We all get in a funk once in a while. And that is just how life is, right? Better to accept than fight it, but it sure would have been nice if Mrs. Doubtfire had taught me this in kindergarten.
Many days you can’t seem to get anything right and your life seems to be in perpetual drift mode.
You let friends tell you what is important.
You eat that big burrito at lunch to soothe your anxiety over what your boss is likely to say when you tell him that you have yet to read that (yawn, yawn) TPS report.
You fall asleep alone in front of Friends re-runs only to wake up, crawl into bed and, yes, lie there exhausted but awake for the next few hours.
Wash, rinse and repeat for the next thirty years or at least until it is your turn to really live. Pretty exhausting!
But how would you feel if your life was exactly the opposite?
You wake up every day eager to get started with the business of leading a life of joy and fulfillment.
You know people like this and you secretly catch yourself with all these ill thoughts. Yuk!
Why can’t your life be like this?
I have good and bad news for you.
BAD NEWS: There is no magic formula for leading you to a life of joy and fulfillment.
GOOD NEWS: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have identified 7 time-tested behaviors that you can focus on now right now to bring more joy and fulfillment into your life.
Psychologists label this framework PERMA+ and the best part of it is that everything is under your control.
It will take a bit of work of the right kind but you no longer can blame your genes or that soul-sucking job.
What science tells you to do for a life-altering payoff
#1: Behave like a well-groomed toy-dog
My dog, a Shi Tzu called Nellie Marie, has been called the happiest dog in our small community, but to be honest, she has lots of competition from other dogs in the neighborhood.
Humans have a lot to learn from these dogs — always in a good mood, wagging their tail.
Having positive emotions puts us in a good mood and according to Dr. Barbara Frederikson’s theory of “Broaden and Build” widens our range of thoughts and actions toward the better.
Positive emotions such as joy, love, and gratitude make us more receptive to doing things that bring us happiness into our lives.
Positive emotions are also associated with greater physical health.
What can you do to become more positive? Here are some ideas:
- Think about what you are grateful for on a daily basis — you may want to consider journaling about this
- Savor the “small” things in life such as taking a walk in nature
- Connect with people — small talk is just fine
- Do an activity that in the past has brought you great joy
#2: Flow like a Costa Rican river during the rainy season
If you have been to Costa Rica during the rainy season (April-November) you know how hard it can rain and how a normally meandering river can suddenly turn into an endless flow of water.
The endless flow of a river can be compared to the sensation you feel when you are immersed in an activity that you enjoy and where you lose all sense of time.
This sensation has been described as “flow” by Dr. Michael Csikszentmihalyi and has been found to be positively associated with wellbeing.
Star athletes are often able to get in a state of flow or as it is sometimes described in the “zone”, but everyday people can also experience this sensation by engaging in activities and experiences that they find enjoyable and challenging.
You can’t get in “flow” just by snapping your fingers. What you can do is pick an activity that caters to your interests and personal strengths, but that still requires some mental focus.
The beauty of finding “flow” is in doing something challenging, but where you don’t even notice the mental or physical exertion required.
Experiencing flow allows you to feel renewed and re-invigorated.
#3: Cozy up to the right posse
Having high-quality social connections is incredibly important for wellbeing.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development provides the most direct proof of the value of social connections. The study initially enrolled 724 men in 1932 from various socio-economic backgrounds. Every two years detailed interviews are conducted. 60 men from the original study are still living.
The key conclusion from the study is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Loneliness and living in conflict are killers.
Socio-economic differences do not alter the basic conclusion that to live a happy and healthy life social connections are extremely important.
Improving our social connections is about investing in people. Even in our busy lives, we can make time for connection. For example, you could:
- Set some time up this week (not next month) to meet a long-lost friend for coffee or a drink after work.
- Call one relative or friend every day to let them know you are thinking of them. Don’t chicken out by using email or text messaging. People want to hear your voice. Even 5 minutes will make a huge difference to somebody in need of human connection.
- Choose to be more conscious about listening rather than saying what’s on your mind. Let somebody else drive the agenda. Remember you are investing in the relationship.
#4: Close your eyes and imagine your own road to Shangri-La
Finding your own meaning and purpose in life is important.
- What brings you joy?
- What’s your ideal life?
Taking the time to think about what matters to you and why gives meaning and direction to your personal journey.
Meaning and purpose give us that sense of being part of something bigger than just our self.
