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Five Strategies for Increasing Happiness

February 19, 2015 | by Debbie Gutfreund

It's the time of year to increase your level of joy. Here's how.

A few years ago Gallup called 1,000 randomly selected adults every day and asked them about their emotional states, their work situations, their stress levels and other questions about their quality of life. They were trying to find and measure the components of a "good life" and then plug them into a formula they devised called the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index. They sorted the responses by geographical areas and mapped out the happiest and least happiest states.

The New York Times asked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite of the happiest person in America. For example, men tend to be happier than women, older people happier than middle-aged, and so on. Gallup found an answer: He's a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew, who is at least 65 and married with children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of at least $120,000.

Then they found the actual statistical composite: Alvin Wong. He is a five-foot-ten, 69-year-old Chinese American, kosher observant Jew, who's married with children and lives in Honolulu. He runs his own health care management business and makes over $120,000 a year. Reaching Alvin by phone at his home, the interviewer informed Wong that he had been chosen as the "happiest man in America." Wong agreed that he was indeed a very happy person and then said : "My life philosophy is, if you can't laugh at yourself, life is going to be pretty terrible for you. This is a practical joke, right?"

After being named the "happiest man in America" Wong became a motivational speaker and taught others how attitude, not circumstance, is the true predictor of happiness in our lives.

We are in the Hebrew month of Adar when it is a mitzvah to increase our levels of joy. Here are five strategies to help us begin:

1. Change your vocabulary. How we speak, both to ourselves and to others, has a tremendous impact on our happiness. If someone asks how we are, and we answer "I'm okay," then we will feel just that – okay, neutral, apathetic. But if we answer "I'm great!" or "This is spectacular!" or "I'm really excited about the possibilities we have here," then we will feel excited, passionate and optimistic. This is true even if we are just saying these words to ourselves.

Surprisingly, changing our vocabulary can change our emotional states even if we don't believe at first what we are saying. Next time you're angry try saying to yourself, "I'm a little annoyed" instead of "I'm furious," and see how, by just lowering the emotional intensity of your words, you can create internal changes.

2. Savor your life. Appreciate the little pleasures God gives us each day. The aroma of a fresh cup of coffee. The color of the sky at sunrise. The star shaped snowflakes that dance outside our windows. And savor the big pleasures too. The beautiful moments that seem so ordinary but are really extraordinary if we think about them. The smile on our toddler's face. The sound of our friend's voice after a long day. The blessing of eating together as a family. The food that nourishes us. The sleep that refreshes us. The air that gives us life each moment.

3. Find your flow. Identify one or two activities that excite you, that challenge you, that make you lose track of time when you're doing them. And then prioritize them. Don't just put them into the "when I have time then I'll do it" category. Make these times when you have "flow" in your life a regular part of your day because they will naturally infuse joy and energy into other areas of your life.

4. Search for meaning. The happiest people find purpose in everything that they do. Their accomplishments aren't necessarily more significant than those of their less happy counterparts, but they personally find meaning in their work and in their relationships. Keep searching for lessons in daily life. Find the meaning embedded in every experience. Link your goals to a higher purpose.

5. Grow. Even the best circumstances won't make someone happy if he stops growing. We were not created to remain in one place in this world. Once we reach one level, we yearn to climb to the next one. We long to fly higher, go further, become greater. And perhaps this is what Alvin Wong meant when he said that happiness is really created by attitude. That we create our own happiness by the words we choose, the blessings we see, the actions we take, and the meaning that we search for each day.

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