THE BLOG
10/31/2014 12:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Somewhat Unexpected Ways to Feel Happier

2014-10-31-Concrestm116jXL._SL160_.jpgSimplify. It's clarifying. Then one can focus. Focus on what is really going on. What you feel right now. What most matters to you. What best serves the situation. Gratefulness. "First things first" will be apparent. After all, life is short, and many of us tend to clutter our lives with things that we do not really want to do.

Smile. Focus next on self-esteem. We earn self-esteem when we learn self-confidence and self-respect. That may be the first step towards living a happier life.

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Self-confidence comes from our feeling of competence in responding to the difficulties and the opportunities we encounter in our work and personal life. Self-respect means we feel worthy of being happy. That's what psychologist Nathaniel Branden's believes. He wrote, "Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves." Self-esteem helps us become independent thinkers, according to Tal Ben Shahar, author of Happier.

Paradoxically strong self-esteem also enables us stay open to hearing others' differing views, I believe. This path towards a positive and resilient outlook begins with giving oneself the permission to feel.

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Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Want to grow up into greater happiness? Here are two tips I've found especially helpful from "the teacher of Harvard University's most popular and life-changing course" that one out of every five Harvard students has lined up to hear.

1. Sweat it out. Enjoy an immediate, free mood elevator by getting in vigorous motion more often. A Duke University study showed that working out for 30 minutes three times a week is equivalent to popping Zoloft.

2. Accept life as a roller coaster. "Optimistic people have ups and downs like everyone else," Ben-Shahar says. "The difference is that happy people realize that if they're sad, they'll get over it," he says. "There's a misconception that being happy means being on a high and having positive moods all the time. That's not what happiness is. If you're happy, you have a life -- overall -- that you find both meaningful and pleasurable."

Bonus benefit: When we feel bad we get tunnel vision. Conversely, our eyes are able to take in more when we are happy, found University of Texas psychology professor Adam Anderson.

"Specifically our study shows that when in a positive mood, our visual cortex takes in more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision," notes Anderson.

"Under positive moods, people may process a greater number of objects in their environment, which sounds like a good thing, but it also can result in distraction," warned the study's lead author Taylor Schmitz.

"Good moods enhance the literal size of the window through which we see the world. The upside of this is that we can see things from a more global, or integrative perspective.

The downside is that this can lead to distraction on critical tasks that require narrow focus, such as operating dangerous machinery or airport screening of passenger baggage.

Bad moods, on the other hand, may keep us more narrowly focused, preventing us from integrating information outside of our direct attentional focus," adds Taylor.

I'd rather have the distraction problem and practice staying focussed - and more aware and happy. If you feel the same then put photos of smiling people you love where you can see them often -- and, per my earlier suggestion, smile your way into feeling better. You'll be able to take in more of what is happening in your life.