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Want more happiness? Stop looking in the wrong places.

Happiness is determined partly by genetics, your external circumstances and your thoughts. The quality of your thoughts has a major influence on the quality of your life and this is the part you can influence with your behaviour.

Even before I became a therapist I was interested in the concept of happiness. I read Gretchen Rubin’s “The happiness project” back in university. I have since read countless other books and studies on mental health and happiness. Here’s a short list of what I have learned, and consistently work on putting into practice, in my own life.

It is important to realize that happiness is NOT a destination. Feeling a range of emotions is normal and it is possible for 2 opposing emotions to co-exist at the same time. For example, you can be smiling but struggling, you can be kind and set boundaries, you can be vulnerable and powerful, valuable and flawed.

Here is what we know helps to evoke more positive thoughts, leading to a more positive quality of life.

  • Be kinder to yourself. People are often incredibly hard on themselves, thinking that shame and self hatred will help them change. This is simply not true and actually furthers any issues you are facing in life.

  • People who practice gratitude are happier; a daily practice of intentionally looking for things to be grateful for has shown to have a very positive effect on your brain after just a short time. You can write it down or tell your partner or friend. I like to practice gratitude with my kids at suppertime.

  • People who help others report higher levels of happiness. This can be as small as paying for someone’s coffee at Tim Hortons. It is anything that focuses on other people instead of focusing on yourself.

  • Having healthy and meaningful social connections, especially ones that you can be your authentic self with, are so important to health and happiness. Healthy relationships lead to happier people.

  • Recognizing the connection between physical and mental health. When we do not take care of our physical body such as not sleeping enough or eating poorly, we always see an impact mentally. Moving your body has been shown to be as effective as an antidepressant medication in many studies. Our mood improves after exercising, this is undeniable.

I recently heard about a certain “accident of neuroscience” that explains something interesting. It states that we strongly crave things we do not enjoy as much as we thought we would (ie. a certain food) and we don’t crave things that are actually good for us that we are actually very happy to have when we have it (ie. Exercise). This is a good indication that we need to be mindful and purposeful with how we go through life because our brain often pulls us towards the things we really need. Ensure you are paying attention to what emotions you want to create within yourself and choose the behaviours that will lead to those emotions. If you want to find more meaning in your life and learn to seek happiness from within, talking with a therapist can help. ~Laura

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