Being happy is simple

How annoying is that headline? Especially after this winter! Have you ever been so sick that you can’t remember what it feels like to be healthy? This gray, cold weather has stayed for so long, I can't remember what sunshine feels like. And yet, according to a TED Talk podcast, being happy is simple.

“The secret of happiness is like the secret of dieting, there's no secret,” said social scientist Dan Gilbert.

There are, however, some principles to keep in mind. Some of them are common sense, others, not so much. Overall, experts advise people to simplify their lives. Scale things back. Having too many choices, too many obligations or too many things to juggle makes life hard. But we all know that. Here are some facts about happiness you may not know.

Even the biggest items on our bucket lists, like what jobs we have or who we marry have less effect on overall happiness than we think. So stressing over them should be avoided. The reason for this is general demeanor. Excluding maladjustment, mental health professionals say that three months after any given life event, the event stops impacting happiness. People have a baseline that they naturally return to. Worrying only serves to bring you down in the meantime.

Instead, emotions are best used as guidelines, or a compass that can point you in one direction or another. Think of emotions (both negative and positive) as indications of your underlying preferences when things get confusing and let them guide you. Used this way even unhappiness will eventually lead to happiness. But be careful not to spend too much time dwelling on things. That becomes counterproductive. The mind believes what it hears most.

Another surprising fact about happiness: Distraction causes unhappiness. This is important to note because -- depending on the task at hand -- the mind wanders about half the time. It makes no difference if we are distracted by positive or negative thoughts. When our minds wander, we are unhappy.

With that in mind, taking the time to do something for a few minutes every day that focuses you will make you happier.  Think of something that occupies your mind, something you would not want to fast forward through, like singing a song or driving a great car down a winding road.

But even if you are focused on an activity you hate, like commuting or house cleaning, if you are truly focused you will be happier than if you were playing your favorite sport while distracted.

"Mind wandering is a cause and not the consequence of unhappiness," Matt Killingsworth said in his Greater Good essay, "Does Mind-Wandering Make You Unhappy?." The essay was based on Killingsworth's own Ted Talk, "Want to Be Happier? Stay in the Moment."   

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