Increase your happiness by decreasing stress

Increase your happiness by decreasing stress

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 80 percent of visits to primary care physicians are due to stress related illnesses. Learning to manage stress can make you healthier and add up to 10 years to your life. Here are 14 strategies for decreasing stress while increasing happiness.

1. Decide to be happy. Intention is the best indicator of how you’ll feel in future, so make a choice to increase your happiness. Deciding to be happy will direct your thinking toward activities that will bring joy into your life. It also attracts people who want to share in that joy.

2. Value happiness. Your choices are based on your values. If you regulate happiness to a low priority in life, other choices will take precedence. Where’s happiness located on your list relative to work, taking care of others, spending money, etc.?

3. Happiness is an inside job. You are the only person who has the power to decide whether or not you’ll be happy. No external situation can make you happy or unhappy – not another person and certainly not any thing. It’s how you choose to respond to a person or an event that determines how you feel.

4. Think about happiness. People who are unhappy dwell on their problems, and find fault with themselves and others. That’s not thinking – that’s wallowing. Thinking involves solving your problems, and determining how to bring out the best in yourself and others.

5. Think about what you want. What do you think will make you happy? Picturing positive outcomes allows your brain to orient itself to mapping out steps to move you in the right direction.

6. Be happy now. Stay aware of the progress you’re making to bring yourself joy. Celebrate your success. Ask yourself what small step you can take today to build and broaden the positive parts of your life.

7. Practice appreciation. Look for three things each day for which you are grateful and write them down on your calendar. The more you practice appreciating what’s good about your life, yourself and other people, the bigger your happiness bank account will become. Then when negative events affect your balance, you’ll have plenty of positives in reserve.

8. Practice forgiveness. Bad things happen to good people. Good people make bad mistakes. There’s nothing you can do about it other than forgive and move on to making yourself happy again. When you hold onto bad feelings from the past, you prolong your suffering. Don’t give unhappy thoughts a home. Let negatives drift away.

9. Create positives to counterbalance negatives. You need to generate a minimum of five positive moments to offset the negative emotions that are automatically aroused by a bad situation. Keep a list of what makes you happy, and generate at least five of those experiences to neutralize the negative.

10. Do it anyway. If you don’t take action to make your life better because you don’t feel like it, you’re enslaving yourself to your bad feelings. It’s especially important to do something to feel good when you’re feeling bad. Being proactive rather than reactive will stop your body from flooding you with stress chemicals and allow it to restore healthy biochemistry.

11. Practice being happy. Happiness is like a muscle – it gets stronger the more you exercise it. Keeping yourself happy is like staying in shape. You’ll become better at it the more you do it. It will become easier to do. And eventually it will become a habit that you’ll really miss when you don’t do it.

12. Make others happy. Doing good things for others will keep your relationships working well because what goes around almost always comes back around. Knowing that you’re a person who makes other people feel good also will give you a deep sense of satisfaction about who you are as a person.

13. Attitude creates gratitude. People appreciate those who have a good attitude. A “poor me” attitude only gets you poor results no matter how much you do for others. If you want to be respected for your efforts, be the person who provides lots of positive reinforcement for the contributions of others.

14. Keep your spirits up. You can face any challenge in life if you have faith in yourself and the higher power. To renew your energy, you need to make time to replenish your spirit through meditation, prayer or communing with nature.

Dr. Tom Muha is a psychologist practicing in Annapolis.