THE BLOG
01/30/2015 07:12 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

Count Your Lucky Stars

I have been receiving emails and calls from family caregivers asking about all the recent stories they are seeing about happiness. To summarize their comments, there is a feeling that if attaining happiness, even intermittently, sounds so damn easy, then why are they having so much trouble being happy? Fair question, especially if you consider what many family caregivers deal with day-to-day.

In my opinion, being happy is not easy or hard and shouldn't be viewed with a pass/fail mindset. It's an emotional state that you can develop and incorporate into your daily life... but it doesn't just happen.

Encouraging people to live happier has been going on for quite a while. In fact, even President Lincoln got into the happiness discussion when he said, "Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be." Honest Abe's comment may have hit on something very important -- as today's science supports, for many, happiness is very much a choice!

That said, it's nonsense to suggest that all you need to do is say, "I want to be happy," and hocus pocus your spirits are soaring. However, the simple act of choosing to be happy is a wonderful first-step in the right direction on your path to happiness.

I have observed that people who are truly happy practice being happy every day. You're probably thinking, Oh, come on, Victor. I have to practice being happy? Yup, if you're like most of us mere mortals, finding happiness consistently takes focus and work until the practice of seeking happiness is as normal a part of your daily activity as brushing your teeth. We can call this practice creating a habit of happiness.

Let's be honest, we can always make an excuse to not be happy. I constantly hear family caregivers (and people in general) say, "I will be happier once my loved one is feeling better," or "I would be happier if I had more money," or "if my friends where more supportive," or "if my golf handicap was lower" (sorry I couldn't help myself). However, I am here to tell you that if outside circumstances are the prerequisite for your achieving happiness, you're going to have a long wait to feel a sense of ongoing, true, heartfelt happiness. Happiness is gained by thinking inside out, searching our personal beliefs to find those observations and self-initiated activities that bring us happiness and joy each and every day. Find what delights you, and practice, practice, practice.

To help find your happiness sweet spot, I have an easy and fun exercise, which is a pleasure to practice. I promise!

I recently read a wonderful book called What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey. In her book, Oprah describes the occurrences in her life that bring her joy. Every day, she takes an inventory of her activities and observations, and assigns one to five stars to each, five indicating the most happiness. Her goal is to experience as many four- and five-star activities in her day as possible. For instance, Oprah rates both being with a great book and speaking with a dear friend a five. Enjoying a wonderful cup of coffee earns a four. Oprah honestly admits that she gives only one star to working out. Hey, not everything is a four- or five-star happening.

I love this exercise for two reasons. First, it helps us truly think about and take notice of what does and does not bring us a feeling of happiness and joy. The knowledge of what makes us happy is so important because, let's face it, in our crazy busy days it is so easy to blur all activity and think of only the irksome things we experienced. And second, the exercise provides us with a footprint to develop the habitual practice of seeking these happiness situations and ensures that we take a few minutes each day to make the practice a core part of our lives.

The trick is to take time to understand how you feel. You deserve it. Identify those moments that truly give you an internal smile and a feeling that touches your soul, then look for those moments more often, and be grateful for them, because they enrich your life. And remember, you control this process!

Looking back, perhaps instead of titling this article "Count Your Lucky Stars," I should have titled it "Recognize and Savor Your Lucky Stars!"

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about the science of happiness and finding suggestions to help you, there are several books that I recommend: Be Happy!: Release the Power of Happiness in You by Dr. Robert Holden, Stumbling on Happiness by Dr. Dan Gilbert, Authentic Happiness by Dr. Martin Seligman, The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, and What Happy People Know by Dr. Dan Baker. Enjoy!

Help Yourself. Help Others.