Happiness–it’s what we all strive to find and keep, even when it’s as elusive as ever. Nobody is jolly and elated all the time, but some individuals are definitely more fulfilled than others. Studies reveal that happiness has little to do with materialistic needs, goods, or wants, or high achievement; it boils down to your outlook on life, the quality of your relationships, and basic amenities like good governance and community resources. Check Step 1 and beyond for more tips and tricks on how to unlock the happier you.
Be optimistic. In the 1970s, researchers followed people who’d won the lottery and found that a year afterward, they were no happier than people who didn’t. This hedonic adaptation suggests that we each have a baseline level of happiness. No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is temporary, and we tend to revert to our baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, and that is due in part to genetics, but it’s also largely influenced by how you think.
- Add up all the little joyful things that happen to you during the day. Write them down. For example, if there was no traffic on the road, if you had a very decent and scrumptious breakfast, if your friend said something uproariously humorous that made you laugh, if you took your dog out for a walk in the park and played with it, add these together. Your outlook will change.
- Feel deeply grateful for the things you have. This is a very effective way to be happy. If you feel grateful for the things you have, you not only become more happy but it also helps you to bring more into your life.
- View the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. Your girlfriend/ boyfriend broke up with you? Now you have the chance to meet someone else! You lost your job? Now you can seize the opportunity to find a better one! Adjust your mentality so that, in everything that happens to you, there’s some kernel of good.
- Put yourself in situations where fabulous, fortunate things are likely to happen to you. It’s easier to remain optimistic if you set yourself up for success. Cheating on a partner, or stealing someone’s bicycle — while temporarily thrilling — rarely end well for any party involved. Ask yourself before you act: Am I setting myself up for success or for failure?
- Think of your current situation (however hard it may be) and then think of how much harder some other people have it. Just be happy that you are not in that worse situation. Learn to enjoy your life!
Follow your gut. In one study, two groups of people were asked to pick a poster to take home. One group was asked to analyze their decision, weighing pros and cons, and the other group was told to listen to their gut. Two weeks later, the group that followed their gut was happier with their posters than the group that analyzed their decisions. Now, some of our decisions are more crucial than picking out posters, but by the time you’re poring over your choice, the options you’re weighing are probably very similar, and the difference will onlytemporarily affect your happiness.
- Next time you have a decision to make, and you’re down to two or three options, just pick the one that feels right, and go with it. Never regret the decisions you make, though. Just live by the 3 C’s of life: choices, chances, and changes. You need to make a choice to take a chance, or your life will never change.
Own yourself. This means accept and embrace your habits, your personality, mistakes, the way you talk, looks, your voice, and most importantly ‘You’. Try to be comfortable in your own skin and subconsciously communicate to others that, ‘This is me take it or leave it’. It means don’t apologize to anyone for something which is a part of you, like your personality, your voice, habits (good or bad), basically anything; remember there is always someone who likes you for the way you are. For example if you want to wear something which is weird but you find it cool, wear it, no one is stopping you. Its a deeper step towards building a good relationship with yourself.
Make enough money to meet basic needs — food, shelter, and clothing. In the US, that magic number is $60,000 a year. Any money beyond that will not necessarily make you happier. Remember the lottery winners mentioned earlier? Oodles of money didn’t make them happier. Once you make enough to support basic needs, your happiness is not significantly affected by how much money you make, but by your level of optimism.
- Your comfort may increase with your salary, but comfort isn’t what makes people happy. It makes people bored. That’s why it’s important topush beyond your comfort zone to fuel personal growth.
Treat your body like it deserves to be happy. It may sound cheesy to say, but your brain isn’t the only organ in your body that deserves to be happy. Researchers have found that exercise, healthy diets, and regular sleep are key factors in growing more happy and staying that way.
- People who are physically active have higher incidences of enthusiasm and excitement. Scientists hypothesize that exercise causes the brain to release chemicals called endorphins that elevate our mood.
