The How of Happiness – Taking Care of Your Body

And finally we come to the last of the happiness boosting activities listed in “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky:

Taking Care of Your Body

There is actually a lot to this one so I’ll get right to it.

There are three ways that Ms. Lyubomirsky talks about taking care of your body in the book:

  • Meditation
  • Physical Activity
  • Acting Like a Happy Person

Lets look at these.


The key elements to aim for when meditating are:

  • Observe the present moment impartially – be detached from it
  • Do not be too focused on your goals (though you can still be progression toward them)
  • Don’t force or rush it – let it happen as it will
  • Trust – yourself, your life, that things will work out
  • Be open to every little thing as though seeing it for the first time
  • Let go of thoughts and ruminations – see them but let them go – don’t focus on them.

How do you do this?

  • Usually alone (though I have done it in a group led by a Monk)
  • Sit in a comfortable place, back straight
  • Close your eyes and focus on  breathing – as you breath out silently repeat a short word (one, om, be) OR
  • Keep your eyes open, but focus on a specific thing (flame, tone, the ocean surf)
  • If your mind wanders let the thoughts pass – do not resist them – only notice them without focusing on them and turn inward again back to breath or object of focus.

Beginners will probably only get a few seconds of pure stillness of mind, but as with most things, this takes practice a over time you can work your way up to a minute, then five, then twenty.

In the words of  St. Frances de Sales ~ Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy.  Then a full hour is needed.

Physical Activity

Reasons why physical activity works:

  • Feelings of control, you are taking action to better your body or keep it fit.
  • As with goals, you are working toward and seeing yourself get better at something.
  • Some may find it an activity where they are in “Flow”.
  • Produces high arousal emotions (energy, enthusiasm, vigor)
  • When done with others is a good form of social contact (and support)
  • Benefits to health over time.

As a note, one reason why people don’t stick with an exercise program is because it makes them feel “worse” at first.  As with everything else, the key here is to find what works best for you (if you don’t like jogging in the rain – DON’T).  Also start easy and light, don’t necessarily jump in whole hog, work your way up to the hard stuff.

How to exercise:

  • Be active – in general
  • Start slow – in the 60 to 65% range of your max heart rate (220 minus your age).  So if it is 180 try for 120 to 150 or so.
  • Program it – decide ahead of time on specific times and dates you will do it and make sure your schedule is clear and keep those appointments.
  • If possible choose a time of day when you feel most energetic.
  • Try to work your way up to 30 min of vigorous activity every day of the week – but if you only have 10 min that’s fine, the key is to keep wit it.
  • Don’t let it get static – once you are doing it fairly easy, up the difficulty, run further or faster, lift more weight, etc
  • IF you miss a day – oh well, don’t beat yourself up for it, remember to keep with it and keep trying.  Persistence will get you there.

Finally don’t forget that when you work out, you are adding extra stress to your body and you may need a little more sleep or rest to help it heal and build muscle.

Acting Like a Happy Person

This is my favourite of the “taking care of your body” activites because, for me, it’s the easiest.

Psychologist and behaviourist for a long time have known that if you act one way for a while, you’ll start to be that way.

Ever hear a parent say “if you keep frowning your face will get stuck like that!”

Well it’s actually true.

I’ve talked about the power of self suggestion before and this is essentially the same thing.

Act like a happy person in all your physical mannerisms and you will eventually become one.

It’s really simple to do too.

Just smile or laugh, whenever you think about it.  When you are tempted to frown smile instead.  Maybe set the alarm on your watch to go off every couple of hours to remind you to smile or laugh.  Whatever works for you.

Finally remember that it may feel “fake” at first, but that’s fine.  This entire activity is about faking it until you make it.  Eventually it won’t feel so fake, and one day it will feel completely natural to smile all the time and laugh readily.

I think I’m going to do one more post as a summary on the How of Happiness tomorrow.

Until them, keep laughing – whether fake or not, it will make you happier!

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