Come On, Get Happy!

Yes, you can actually work on raising your level of happiness, says Catherine Birndorf ’88

by Christina Barber-Just

Yes, you can actually work on raising your level of happiness, says Catherine Birndorf ’88Let’s say your life is generally good—you’re not facing a divorce, financial ruin, or any other bona fide crisis. Even so, there always seems to be something that brings you down, like the to-do list that never ends or the five pounds that won’t come off. Face it: Women tend to sweat the small stuff, and it can chip away at our happiness. But you can work on being happier, says psychiatrist Catherine Birndorf ’88, Self magazine’s mental-health expert and co-author of The Nine Rooms of Happiness: Loving Yourself, Finding Your Purpose, and Getting Over Life’s Little Imperfections (Voice, 2010). Here she offers some tips to maximize the happiness quotient in your life.

Identify problems. For most women, sources of unhappiness are easier to identify than sources of happiness. Start by putting your problem into words. If you can peg a problem, you have the potential to reduce its hold on you.

Look for patterns. Ask yourself what you’re doing that keeps each problem a problem. Chances are you’re stuck in a particular pattern of behavior that’s making you unhappy. Break the pattern by finding a strategy that works for you.

Captain your own ship. Don’t blame others for your unhappiness. Nobody but you can make you happy. Find contentedness within yourself. You are a whole person. You may not have realized your full potential, but no one else is going to realize it for you.

Avoid codependence. Jerry Maguire famously said, “You complete me,” but in relationships, partners should complement, not complete, each other. It’s essential to maintain your own life. This isn’t being selfish, it’s self-preservation.

Redefine happiness. Happiness is not a destination. You can’t arrive there and stay forever. Feeling a range of emotions is part of the human condition, so take the pressure off. Recognize happy moments when you experience them, and aim to be happier, not “happy.”

Fall ’10 SAQ