Health and Well-Being Different perspectives

Practicing Happiness

What is the key to happiness? Self-help books might say a combination of diet and exercise.

Hollywood might tell you fame and beauty.

The corporate world might say wealth and the corner office.

But the key is actually practicing happiness, just like you might practice a sport, instrument, or new language. You can train your mind, brain, and spirit to be happy in positive situations, just like you use coping skills in difficult situations. Three Loyolans dedicate their work to telling us how.

Get the recipe: At Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus, John Schnupp relies on ingredients as local as they come. Find out why farm-to-table matters.

Stop and Savor

If you want to be happy, then savoring is the way to get there, according to Fred Bryant, a psychology professor who has been studying happiness for 38 years. Savoring is a common term in positive psychology these days, but Bryant both pioneered the research and chose the term when he first started studying how people process and appreciate positive experiences. His definition for savoring: The capacity that humans have to notice, focus on, and appreciate positive experiences—such as activities or moments in time where there are good feelings involved.

There is no shortage of research and information on how to deal with depression, trauma, and other difficult circumstances in life, but much less on the positive experiences in life, whether it is a beautiful sunset, a promotion at work, or the birth of a child.

Bryant points out that the absence of depression or sadness does not automatically mean someone is happy. He says finding joy is a skill like learning to play a sport or an instrument.

“I’m interested in how you get there [to happiness], not who’s there and who’s not. How do people transform a positive moment into something wonderful that they feel?” said Bryant, who has taught at Loyola since 1982.

“Happiness is not in the events, it is in us. The most wonderful thing has no effect on us until we transform it in our own minds and the way we react to it.”

These days, Bryant is savoring his relationship with his two-year-old granddaughter. “We pay more attention to the hassles and the problems in our lives, and are more fond of counting woes and worries than our joys and our blessings, but the data shows that there are actually more good things than bad,” he said. “We need to pay more attention to the good by savoring.”

Fred Bryant’s tips for savoring

  1. Notice what’s around you, and take mental photographs so that you can revisit the experience and the positive feelings. Focus on these feelings and “swish them around in your mind,” Bryant said. Not only will you enjoy the experience in the moment, but you can revisit it vividly later and double your joy.
  2. Share experiences with others. They can often point out things you have overlooked, and vice versa, helping each of you to savor the experience even more.
  3. Enjoy experiences as they are, rather than thinking about what should have been, or whether someone else is experiencing it differently.
  4. Make time to savor, just like you would with any other item on your to do list. We can’t savor while answering emails or doing laundry. Prioritize time to do activities that are simply enjoyable, without any other distractions—just like you would put going to the doctor or to the gym for your health. It can be a walk by Lake Michigan, a visit to the art museum, or time spent with grandchildren.
  5. Don’t wait for something good to happen: Look at what is already in your life and find something to savor, whether it is an everyday occurrence or a major milestone. People are not passive recipients of happiness, but rather, can create it in their own lives.
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