Apparently, we’re not in a happy state. Illinois ranks 45th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in how satisfied people are with their lives, according to a recent report. Of course, our economic difficulties and political problems don't help things. But that shouldn't preclude a person's well-being and contentment.
Apparently, we're not in a happy state.
Illinois ranked 45th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in how satisfied people are with their lives, according to a recent report in the journal Science.
People who say they're the happiest Americans live in sunny, outdoorsy states – such as Louisiana (ranked No. 1), Hawaii (2) and Florida (3) – and places that score well on things such as schools, crime and commuting time.
Illinoisans get to experience economic difficulties and political problems, and they aren't happy about it.
"Surveys show that people are really unhappy with a lot of things that are going on in our state," says Gene Brodland, a local psychiatric social worker. (Illinois' neighbors, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, aren't exactly doing handsprings of joy either, with each ranking in the bottom half of the survey.)
But Illinois' troubles shouldn't preclude a person's well-being and contentment.
"Happiness is something that rests with each one of us and is the responsibility of each one of us," he says. "If you're a person who tends to see the negative side of things a lot, this will draw your mood down and cause you to be unhappy."
Formula for unhappiness
Worry and regrets can make people unhappy, Brodland says.
"Worry is about the future. No amount of worrying can change the future. Regrets ... that's about the past, and we can't change history," Brodland says.
"We dwell in these two areas of thinking – either worries or regrets. We miss a lot of the enjoyment of the moment, which is where happiness really rests. It's what you make of today, of this moment.
"If I'm worrying about something, I'm having regrets about something, I'm not going to get much out what goes on right here."
Brodland, 74, says it takes practice to stay in the moment and not worry, and he's had lots of it. He was a worrier 40 years ago, and he says it almost did him in.
"I learned it from my folks. I had good parents, and they were worriers, and I thought that the only way that I could be a good person was to worry," Brodland says. But he burned out emotionally and came within a couple of days of quitting his profession because of worry.
"I don't worry anymore. I haven't worried for about 40 years. That's been the best thing that I've ever done to help my happiness because I can stay in the moment."
To stop worrying, Brodland imagined that his mind went into the future and he would have to drag it back to the moment. He practiced that for more than a year to free himself from worry.
Turn a negative into a positive
Many times, people feel unhappy when they make mistakes, but people can learn and grow from them, he says.
"Most people, when they make a mistake, they will start beating themselves up for being dumb and stupid and a failure and things like that," Brodland says. "Whereas, if I make a mistake, I say, 'Hmm. Maybe I can learn something from this.' That will leave you feeling a lot happier than beating yourself up for your past errors."
Brodland says "stinking thinking" can cause depression.
"If you have a stinky thought, your mood can go way down into the hole," Brodland says.
Doing something nurtures happiness
As a psychiatric social worker, Brodland deals with people's pain all day long.
People have come into his office talking about how unhappy they are – something's not going right with their marriages, their families or their jobs.
"Unhappiness is probably the thing that brings more people in here to me than any other problem," Brodland says.
"There's a solution, but sometimes we need some help to find that solution ... I like to see people happy."
Although Brodland is happy and satisfied to make a difference in others' lives that way, he unwinds through his hobby of singing. He sings with the Springfield Choral Society, Land of Lincoln Barbershop Chorus, Jacksonville Symphony Chorale and Atonement Lutheran Church's choir.
"That's a source of my happiness, too, is that there's a lot of mutual support that goes on in church," Brodland says. "The singing is a great outlet; any kind of hobby is an outlet."
"The Happy Book" by Rachel Kempster and Meg Leder provides readers with a way to put in journal form answers to the question: "What makes you happy?"
The book teaches readers "to practice happiness so it gets easier to find," the authors write.
"'The Happy Book' gives you the opportunity to create a living record of the things in life – friends, memories, family, foods, books, songs, quotes, ideas, dreams – that make you happy. You'll scribble, sketch, ponder, paste, doodle and play ...
"In the end, you'll have worked your happy muscles, grown that garden of joy, tapped the melody that gives you bliss. You'll have created happy."
In giving readers prompts on what to put in the journal, authors encourage them to find at least three things that they like about themselves, "whether it's your near-perfect handwriting, your long eyelashes or your ability to stand on one leg for an extraordinary amount of time."
"Shamelessly brag about yourself ... Celebrate yourself and sing yourself."
You make you happy
Material things and other people won't make you happy, Brodland says.
"Our happiness is in our own spiritually, emotional well-being," Brodland says. "Certainly, people who have a balance between their work, their play time and their love relationships are people who are well-balanced and have a much easier time being happy."
People should take responsibility for their own happiness and not lean on what's happening around them – such as Illinois' problems – to determine it.
Brodland says: "If I'm happy, there are things that others can do that enhances my happiness, but if I'm fundamentally not happy, there is nothing anybody can do to make me happy. So, it's mostly up to me to be responsible for my happiness."
Tamara Browning can be reached at (217) 788-1534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.