While you are in the midst of working out your plans for the day and week ahead, remember that one of the most important choices you can make is choosing to be happy. Therefore, it is more than OK to put something on your ‘To- Do’ list just because it makes you happy. And maybe you should reconsider one or two of the items you relegated to the Delete list, if their sole virtue was making you happy.
Life is so much more complicated when we are grouchy. Research shows that optimism can be learned just like that recipe for basil-tofu dip that you thought you’d never master. Here’s a quick lesson on bringing more meaning and happiness into your world.
Happiness and leading a meaningful life is connected. In his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl introduced Logotherapy, which is based on the idea that the search for meaning in life is the most powerful motivation in human suffering. After witnessing first hand the horrors of Auschwitz, as both inmate and psychiatrist, he understood that when we find meaning in our lives, we can survive the most challenging of experiences.
If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life – an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival. Frankel often said that, even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps, he found only two kinds of men: decent ones and unprincipled ones. This held true through all classes, ethnicities and nationalities. Following this line of thinking, he once recommended that the Statue of Liberty on the east coast of the United States be complemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.
Granted, none of our daily stress can be compared to being in a concentration camp, but let’s take the lesson with us as we travel through the ups and downs of our own lives. If you are feeling drained and empty, remind yourself of why you are doing what you do. Whether it is at home or at work, dig deep and find the meaning to reboot yourself and help bring a smile to your face.
Psychologist Martin Seligman took this concept further and created positive psychology, which encourages people to stop focusing on what is wrong and concentrate on how to be a happier and more functional person. In Dr. Seligman’s theory, the “good life” consists of five elements:
1. Positive emotions (pleasure, warmth, comfort, etc.),
2. Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity),
3. Relationships (social ties are an extremely reliable indicator of happiness),
4. Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and
5. Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).
So the next time you are feeling grouchy, take a nap or eat some protein. If neither of those strategies works, then look through the list above and see if your emotional void can be made better by tapping into one of those criteria. Maybe you can call a sick friend (Meaning) or reassess your goals for the next month (Accomplishments) or Skype with your sibling who lives overseas (Relationships).
There have also been some studies of how religion relates to happiness. Causal relationships remain unclear, but more religion is seen in happier people. As a Rabbi’s wife living among a lovely community in Key Biscayne, I can’t help but agree. The more people I meet that are craving spirituality into their lives, the more I believe that we really are spiritual people living in a physical world.
So revisit your ‘to-do’ list and the priorities that you choose. Simmering resentment towards your spouse and children will come back to bite you many times throughout your relationships AND give you frown lines. If jumping out of a plane backwards gives you something to look forward to and a spring in your step, go ahead and make the time for it. Just make sure you tie on that parachute carefully.