Starting With Happiness
Last month we started a series on happiness. We’ll do this at the beginning of each month for a while. Why? Hospice and Palliative care patients, understandably, often suffer from temporary or clinical depression. Families and friends often do not know how to help. So we’re starting each month spending time looking together at this important subject.
What is happiness?
In part 1 of this series, published on March 11, we discovered that happiness is many things to many people. But most of us would agree in general with what psychologists say. They describe it as a general sense of well-being.
How does happiness happen?
Well, interestingly enough, it doesn’t. Not on its own. At least not consistently. Scientists who study these things say that if you want to be consistently happy, you have to do the right things.
They’ve found that people who seem to be “naturally happy” aren’t really “naturally happy” at all. They just seem to naturally do the things that tend to sustain happiness. By the same token, people who tend to be “naturally” unhappy…don’t.
Happy on Purpose
This is actually really good news. What it means is that we can actually affect our own happiness. Now, it’s important to understand that happiness is not an “on” or “off” thing. There are levels, shades, and colors to happiness like any other emotion. And it’s also important to remember that you can’t control 100% of your emotional well-being. Any more than you can control your physical well-being.
But according to The How of Happiness, by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, about 40% of our happiness is completely in our hands. This means we not only have the ability to do something about it. We also have a responsibility.
Researchers have discovered several things that habitually happy people have in common. Intriguingly, one of those things is the presence of certain systems. Yes, you read that right–systems.
How can systems make you happy? Well, first, because effort itself is one of the things happy people have in common. And systems take effort. They take planning, discipline, and perseverance. The mental effort required for these things stimulates the brain in all the right places.
So are there magic “happiness systems?” Well, not really. Simply having a few systems in place that govern a significant part of your day or week can be quite a boost. But here are 3 suggestions for systems you can use to help set yourself up for increased happiness.
1. Support Systems
How intentional are you about your relationships? Do you have an idea how many times this month you’ll see certain friends or family? This can be a powerful system.
- Start by making two lists. List the people you see on a regular basis. But don’t just randomly write down names. List them in the order of how good they make you feel when you see them. In other words, you’re ranking your support team.
- The second list is different. These are people, maybe just one or two for some, that you don’t see regularly, but you could. And these are people you believe would be very supportive & encouraging for you. These may be family members, friends, clergy, or even a counsellor.
- The next step is definitely the most important. It’s time to schedule your support. Schedule a time to reach out to each of the top three or four people on your support team list.
- Next, reach out to the person or people you’d like to begin spending more time with. Set up a time to get together. This conversation itself can be a huge boost to your mood. Then decide how often you can regularly meet.
2. Involvement Systems
This is incredibly simple, but incredibly powerful. We all know it’s true: giving happiness is one of the best feelings of all! Get involved in a regular activity that is totally others-centered.
- Write letters to sick kids
- Make care packages for soldiers
- Serve at a soup kitchen
There are hundreds of activities that fit the bill. The key is to commit to a regular activity that gets your focus off yourself. Many patients lived lives of selfless giving prior to a life-limiting diagnosis. But since being diagnosed, they find themselves totally absorbed in survival.
But this is not always necessary. Giving is one of the most common keys to sustained happiness. So find a way to give. You’ll be happier for it!
And involvement systems have a second important benefit. The people you meet. You will develop relationships through involvement. Maybe face-to-face, or maybe just with a pen-pal or an unknown recipient.
But either way, these relationships are real and unique. And they provide us with a powerful esteem boost that many of us lack. From busy professionals to overwhelmed graduate students to pro athletes, many who lack these relationships find themselves dry, empty, and depressed.
The people you work with as well as the people you help will quickly become a bright spot in your thoughts. So get involved somehow. You may need to try a few things till you find the right one for you. But do something!
3. Time Systems
In last month’s issue, we talked about scheduling happiness-boosting activities. But activities are not the only thing to schedule. In fact, the act of scheduling is in itself a happiness-booster. As long as you don’t go too far.
Schedule visits with the right support people. Schedule your time to give happiness. Commit to these things. But don’t schedule things so tightly that you can’t keep up. And don’t schedule too much time with people who may not be able to keep their appointments with you.
A key to success in anything is frequent re-evaluation. Each month, look at your schedule. Is it too much? Or is it too easy? The schedule needs to be demanding enough that you have to think about it. But it needs to be do-able. So feel free to adjust as you go.
These three systems in place, you can set yourself up for increased happiness. There are many things in life you can’t control. But set your mind to control the things you can. And remember, one of the most powerful parts of this is the decision to do something. Begin now to take steps toward more sustained happiness in your life.
Hospice & Palliative Care
At Crown Hospice in Victoria, Texas, we specialize in helping you maintain the highest quality of life possible. Even after a terminal or life-limiting diagnosis, happiness is not out of reach. Our caring, professional staff are here for you whether you are a patient, family member, friend, or caregiver. If you or a loved one have questions about end-of-life or palliative care, please do not hesitate to call us at (361) 575-5900. We will help and support you in any way we can.