charlie-brownI have experienced a definite rise in my happiness level over the past year. I attribute it to personal growth work I’ve done, starting with the Transform! Training with Wright in Chicago, which I recommend to everyone. I attribute my increased sense of well-being to a new willingness to express my emotions honestly and with much less drama than I have in the past. I experience having more to talk about and less to be afraid of in relationships. I have more fun.

I had judged my increased contentment as a purely personal phenomenon until I discovered that the entire world is getting happier! Flipping through the September issue of Success Magazine, I read that 71% of the world, according to the 2013 Gallup World Poll, reports experiencing positive emotions such as enjoyment, laughter, smiles, restfulness and respect; this number is up from 69% in 2012.

Many people have written about happiness, and there is even a movie or two about it. Perhaps one of my first lessons in happiness came from the musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” in the song “Happiness Is…” (Click here to listen on YouTube). Here are the lyrics (which for some reason skip over “Happiness is a warm puppy” – but we know that one is true too!)

Happiness is finding a pencil. Pizza with sausage. Telling the time.
Happiness is learning to whistle. Tying your shoe for the very first time.
Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band.
And happiness is walking hand in hand.

Happiness is two kinds of ice cream. Knowing a secret. Climbing a tree.
Happiness is five different crayons. Catching a firefly. Setting him free.
Happiness is being alone every now and then.
And happiness is coming home again.

Happiness is morning and evening, Daytime and night time too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.

Happiness is having a sister. Sharing a sandwich. Getting along.
Happiness is singing together when the day is through,
And happiness is those who sing with you.

Happiness is morning and evening, daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.

[spoken] You’re a good man, Charlie Brown

Although others have sung that happiness is a warm gun, I prefer the child-like sentiment of the Charlie Brown characters. They understand that objects, situations and people can bring us happiness if we choose to have them bring us happiness.

I’m encouraged that more people are enjoying life, and, I imagine, appreciating things both big and small.

Happiness, according to Gallup, is a valuable indicator of social unrest. Syria, for instance, had a 46% happiness rating in 2012 and that number plummeted 10 percentage points in 2013 to reach the bottom of the list. I certainly don’t know what Syrians can do to increase their happiness levels; I imagine it’s a chicken or egg phenomenon, where unhappiness breeds unrest and unrest breeds unhappiness. But for those of us in the United States (78%), especially those of us who lead relatively peaceful lives, it’s worth taking a look at what we can do to make our lives more enjoyable.

Happiness in the world of Charlie Brown is easy to come by. And I think it can be easy to come by for most of us. Here are some things I believe can lead us in the “more happiness” direction:

  1. Responsibly express a full range of emotions.
    When we can recognize our fear, anger, sadness, pain and joy, and share those with others, we become more connected as human beings. Emotions are something we can all understand. We need to take responsibility for our experiences as opposed to being dramatic about our anger, hurt and pain. And if we can find the right balance, our communications can become much more intimate and satisfying.
  1. Take risks.
    Taking risks makes me feel alive. I don’t mean jumping off cliffs or out of airplanes; I mean saying or doing something I would not normally say or do, even though I’m terrified. It can be as simple for me as asking for a discounted admission to a gym when I’m traveling, even though I “know” I won’t get it (I got $5 off a $15 entrance fee). Or asking men to dance with me at a local street festival (I had more fun than I ever did waiting for men to ask me!). These acts of challenge get my heart pumping almost as much as if I were about to jump off an actual cliff.
  1. Break rules.
    As a historical rule-follower, I find that breaking unspoken or sometimes explicit rules can make my life a lot more fun. I have rules like I should not speak until someone else does – but speaking first or interrupting someone often makes a greater contribution to a conversation than waiting silently. I have a “rule” that I should not tell someone something I don’t like about them – but when I tell them, they often explain their behavior to me or even change it on the spot, creating more intimacy and connection. I used to have a “rule” that I should go to every event at a conference, especially the meals. But at my last conference, I went to a yoga class during lunch one day, and I’m glad I did! I’m discovering that there are many opportunities on a daily basis to break rules that are not serving me, and I definitely feel happier doing things differently.
  1. Celebrate your victories.
    Martin Seligman, Ph.D., founder of the positive psychology movement, determined that people who wrote down their positive experiences before bedtime every day for a week, and analyzed why they went well, increased their happiness for six months! Simply taking time to reflect on three good things that happened during your day will help you sleep better and increase your overall sense of well-being.
  1. Trust people.
    Cynicism, defined as the “belief that self-interest is the main motivation for other people’s actions” leads to dementia and higher mortality rates, according to a study in Finland by Anna-Maija Tolppanen, Ph.D. Previous reports have linked cynicism to heart disease. So if you are a cynic, and if you want to be happier and healthier, it’s time to literally change your mind!
  1. Focus on positive meaning.
    Going through life, there are a lot of things to “do.” Shawn Achor, a Harvard-trained researcher and author of Before Happiness, says we experience up to three times higher levels of productivity in our business lives when we focus on feelings of accomplishment, helping people, social connection, or the thrill of a sale. I imagine the same goes for our social lives. Focus on the bigger picture and the positive goal, and that “to do” list becomes a happiness generator instead of a drag!
  1. Set yourself up to win.
    If you’re like me, you like to accomplish goals, as opposed to fail at meeting them. One big key to accomplishing more goals is making them achievable in the first place! There’s no reason to go for a big goal and not celebrate until you meet it. There are a LOT of steps along the way to getting there. So rather than setting a goal of clearing out an entire basement, start with a goal like emptying one bin or box a day. That way you get to celebrate every day when you empty that one container, and before you know it you will have a much cleaner basement! You can have multiple wins every day just because you say you’ve won.

This list of ways to increase our happiness is by no means comprehensive, but it sure is a good start. Charlie Brown’s experience of happiness is completely attainable in the non-cartoon world, and I for one want to live in a world where the simple things create more happiness. If more people take steps toward happiness, will Gallup find another uptick in 2014? What makes me happy is to think that the numbers will keep climbing.

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