Kirsten Mustain

A recent scientific study has found that happiness is contagious, according to an article in the British Medical Journal.

One source said, “Researchers looked at twenty years' worth of data on more than 5,000 individuals and found that when any one person was happy, their friends became more likely to share that joy. Benefits spread out to three degrees of separation, meaning a better chance at happiness for not only their friends' friends, but also their friends' friends' friends.”

Consider the potential.

One happy person can literally infect countless others – even people he or she does not know. And those people may turn around and give the same gift to others, ad infinitum.

It’s a beautiful thing to realize that one’s attitude can make such a difference.

It occurs to me that one of the best gifts we can give our loved ones and friends over the Christmas season and beyond is to be happy.

Now I have known people who say that happiness is unrealistic and overrated and people who see reality for what it truly is cannot ever be happy.

Poppycock.

Certainly one can find negative things anywhere one cares to look.

However, I would argue that there are just as many positive things going on in the world as negative – it’s all a matter of where one chooses to look and how one chooses to perceive what one sees.

For instance, one look at today’s front page will reveal two positive stories and two negative ones – an even balance.

Certainly happy news does not sell newspapers or improve viewer ratings for TV news shows, but that tells more about readerships and audiences than it does about what is actually going on in the world.

Besides, happiness really is not contingent on outward events so much as inwardly cultivated attitudes.

Being happy is, of course, easier said than done.

You can’t just snap your fingers and say, “Okay, I’m happy now.” (Well, maybe you can, but I can’t.)

When I taught yoga, there were several easy techniques that my students and I found useful.

The first thing that helps is to quiet the nervous system. Just sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, hip width apart, inhale and stretch your spine upward, then bend forward, being sure to bend right at the hip joints and not the waist. The idea is to keep the entire spine straight as you go forward. You don’t have to go far, just as far as you feel comfortable going, and breath for a little while – 30 seconds or a minute. If you can’t bend very far, place your hands on your thighs for extra support. This should relax you.

Once you are relaxed, there are all sorts of things you can do to help an unhappy attitude. Here are two of them:

The first thing is to count your blessings. I know it sounds sappy, but it really works. You may have to think hard if you are in a bad mood. But, even if the only blessing you can think of at the moment is, “I am not dead and no one I know is currently involved in organized crime,” that is a start.

As you go through your day, try to notice the blessings that you do have. They can be terribly small – a cup of warm coffee, a green traffic light, a smile from a kind stranger in Wal-Mart, a song you love on the radio – any of these will do. As you count, more blessings will occur to you.

The other technique that seems to help is to find a peaceful spot inside yourself.

This is best to do directly after a forward bend or anything else that relaxes you. Make sure you are resting in a comfortable place, then imagine a quiet and happy space in the center of your chest where your heart beats. You may furnish it with whatever makes you feel good – a waterfall, some shady trees, a warm fire. Mine has bluebirds. Close your eyes and go to this place and feel how peaceful it is. It may be difficult to concentrate at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Once you have established this quiet peaceful place, see if you can expand it through your whole being.

Another thing you should do, especially in this season when everyone is terribly busy and all sorts of family issues are likely to arise, is to simply give yourself a pat on the back and a reward. Buy yourself a special lunch or some small frivolous token that makes you smile. Get a massage. Take a hot bath. Drink some hot chocolate. Whatever makes you feel pampered.

Any of these simple things will help improve your outlook and therefore the outlook of everyone around you.

Merry Christmas!