Barney Stinson taught us many things over the course of “How I Met Your Mother,” from the necessity of a good suit to making an entrance. But, according to no less an authority than a Harvard professor, his wisest piece of advice is his philosophy on optimism: “When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead.”
Tal Ben-Shahar, author of “Choose the Life You Want: The Mindful Way to Happiness,” teaches one of the most popular classes in the university’s history, Positive Psychology. He defines happiness as “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning.”
The key (as Barney also demonstrated over the show’s nine seasons) is that happiness isn’t something that happens to you – it’s a product of your actions and mindset. Ben-Shahar shared his seven lessons to live by for a happier life.
1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions such as fear, sadness or anxiety as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.
2. Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning. The things you do, whether at work or at home, should be both personally significant and enjoyable. “For example, if I find my work meaningful but not pleasurable, I will not be happy doing it and will ultimately burn out,” he explains. “If I find what I do pleasurable but it has little meaning for me, I will quickly lose interest.”
3. Happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind. Barring extreme difficulties, our level of wellbeing is determined by what we choose to focus on and by our interpretation of external events. Try the classic glass half empty or half full question with your daily life to find a new perspective.
4. Simplify! We are trying to squeeze more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.
5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do – or don’t do – with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, being outdoors, getting enough sleep and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.
6. Show appreciation. We too often anticipate big moments, taking the small pleasures in our daily lives for granted. Stop waiting for major events and savor small moments.
7. Reconnect with your support network. The No. 1 predictor of happiness is the time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. Make a call, send an email, text a random photo or suggest getting together for lunch – you might be surprised who’s been thinking of you, too.