We derive comfort from being part of something bigger be that religious faith, community, a social or environmental cause, or simply our own or extended family.
Research shows that having meaning in your life is among the most important determinants of joy and fulfillment.
How can you find meaning in life? Nobody is going to hand you a roadmap, so you will need to figure this out by yourself. Your meaning in life has to come from within.
You can start by taking an inventory of the values that you hold dear to your heart. Is it honesty, altruism, tolerance, dependability, humility, openness, spontaneity or something else? What values does the ideal “you” represent?
You can also take the time to think deeply about what really matters to you — your family, your faith, your work, your community, or a social cause such as eradicating global poverty. You pick, it’s your life.
One of the biggest regrets of the dying is not leading a life true to themselves. Are you?
#5: Keep on truckin until you run out of a road
Striving to accomplish something you consider important has intrinsic benefits regardless of how old or young you are.
Setting goals aligned with your values and working hard to accomplish those goals gives you a sense of control and gives you hope about the future.
Many people associate achievement with work but it need not be so restrictive. For example, worthy goals could revolve around a social cause or teaching skills to a broader audience.
Accomplishing individual goals makes people feel good about themselves.
Building a string of successful accomplishments builds confidence in one’s ability to overcome obstacles and is key to overall wellbeing.
If you are confused about how to set up goals you might consider the SMART framework. These are goals that are:
- Specific — you are clear in your head what you want the end result to be.
- Measurable — there are criteria by which to can measure your progress. If you can’t measure success or failure, you don’t have a well-defined goal.
- Actionable — progress always requires action. You want to focus on goals where your actions can make a difference.
- Realistic — the goal has a reasonable probability of happening if you know what to do and execute.
- Time-bound — there is an expectation as to when you will reach your goal. It could be long-term, or in the near term, but you must be clear about it.
#6: Eat, pray and love like Elizabeth Gilbert and prance around like Mick Jagger
You might have heard the saying that “your health is your wealth”. Or that without your health you got nothing. Clearly, such sayings contain lots of truth.
Physical and mental health are important aspects of enjoying life.
As individuals, we are born with a certain genetic makeup that we have to live with. Up to recently, most people believed that one could do very little to offset the good and bad of our genetic makeup.
Recent research has dispelled this notion. For example, in a study of over 13,000 Swedish twins heredity was only able to explain 30% of the differences in longevity. Other studies support the view that lifestyle choices are very important factors in determining overall health.
Lifestyle choices are under your control. Making the right choices in your environment, diet, exercise and mental stimulation can make a huge difference to your long-term health and wellbeing.
Your health is your wealth!
#7: Don’t worry about the weather in Kansas or for that matter Manila
All people like to feel like they are in control of their lives. But in reality, life often takes us on detours and expeditions that we never anticipated. Like the weather, many things are out of our control.
What we can control, however, is how we behave day in and day out and how we react to unforeseen events in our lives. We can elect to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise and not dwell on things we can’t control.
Understanding that much in life is random prepares all of us to deal with the unexpected by being resilient and savoring the good things that do happen to us.
According to Professor Sanja Lyubominsky, 50% of our general level of happiness is determined by our genes with an additional 10% accounted for by our life circumstances (how big our house is, our marital status, how much money we have, our job status, etc). The rest — 40% — is under our control.
You may not control all events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
– Maya Angelou
Ruminating over stuff that you have no influence over is pointless. When bad things happen to you focus on what you change about the situation. If there is nothing you can do, accept it and learn from the experience.
Focusing on what we can control and doing the best that we can, gives us a sense of control over our lives and is associated with long-term wellness.
You’ll never regret investing in yourself
Call me self-absorbed or selfish but anything that gives me more permanent joy and fulfillment is worth investing in. Not only am I better off but the people around me also benefit from the boost. Good feelings are after all contagious!
Do you want to continue drifting in life?
Or, do you want to take control?
Maybe up to know you have not understood what to do. You bought that promised life-altering online course, but the magic formula proved as elusive as getting a refund.
Time to try something different.
If you have learned anything in your time on earth is that seeking a life of joy and fulfillment won’t be all a bed of roses. It won’t just fall from the sky or be handed to you simply because of your ridiculously good looks.
It will take work of the right kind. Let the 7 research-proven behaviors be your guide.
Leading a life of joy and fulfillment is not a distant pipe dream that only a few on earth can aspire to.
Joy and fulfillment are within your grasp.
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