The Happiness of Engaging in Everyday Life
Everyone wants as much happiness as they can get, right? Happy people live better and generally live longer.
Unfortunately, most of us face roadblocks to happiness that have crept into our lives without much notice. Give some thought to how indifference or disengagement might be the culprit. Then, consider the happiness builder discussed below.
Psychological disengagement is being physically present but with you’re mind-out-of-gear. Shockingly, most people are at least partially disengaged most of the day.
Disengagement is not just cruising in your comfort zone. It is often a negative reaction to what’s happening in the external world that causes anxiety, stress, withdrawal, closed mindedness, indifference or apathy and can lead to loneliness and a sense of alienation.
Not a picture of happiness or good mental health – but it is a picture often associated with the stereotypes of getting older.
Before you dismiss this as a characterization of you “elderly” relative or friend, ask yourself a few questions:
- How much of your day is devoted to tasks that need to get done but are, well just tasks?
- How often do you take a break for enjoyment, like having a cup of coffee then find yourself looking at an empty cup but can recall the pleasure of drinking it?
- How often so you put off doing something because it is likely to cause frustration?
- Do you frequently choose passive activities like watching TV over something that once gave you pleasure, or something that might give you pleasure?
If any of these apply to you, you’re not alone!
Fortunately, there are ways to amp-up engagement in everyday living – ways that feel good and are good for you.
Keeping Busy is not Necessarily Engagement
Psychological engagement mean you are mindful of what you are doing, not mindlessly carrying out a task – like drinking that coffee without tasting it.
Harvard Psychology Professor, Ellen Langer’s lifelong research and recent book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, makes a convincing case that by mindfully engaging the world a person can impact the mind and it can actually reduce many of the physical symptoms of aging. There is a lot more to this than just “stopping to smell the roses,” but that’s not a bad start.
Smiling. We smile when we are happy, right! Well, here’s a thought that should make you smile. Smiling makes us happy; smiling releases endorphins in the brain that make us feel good. Go ahead and smile. Heard the old saying, put a smile on her face? A good starting point is to smile as you make eye contact. It turns out that positive emotions are contagious and among the most contagious is smiling.
Try this! When you are mindlessly carrying out one of those “tasks,” smile. Smile at the clerk in the supermarket, most of the time they will smile back. Choose the same clerk for a while and always give them a smile. In a short time, they will smile at you as they see you getting in their line.
There is a growing body of evidence that shows that grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships (see Wikipedia)
The simple act of mentally noting things for which you are grateful or thankful can have an almost immediate impact. Keep it up and you get a more lasting impact. Writing them down is even better. Alone, this won’t eliminate all your woes but it helps prime other positive emotions.
Another way to engage gratitude in your daily life is to express thanks. Smile and thank that disengaged clerk at the supermarket. For even more impact, think about someone to whom you are grateful t –then reach out and tell them.
Over the past decade, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (see Positivity) and others have demonstrated that positive emotions are good for you. Negative emotions are a signal that something bad has happened or is about to happen and these negative emotions push us towards “fight or flight” behaviors. Think of them as a survival reaction.
Positive emotions are not just the absence of negative emotions. Positive emotions create what Frederickson calls a “Broaden and Build” state. They feel good but they also open our mind to dealing with a changing world. The bonus, when get engaged and deal with the new and novel, the uncertain or unpredictable, we build psychological resource that make us better at doing so in the future. It feels good, it makes us more resilient and adaptable, boosts optimism and enhances our self-esteem. For more on this topic go to Thriving.
Mmmm even that small dose of psychological engagement and endorphins feels good. The icing on the cake is that the release of endorphins in the brain counteracts stress.
This is just a primer on how engagement can positively impact your mind and body. One of Living55plus.com initiatives is to act as a curator for ways to enhance mind and body well-being. We will synthesize the research and point out the practical implication and even suggest ways to incorporate the concepts into your daily lives.
See Seizing a Rich and Extended Life for more details.
This is relatively new territory for all of us eager to be “living 55+” to the fullest. Share your insight and experiences in the comments sections of nearly every page on this site.