- Eat right. Eating healthy foods — fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins, whole grains, nuts, and seeds — gives your body and brain the energy it needs to be healthy. Some scientists speculate that unhealthy diets, especially those rich in processed carbohydrates, sugars, and industrial vegetable fats, is responsible for brain shrinkage and certain brain diseases like depression and dementia
- Get enough sleep. Study after study confirms it: the more sleep you get, the happier you tend to be. Getting just a single extra hour of sleep per night makes the average person happier than making $60,000 more in annual income, astoundingly enough. So if you’re middle-aged, shoot to get at least eight hours of sleep per night; the young and elderly should shoot for 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night.
Stay close to friends and family: Or move to where they are, so you can see them more. We live in a mobile society, where people follow jobs around the country and sometimes around the world. We do this because we think salary increases make us happier, but in fact our relationships with friends and family have a far greater impact on happiness. So next time you think about relocating, consider that you’d need a salary increase of over $100,000 USD to compensate for the loss of happiness you’d have from moving away from friends and family.
- If relationships with family and friends are unhealthy or nonexistent, and you are bent on moving, choose a location where you’ll make about the same amount of money as everyone else; according to research, people feel more financially secure (and happier) when on similar financial footing as the people around them, regardless of what that footing is.
Be compassionate. Compassion is all about doing something kind for someone in need, or someone less privileged than yourself. A brain-imaging study (where scientists peek into people’s brains while they act or think) revealed that people gain as much happiness from watching others give to charity as they do receiving money themselves!
- Think of effective ways that you can make your community or the world a better place by being compassionate. Compassion is a key part of sustainable happiness:
- Tutor, volunteer, or get involved in a church group. Countless children are looking for someone to teach them and act as a role model.
- Make a microloan. A microloan is when you give someone (usually in the developing world) a very small sum of money for an economic project of their own. Many microloans have 95%+ repayment rates.
- Give a person in need food, clothing or shelter. It’s so basic we often forget to think about it, yet so easy to do.
- Increase the happiness of those around you by giving gifts. This will increase your happiness as well – in fact, the one giving the gift usually feels a larger pulse of dopamine (the neurotransmitter responsible for feeling happiness) than the person receiving the gift!
Have deep, meaningful conversations. A study by a psychologist at the University of Arizona has shown that spending less time participating in small talk and more time in deep, meaningful conversations can increase happiness. So next time you’re beating around the bush with a friend, instead cut right to the chase. You’ll be happier for it.
Find happiness in the job you have now: Many people expect the right job or career to dramatically change their level of happiness. But research makes it clear that your levels of optimism and quality of relationships eclipse the satisfaction gained from your job.
- If you have a positive outlook, you will make the best of any job; and if you have good relationships, you won’t depend on your job for a sense of meaning. You’ll find meaning in interactions with the people you care about. You’ll use your job as a crutch instead of relying on it for meaning.
- This is not to say you shouldn’t aspire to get a job that will make you happier; many people find that being on the right career path is a key determination in their overall happiness. It just means you should understand that the capacity of your job to make you happy is quite small when compared to your outlook and your relationships.
Smile: Science suggests that when you smile, whether you’re happy or not, your mood is elevated. So smile all the time if you can! Smiling is like a feedback loop: smiling reinforces happiness, just as happiness causes smiling. People who smile during painful procedures reported less pain than those who kept their facial features neutral.
Forgive: In a study of college students, an attitude of forgiveness contributed to better cardiovascular health. You could say forgiveness literally heals the heart. While it is unknown how forgiveness directly affects your heart, the study suggests that it may lower the perception of stress.
Make friends. In a 2010 study published by Harvard researchers in American Sociological Review, people who went to church regularly reported greater life satisfaction than those who didn’t. The critical factor was the quality of friendships made in church. Church-goers who lacked close friends there were no happier than people who never went to church. When researchers compared people who had the same number of close friends, those who had close friendsfrom church were more satisfied with their lives.
- The difference is the forming of friendships based on mutual interests and beliefs. So if church is not your thing, consider finding something else you’re deeply passionate about, making friends with those who share similar interests.
- When you interact with people who share your interests, you feel happier due to sensations of reward and well-being. This is because during such interactions, serotonin and dopamine — neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and relaxation — are released into the body. In other words, your body is designed to feel happier when engaged in social interactions.