08 Jun Purpose, presence and positivity…3 paths to a deeper happiness
via health.com by Ginny Graves
You just closed on the house of your dreams, your Facebook post is blowing up with likes—and you scored reservations at the hottest restaurant in town to celebrate. You’re ecstatic, right? Of course you are! Your brain is so lit up with dopamine, a key pleasure chemical, that it looks like a fireworks finale. But will all this make you happier? Sure, but only temporarily (sigh). According to a growing number of experts, those exhilarating, Instagrammable moments don’t permanently raise the setting on your day-to-day blissometer—and by chasing fleeting highs, you may be missing the opportunity for true joy, with a small j. “We live in a culture that tells us we’re supposed to be euphoric all the time, but that feeling isn’t sustainable,” says life coach and sociologist Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star ($16; amazon.com). “Happiness—real happiness—is quieter and calmer, but that sense of peace is deeply satisfying and can sustain you through life’s challenges.” Moreover, true happiness isn’t elusive. It’s available right now. You just have to know where to look.
Yes, it sounds downright un-American, but study after study has revealed a surprising truth about the pursuit of happiness: None of the stuff we think will lift our spirits—new cars, new homes, even winning the lottery—actually does the trick in the long term. “Paradoxically, studies have shown that people who have happiness as a goal tend to be less happy,” says Susan David, PhD, author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life ($27; amazon.com). In 2012, for instance, researchers reported on two studies that showed that wanting to be happy made people lonelier, possibly because striving to elevate your own joy can damage your connection with others. Also, a single-minded focus on positivity may leave you ill-equipped to cope with setbacks and heartbreak, an inevitable part of life. To avoid that trap, allow happiness to bubble up naturally by pursuing activities that dovetail with your values. “Having a strong sense of what matters to you, and letting your values guide your actions, can lead to greater happiness,” notes David, who is also a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. To zero in on what you hold sacred, ask yourself, “What relationships do I want to build? What do I want my life to be about? If this were my last day on earth, how would I act to make it a great one?”
This type of self-reflection helps you make choices that infuse your life with meaning, adds Mallika Chopra, founder of Intent.com and author of Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy ($15; amazon.com). “When you feel like you’re living with a deeper sense of purpose, you’re answering the age-old question ‘Why am I here?’” she says. “There’s nothing more exciting or satisfying than feeling like you’ve found part of the answer.” The beauty of this approach is that you can start making values-driven choices today. While you might link happiness to a future goal (losing 10 pounds, getting married, landing a big job), you don’t have to wait for other factors to fall into place to call a friend who is going through a rough patch, write a postcard to your senator urging her not to cut funding for an important program, tutor an ESL student, or volunteer at a dog shelter. “The more you move toward your values, the more vital, meaningful, and happier your life will become,” says David…
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