Health & Wellness

Colorado Health & Wellness | Spring 2016

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Health and Wellness Magazine • 53 THE PATH TO HAPPINESS So many of us think of happiness as a personality trait — and to some extent it is, the experts say. But it's also a skill that can be learned, says Dana Steidtmann, a clinical psychologist with the University of Colorado Denver. She and CU Psychology Professor Kevin Masters say steps to happiness can include: Having purpose. Most happy people report a sense of purpose. It's about "connecting to something that has meaning or contribution," Steidtmann says. People can find purpose through careers, volunteering, family, faith communities, and other relationships. The idea is to be at the right level of challenge, Masters says. "If work is too challenging, it's frustrating. If it's not challenging enough, you don't feel good about yourself." Psychologists call that "sweet spot, or finding the optimal challenge," flow. Being grateful. Keep a gratitude journal, or set time aside to talk with family about the things you feel appreciative of each day. "There is pretty good evidence that it's helpful to take some time, on a regular basis, to reflect on the things we're grateful for," Steidtmann says. Being giving. Volunteer. Do something nice for a friend. Give a gift. "There is a lot of good evidence around the positive experience of giving back," Steidtmann says, adding that people often don't realize how good giving will make them feel. Masters stresses that this doesn't mean people need to be in the soup kitchen every day. They can be small gestures, he says, describing how he recently let people into his lane during his daily commute. "It made me feel so much better!" he says, laughing. "It's silly, right? But those are the ways you end up feeling a bit better. I think it's almost always the small things." Being social. Strong connections with other people help make us happier. "That's been shown to be pretty true across races, genders, cultures, countries, etc.," Masters says. The number of friends doesn't need to be large, he says. "But the connection needs to be solid." gauge their happiness levels in relation to their situations. While the paralyzed group experienced an initial dip in happiness, a couple of years later, both groups reported no significant difference in their happiness levels since winning the money or becoming paralyzed. Shin's approach echoes that. "Happiness isn't this thing outside of me that I achieve and then tell myself: Now I'm happy. It is a continual process, a deepening awareness of everything that's going on in my life, both good and bad, and being OK with it all no matter how it looks." So can anyone be happy? Probably not; at least not all the time, Steidtmann says. "It's OK and normal not to be happy some of the time," she says. "Negative emotions – such as sadness, fear and worry — those have a role, too." She stresses that anyone working toward a happier life keep realistic expectations. "Like anything, these strategies to boost happiness are new habits you're creating. It absolutely is effort. They take work. But it can work over time." Health and Wellness Magazine • 53

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