In the movie "Eat Pray Love" there is a moment in India where Richard tells Liz, "Choose your thoughts in the morning the way you choose your clothes." This potent little message has the power to make an enormous difference in our happiness.
Compare the look you are choosing for your clothes to the outlook you are choosing for your day-to-day life. Are you stuck in the same look/outlook without realizing it? What if you could express a happier, more expansive and connected side of yourself? This is just as possible for your thoughts as it is for your wardrobe.
The Power of Choosing Your Thoughts and Actions
We have more control than we think over our happiness. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of "The How of Happiness," while in general 50 percent of our happiness is caused by genetics, and 10 percent is caused by life circumstances, there's a substantial 40 percent that can be changed through how we think and act.
Genetic Happiness (about 50 percent): This is the piece that prompts us to say, "Oh he's always happy," or "she is such a grouch." A genetic predisposition to grouchiness can tug at us, but the good news is that it's not even close to the whole story.
Happiness from Circumstances (about 10 percent): Only 10 percent of happiness tend to be due to life circumstances, such as age, sex, income, getting or losing a job, moving or even winning the lottery. Why? People tend to adapt to new situations. Individuals surveyed one year after either winning the lottery or recovering from a major accident, had adapted to be about as happy as they were before those major life events occurred. But there's more ...
Happiness Potential (about 40 percent): Lyubomirsky states that there is 40 percent "that's in our power to change through how we act and how we think, that portion representing the potential for increased lasting happiness that resides in all of us." (1) By intentionally cultivating happier thoughts (like gratitude) and perspectives (like what is there to learn from this), along with practicing a variety of activities that promote happiness (like savoring an experience, connecting with people who care for us), we all can experience greater happiness.
So, now that we know we can influence our happiness, let's give the same attention each morning to choosing our outlook that we do our look. Imagine choosing a positive attitude along with clothes that make us feel great. Below are some fashion trends and the happiness practices (yes, we do have to practice for lasting results...) that coordinate.
Animal Prints are always in style and to me represent tapping into our primal instincts and reconnecting with the knowingness we were born with. The happiness practice, which amplifies inner connection, is anything that stills the mind. It could be checking in with how your body is feeling right here and now, taking a pause of five to 10 deep breaths, feeling your feet on the ground, or meditating to be able to hear the clues your inner knowingness is sending you. What is your favorite way of connecting with a deeper part of yourself?
The Military Look reminds me of structure and goal setting. The happiness practice is choosing goals that are intrinsically satisfying and meaningful to you, rather than ones that just look good for others. What would you love to do? Break it into baby steps and think, in advance, of what could go wrong (not enough time, frustration, family pressures, etc.) and how you would deal with each challenge. Then go for it with passion! Remember also to enjoy the journey, and be open to where it takes you.
The Bohemian Look suggests freedom, living in the now and savoring life's moments. One related happiness practice is called "Flow." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined it as "a state of intense absorption and involvement with the present moment." (2) Athletes also call it "being in the zone." The key for getting to this place, where time literally flies by, is really engaging with an activity (sports, creative expression, anything super focused) and crafting a balance between your skills and the challenges before you. Think of a time when you were so absorbed in what you were doing that hours seemed like minutes. What thoughts and activities could trigger that sense of flow for you now?
The Boy Meets Girl Look speaks to me of accepting ourselves and our many expressions. The happiness practice is to write down a list of what you like about yourself (could be your freckles, your sense of humor or your love for animals). Now, what bothers you? Is it something you are committed to change (if so, see Military Look), or would a shift in perspective (I love myself as I am -- my legs are strong, not fat) be in order? Loving and accepting yourself is liberating!
Return to Classics makes me think about timeless strategies for accessing the happiness within. Even your grandmother would agree that counting your blessings -- gratitude, works wonders. Consider keeping a gratitude journal to jot down three things a day that you're grateful for. Sleeping, exercise and eating less processed foods are also helpful. And, don't forget giving. Diderot says it nicely, "Happiest are the people who give the most happiness to others."
So just like sprucing up your wardrobe, you can spruce up your thoughts. By choosing thoughts and activities that increase your happiness, you'll experience noticeable positive changes in your life. And, although it would be fun, you don't even have to distant lands to make it happen.
1 Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness. Penguin Press, 2007.
2 Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly as cited in Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness. Penguin Press, 2007.
Randy Taran is the founder of the non-profit, Project Happiness, and co-author with Maria Lineger of the Project Happiness Handbook. Catch Randy and get updates on her vision for a world happiness (r)evolution via Twitter @randytaran and the Facebook Project Happiness group. Don't forget to sign up for the free nifty Project Happiness Newsletter. B Happy 2.