Do you want to be happy? My guess is that the answer is yes (especially since you're reading this article right now; sampling bias FTW!). Happiness is the elusive hobgoblin that we all seem to be chasing. That idea of being joyous and fulfilled. That's the reason why we pursue things like wealth, health, friendship, love, success, and accomplishment. We believe that those things will make us feel good, that they will make us happy. But what if those things that you desire are currently out of your reach? Does that mean you can't be happy right now? And even worse, what if you know that being happy is an important part of increasing your chances of getting those things and having the energy to hunt them down? Does this mean that you're just screwed; stuck where you are and doomed to a life of misery while being subjugated by forces that are completely beyond your control?
This is the uncomfortable situation that I found myself in the few years ago (I know, who would've thought that choosing a life of darkness and villainy would involve such emotional pitfalls as feeling down or despondent sometimes; I guess it can happen to anyone). Fortunately, being a student and practitioner of practical psychology, I remembered reading that researchers have found that only about 10% of your happiness comes from external sources and situations. That's good news. Now of course you could argue that 100% of your happiness technically comes from within your own mind, since it's just a biochemical process anyway. That's even better news. Armed with this knowledge (and perhaps even more importantly, attitude), I decided to begin collecting all of the tactics that I could find to increase my own happiness. If happiness is controllable, then I want to know how to do it and turn it on regardless of what's happening In my external world (seems like a handy trick to have).
So here I have collected for you some of the basic strategies that I have found (and used) to increase happiness. I can honestly say that the results can be pretty amazing. But there is one catch. Happiness requires work. While some of these can be used to make you feel better immediately, for best results, these things must be done consistently over time. Happiness is a habit. A mindset that you have to pursue and work towards until it becomes ingrained within you. You must train your brain and create new neural pathways until it becomes your default emotion. A place you always go to without even trying. It can be done, but it will require practice and effort. Another piece of good news is that you will find much of this practice enjoyable because it will make you, well, happy! So I ask you again- Do you want to be happy?
People think of smiling as something that happens as a result of being happy, But it can actually work the other way around. Actively smiling can actually cause happiness. Charles Darwin once observed that "Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds". The reason this works is because our minds and bodies are linked. Something that psychologists called "facial feedback". By expressing certain things on our face, Our brains will react by feeling those things. So if your goal is to feel happy, Then practicing smiling regularly Is one way to condition Your mind to regularly feel that and make it a habit. You can use your facial expressions to induce the emotion. You don't have to smile at other people, and you don't even have to smile into a mirror. In fact, you can just do what I did when I started and begin practicing by smiling to yourself while sitting alone in the dark (and you get extra points for being creepy like that). If you don't smile very much already, It'll take some time to get used to because the muscles in your face Will have to get used to it before It feels natural. But that's all it takes and feeling those muscles flex will send that message to your brain you are happy.
Eventually you can push this one even further by making yourself laugh more as well . Even deliberately practicing laughing . It should be no surprise why someone like me likes this one. After all, nothing says villain like a sinister smile. It's one of the things that makes being an evil doer so much fun. Heroes don't get to laugh maniacally.
Look up at the scarlet moon and the black abyss of the cosmic darkness and feel it, know that the chaos of the universe is on your side, for you are one with it's terror. Or just look up, it doesn't really matter. The physical action is the point here. By literally looking up, you can actually improve your mood. The stereotype of a sick, depressed or tired person as always looking down, with slumped shoulders, is not a coincidence. In fact it seems to be part of the human condition and cross-cultural. It applies anywhere you go in the world. Psychologists call this phenomenon embodied cognition. Even many types of animals follow this model, when they are scared or sick, many will put their heads down, curl up or otherwise shrink themselves and their body posture. Happy and confident people, people who feel good, tend to have a different posture and look up. By adopting this same posture, you can change your biochemistry and make yourself feel better.
Notice how even our language reflects this. When you say something is "looking up", it means that things are going in a positive direction. And when someone "seems down" , it means that they are sad or depressed. Once again this is not a coincidence and is likely language inspired by our biology. So if you want things to start looking up for you, try looking up yourself. Move your body in a way that is happy and confident and powerful so that you're ready to take on the world, and rule it!
Exercise has many, many benefits that can contribute to happiness. For one thing we know that it reduces stress (people who are completely stressed and constantly on the edge are rarely happy, potential workplace spree killers yes, happy no). It also gives you a greater sense of control, because of the discipline it requires, it helps you sleep better and it has been shown to help you live longer. It can even improve memory by boosting the hippocampus in the brain by creating better blood flow. Obviously exercise can increase your energy which allows you to take on more without getting tired and of course it also releases those wonderful endorphins, feel-good chemicals into your brain.
And that doesn't even include the social and self esteem benefits of just looking better as a result of exercise. In fact exercising regularly has so many benefits it's kind of ridiculous. So yeah, that should definitely be a part of your plan to become happier.
Most people do not breathe correctly. Yes, you read that right. Most people take shallow breaths and breathe in a way that causes their upper chest to expand. If this is you, then you're doing it wrong (no wonder people aren't happy, they can't even breathe right, that's like literally day-one survival stuff right there!). Start paying attention to your breathing and breathe deeper and lower in your abdomen in order to relax and get plenty of oxygen into your system. The goal is to expand your diaphragm, and your stomach should seem to be moving more than your upper chest when you inhale. This is a great way to calm yourself down, reduce stress and improve the systems of your body. When the forces of good and light are bearing down on you, just remember to take a second and breathe
This is actually the first one that I tried on my quest for happiness, mostly because it's the simplest, at least in regards to reprogramming your brain. It's the classic idea that if you say something over and over again to yourself, you will eventually believe it. You will create a new neural pathway in your brain and with repetition, you will begin to become associated with whatever you're telling yourself. We all constantly run internal dialogue in our heads anyway, so this is just a more calculated and deliberate way of doing something that you already do naturally.
Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head? If you can get to that place with your deliberate affirmations, where they just pop into your head at various points without you even having to try to think about them, then you know they're probably getting into your subconscious, and that's a good thing. And if you can associate powerful emotional states with your incantations (using some of those physical techniques we covered above, to get into those emotional states) then the affirmations will stick even more! This is the value of getting yourself "pumped up" while repeating things that you want to believe. Adding emotion and physical action makes a stronger impression on your mind.
One that I started using for my own villainous purposes was the incantation "I am full of dark sinister joy and diabolical bliss". I have since expanded to more specific and complex dialogue in my affirmations that I recorded on my phone and listen to daily. But a good starting place for you might be the classic message "Day by day in every way, I become happier and happier!" Say that over and over again while running or walking briskly with a big smile on your face and lots of energy and you'll be feeling it in no time!
How you interpret your reality is your reality. The truth is that you can always find what is wrong, but you can also always find what is right with any situation. Nothing is inherently good or bad, until we make it so. Nothing has any meaning except the meaning that we give it. One person can lose their job and decide that their life is over. Another person in the exact same situation can lose their job and decide this is a great opportunity to go find something even better, that they really want to do.
The trap, of course, is that most of us just automatically assume that something is good or bad and never stop to think about it. We automatically apply our own narrow judgment and assume that it's the absolute truth. We have internal rules that tell us how we're supposed to look at the world and we never stop to question them. So that's the trick with assigning a better meaning. If you want to feel better about a situation, stop and ask yourself "How else can I look at this?" you can also ask "What can I learn from this?" "What's funny about this?" or "What's good about this?"
If something is making you feel bad, stop looking at it that way. Try thinking about it differently. Ask different questions about it. Another good one is "Is this really true, is this really as bad as I think?". Or even better, "How can I use this to my advantage?" When there are no failures, only learning experiences, and when there are no dead ends, only obstacles that you can find a way around, when you believe there is always an empowering interpretation and a way to enjoy yourself and have what you want, then you can become a god of your own mind.
The capacity of the human brain is limited. In fact our brains process around 400 billion bits of information per second and yet our conscious minds only register 200 bits of that information at any given time. It's impossible for us to truly grasp all of reality, we are always going to make up some story about it, our own skewed interpretation. So you might as well choose a story that empowers you and makes you feel good.
I admit that I didn't really like this one at first, as the idea of being grateful didn't seem to square well with the forces of darkness. It seemed too positive think-y, Chicken Soup for the Soul-like for my taste. But there's no denying that gratitude is a very powerful emotion. Basically the idea here is that your mind will experience whatever you focus on and that is also what you will feel. Can you feel fear and love at the same time? You bet! How about excitement and worry? Of course. But it's almost impossible feel negative emotions while experiencing true gratitude. So the more time that you can spend focusing on what you're grateful for, the less time you will spend having to contend with those other unpleasant feelings.
Maybe you don't think that you have anything to be grateful for. I can guarantee you that you do by virtue of the fact that you're able to read this right now, you obviously have some things that you could find to be grateful for (like a working electronic device and internet connection, for one). And if you can't think of anything, just ask yourself "what could I be grateful for if I really wanted to?"
If you still need more help thinking of reasons to be grateful, just consider the fact that the odds of you being born as you, are about 1 in 400 trillion or more (possibly a lot more depending on all the variables you want to consider). Basically just by existing you've already won the cosmic lottery. Another way to approach this is to compare yourself to people who have it much worse than you do to make yourself feel better, and there's always people who have it worse (ha ha, take that, starving paraplegic orphans!)
Another tactic that I like is to focus on future things that I can be grateful for. Gratitude doesn't have to only include things that you currently have, it can also be about things that you want or that you're just grateful that exist in general. This doesn't mean you have to think about puppies and rainbows all the time, if amassing wealth and global domination is your thing, think about that.
Happy people live in the moment, the present. Happy and successful people live in the present and in the future. Depressed people dwell on the past. Why is the past so disempowering? Because it's gone and you can't change it. You can't do anything about it, so it's pointless to dwell on it. The present is always more engaging if you're willing to be fully present within it. Some of the happiest people on earth are the ones who know how to lose themselves in the moment and focus exclusively on the task at hand. By giving your full attention to one thing at a time, you'll be less tempted to worry about the future and dwell on the past. Plus, you can indulge in the joy of now.
What do people say when they feel very sad or depressed? They say "I feel stuck" or they claim to be directionless. Or maybe even worse, they feel like they have no hope. The simple truth is that progress equals happiness. Having something to look forward to or moving towards a goal will make you happier. You don't even need to reach the goal right away, as long as you feel like you're making progress, you will feel good. It will give you the sensation that you have control over your life and that you have a future that excites you.
It has been said that Hell is a place without hope. It's also been said that "The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven". So in order to avoid creating your own personal Hell, always be sure to give yourself something to look forward to and something to work towards. The good news is that there is always something that you haven't achieved or obtained or experienced, so there's never any shortage of new, exciting goals.
It reminds me of this poem-
"My wants are many and, if told, Would muster many a score; And were each wish a mint of gold, I still should long for more."
You know what's cool about happiness? You're the only one that you have to convince. If you believe you're happy, then you are. So decide that that's going to be your reality from now on.
Make the decision to be happy, make it a priority and personal standard that you hold yourself too. Internalize it as a part of your identity. Become determined to make it happen no matter what, it's probably one of the best decisions you can make. When happiness is who you are, you've won! You are a happy person (or villain) and you will not allow other's misery to bring you down. In fact, when others are acting depressed and miserable, you will be even happier just to spite them. ;)