of your own life experiences, observations and reflections. As new possibilities suggest themselves over time, stay open to readjustments to ideas about your life purpose and ways of finding meaning. But please don’t try to persuade others to accept your interpretation -- it’s a personal thing.
8. Be of service, for your sake. Frankl, Maslow, Yalom and dozens of other psychiatrists, existentialists and assorted scholars urged engagement for mental health and happiness. In your own fashion, reach out and make a difference in someone else's life by supporting a cause, helping the needy, working with a kid -- anything.
9. Pick a hero. In fact, look for lots of heroes -- people you can admire and even emulate, in some ways. It's not a good idea to adopt a single hero, for everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Think of traits you value and the people who manage those qualities with dignity, panache and flair. When you want to function at your best, think of your hero. How would he or she deal with this? Then do your own version, with the role model (hero) in mind.
10. Seek inspiration. Look for it in the familiar. Start with the familiar scenery, sounds, aromas and multiple blessings you already enjoy. Recall Gilda Radnor's needlepoint message revealed in Gene Wilder's book "Funny About Love": "Contentment is not the achieving of what you want but the realization of what you already have."
Happiness follows good works. Live a healthy lifestyle and do good work and I think your happiness will be secured -- and Thomas Jefferson will be proud of you.
Donald B. Ardell, Ph.D., is the author of 15 wellness books, including 14 Days to a Wellness Lifestyle (New World Library, 1982). He is also the publisher of the Ardell Wellness Report and the director of the