An Exercise in Happiness

Science has shown that giving thanks and reflecting on one’s blessings is an excellent way to raise your level of happiness, and since this is the week of Thanksgiving I thought I would blog about a written exercise I did years ago that has stuck with me to this day.

The exercise is really quick, write down the first 20-things that you think of when I say, “what are your favorite things to do that make you happy?”  Probably many of us will interpret “favorite” and “happy” in different ways, but I want you to consider not just the things that you think are “whee fun” like a roller-coaster, but the things in life that give you a sense of satisfaction and contentment.  Feel free to write more than 20.  Do this now.  If you haven’t written down your list of things then don’t read any farther.  Once you are down with your list you can read below.  I’m going to write down my list so you can’t read any farther without scrolling.

My top 20 things that make me happy:

1) Spend time, especially outdoors, with my family

2) Do something outdoors: Hike, bike, ski, play soccer, play tennis, dance, play handball, swim, spelunk, boulder, sail

3) Take a yoga class

4) Read a book, especially Jane Austen or Sherlock Holmes

5) Watch a favorite movie, especially a comedy

6) Do something crafty

7) Cook

8) Travel

9) Camp

10) Talk with a friend

11) Have tea with friends

12) Have a picnic

13) Go antiquing (I don’t even have to buy anything, I just like looking)

14) Finish a project around the house

15) Organize, edit, style my closet

16) Sing, especially with a group

17) Write a song

18) Take a walk through a garden or a forest

19) Host parties

20) Create a new recipe

Okay, once you’ve written down your list, go back through your list and put a “$” sign before anything that takes more than $20 to do.  For instance on my list only 4 of the 20 things cost more than $20 to do: skiing, traveling, camping and hosting parties.  The first time I did this exercise I was in my 20’s and it was a REVELATION to me that most of my favorite things could be done for little to no money.   It can be easy to associate money with happiness, but the reality is that often the deepest satisfaction in life comes from things that are simple and inexpensive to do and can often be done on a daily basis.  I find that there are often themes that can be found in common among different lists, because the reality is that most humans find deep satisfaction in: 1) spending time with loved ones, 2) being engaged in creative pursuits and 3) being engaged in physical activities.  These are activities that not only make us happy, but are also very good for our health physically, mentally and emotionally.  If you had difficulty coming up with your list of 20-things that make you happy, try it again now and see what’s different.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I wish you health and happiness.  Namaste.