Happiness, and finding more of it, has been on the minds of Adam and Kelly Radinsky for about a year now. The couple, who are married and live in Topanga Canyon with their two children, had a strong hunch that being happier was within reach. They read up on the subject and took action.
"I was the classic stressed-out lawyer, but that's changed, said Adam, 46, a deputy city attorney for Santa Monica, "I don't want to say this miracle happened overnight, but I'm noticeably happier today than I was six months ago."
He and Kelly read Sonya Lyubomirsky's book "The How of Happiness," and found that her suggestions were similar to those in other spiritual and self-help books Adam was reading. So he tried a few. Specifically, he started keeping a gratitude journal, and focused more on enjoying the moment and worrying less about the past and future. He also stopped insisting on always being right, he said.
"At first I had to think hard to come up with one thing to be grateful for. Now it's hard to stop thinking of things." He reframes situations he used to complain about. For instance, his commute to work used to frustrate him; now he regards it as a time to think.
"When I find my head taking a little riff on what's happened or what's coming, I bring myself back to the present with a good, deep breath many times a day," he said.
Letting others be right was harder on his ego. However, he said, "when I can let go of my position, I find many creative ways to let the other person be right and still get what I want." At home, most of the things he argued about, he found, were petty. "I save a lot of wasted breath by not engaging. Besides, my wife is usually right." Six months ago he would have given himself a six on a 10-point happiness scale. Today, he'd rate an eight.
Kelly agreed that her husband is a new man. "The changes have helped our marriage go from good to great." Meanwhile, she has been employing her own happiness-building strategies. After having her children, now ages 9 and 6, she found that achieving her dream -- being married and having children -- wasn't enough. She knew Lyubomirsky socially, and after reading her book, she applied three strategies that work for her: First, she said, she became forgiving. Specifically, she forgave her parents for her tumultuous, unstable childhood. "That was a really new idea for me and lifted a load I didn't even know I carried." Second, she started taking yoga again, which helps her calm her mind chatter and sleep better. And third, she did more things that put her in a state of flow. One of those activities, taking pictures of her children, turned into a new career: She now takes children's portraits professionally.
"I'm happier and much more aware of what makes me happy. As soon as I feel a little down, I go back to my list of what works, see what's missing and get it back, whether that means doing yoga or taking some pictures."
The Radinskys prove Lyubomirsky's point: How you act and how you think largely determine if happiness is inside you.
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One week to a more contented you
While working with unhappy clients, psychologist and author Dan Baker draws on the science that shows that half of our happiness is genetic, but as much as 40% is up to us. "That 40% is huge," says Baker, who is the founding director of the life enhancement program at Canyon Ranch, an upscale spa and resort in Tucson and the author of "What Happy Women Know" (Rodale, 2008), a sequel to his bestselling "What Happy People Know" (St. Martin's, 2004).
To help clients rewire their unhappy outlook, he offers this three-part prescription. For the next week, do these things daily:
1. Every morning when you wake up, think of someone or something that you have a deep and abiding appreciation for: a former teacher or coach, a neighbor, a parent or friend. Do the same just before lunch. At night, when you get in bed, think of something that occurred that day that you appreciate.
2. Do something for someone else. Call a friend or send her an e-mail. Give a toy to charity.
3. Curb your negative self-talk. When thinking of a forthcoming event, such as the birth of a baby or having the family over for Thanksgiving, don't focus on the pain or hassles. Focus on the possibilities -- and on what's good and special about the event.
"It only takes a couple minutes each day to eventually build up a new neural network," Baker says.
Keep up these new behaviors until they turn into habits.
-- Marnell Jameson