What makes you happy? Seems like a simple question we should all know the answer to, but it isn’t. Everyone says they want to be happy, yet many of us struggle to consistently feel this elusive state. So what does being happy actually mean and how does it feel?
Achieving happiness and making sure we are always happy is a relatively new concept, and yet it has become such an important measure of success and fulfillment that when you are NOT happy there is something terribly wrong with you. This puts a huge amount of pressure on us and ironically becomes counterintuitive.
So, why the sudden emphasis on achieving happiness? Well, It comes down to the society we currently live in. We are more lonely, disconnected and anxious than previous generations. With more people living on the planet than ever before, competition is high, resources are scarce, jobs are hard to find and life has become harsh.
In the midst of our modern crisis, humanity is searching for something deeper to feed our soul, and eventually give us purpose. The truth is we are constantly bombarded by the media, technology, apps and acclaimed speakers who have dedicated their lives to helping and showing people how to be happy. With all this knowledge at our disposal, you would think that it would be easy to achieve happiness. It is and, well, it isn’t.
Personally, I believe one of the biggest challenges we face along our journey to finding happiness is our misunderstanding of what it means to be happy. Happiness has become a goal that we will reach when certain factors and events come in to place. People wrongly assume that happiness is something that happens to you.
Society has made us believe that gaining material things like wealth, status and an improved lifestyle will undoubtedly make us happier. We are stuck in the thought pattern of, “we will be happy when” syndrome. When I have more money, when I own a nicer house or when I have a better and more loving relationship with another person I will be happy.
Another misconception we have is, you are either a “happy” person or you are not! That happiness is a personality trait we either possess or don’t. I have often heard friends of mine say, they are either a happy person or not! So, if you are not happy all the time, then are you unfulfilled and depressed?
“The first mistake that people make is equating happiness, the overarching quality of life, with the temporary enjoyment we feel in response to something pleasurable.”
– Emiliana Simon-Thomas
“Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. There is going to be stress in life, but it is your choice whether you let it affect you or not.”
– Valerie Bertinelli
The above definitions of happiness were gathered from a number of sources, and researchers vary on their views. However, now that we have a better understanding of what happiness means, we can start asking the burning question, how do we attain happiness?
When it comes to happiness the key lies in five distinct behaviors that we can LEARN to adopt and practice. If we look at it this way happiness can be viewed as a skill we can learn. People who report feeling happier than most have a few things in common. These are:
“Happy” people embrace pleasurable experiences, at the moment they experience them. These individuals are open to receiving enjoyable moments in their life. Whether it is laughing at jokes when they are funny, or savoring each morsel of food they enjoy to being fully present in their moments of contentment.
My happier friends and clients are very aware of all their feelings and emotions. They easily acknowledge and express both positive and negative emotions, and willingly try to work through them. They adopt the belief that there is no right or wrong way to feel. They also believe they have a choice in how they respond to their emotions and do not let their feelings dictate their behavior.
In order to achieve happiness, we need to practice resilience. Learning healthy ways to move through adversity is key. The better equipped you are to overcome hardship and strife, and the more you use ALL your feelings as an opportunity for growth, the happier you will be.
People who live a happy life implement healthy habits into their daily routine. Life-long habits help us form a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
Below is a video on a 75-year long study on adult development. What emerged from the data was that fostering relationships and focusing on connections with other people was one of the biggest reasons why people lead a happier life. Watch it here:
Working toward a life of happiness requires some work on your part. I must admit that certain things like getting an increase at work, buying your dream home and finding your “one true love” will bring you moments of happiness, but it won’t last unless we are willing to put some effort in.
The hard work starts in being open to unlearn and learn certain traits and skills. To do this we need to start exploring which of our existing habits and beliefs are not serving their purpose. When it comes to people and relationships we need to move from an “I” mentality to a “we” mentality. Working toward letting go of some of our unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
In a previous blog post, I discuss how happiness can be found in our relationships with others. I highlight the importance of being respectful and empathetic toward your fellow man. Embracing diversity and reexamining your own value system. When you learn to let go of your inner critic, practice forgiveness and gratitude, you are already working toward becoming a happier person.
Other examples of working toward happiness include habits we adopt and implement into our everyday lives. These habits require consistency, practice, and dedication. I will discuss some of these below.
Here are some simple ways you can add happiness to your life. These tips either involve changing your thought patterns or changing your behavior. Whichever of these tips you decide to practice just remember this: Don’t underestimate how a small change can make a big impact in your life and if you want your happiness to last, you need to work on any one of these as often as possible.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Mindfulness is the platform that offers people the tool for noticing their existing habits, the place where we become aware of all our thoughts, feelings and emotions and the space where we get to explore our beliefs, values, and judgments, some of which might be blocking the road to happiness.
Whether you practice formal mindful meditation or consciously become aware of your present moment and embrace the here-and-now, when we actively focus on what we are currently doing, instead of worrying about past, present or future stressors, life becomes more enjoyable.
If you are already incorporating mindfulness into your routine, you know that part of your practice involves accepting yourself, with all your strengths and weaknesses. One of the most important steps to finding happiness is learning to cultivate self-esteem and self-belief. Trusting your instincts and putting yourself and your happiness at front and center. If you struggle with self-love, read our article here for some practical ways to implement self-belief.
We often allow the past to define who we are in the present moment. We all have had terrible experiences. While we cannot change what has happened to us, we can stop the endless suffering we tend to relive over and over again. Forgiveness is an emotional process that helps you to accept your past experiences, pain, anger and the resentments you may hold onto.
Forgiving others is not about agreeing or condoning people’s bad behavior, you won’t simply forget what has happened to you, but if you consciously allow yourself to let go of the negative emotions, feelings, and thoughts that hold you back, you will move forward.
Forgiveness doesn’t have to be said out loud to be effective, sometimes simply talking to a trusted friend or therapist is enough to help you continue to live a happy life.
Happiness starts when we are WILLING to change, however, change requires discomfort, and this can sometimes be difficult. Don’t resist, rather lean into it, and embrace it. Do the things that make you uncomfortable.
Change also requires us to be open. To share our fears, desires, hopes, and dreams. Talk about your problems, give yourself time to heal and savor your happy moments. The more open and aware we are the happier we will be.
“Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined. Comfort kills!”
– T. Harv Eker
When we get enough sleep, eat well and exercise often our mood and energy levels increase. It is scientifically proven that proper sleep, a balanced diet and only 30-minutes of exercise a day improves concentration, relieves stress and anxiety and enhances your overall health.
Self-care has become a buzz word and for good reason. Taking care of yourself on a regular basis will positively impact your mental and physical health and overall energy. Schedule in some time each week to consciously allow yourself to relax and enjoy yourself. Next time you have an hour to spare try reading a book, getting outside or taking a warm bath.
Stop blaming others for how you feel and please stop making excuses for your bad behavior. Own your life, accept the mistakes you have made and learn to move forward. We are all human, each and every one of us has done something we regret, the secret to happiness lies in how you work through it.
Make happiness your priority. I know that many of you put other people’s needs first, and can give me a million excuses why you don’t have time for yourself. But, if you don’t value your own happiness, then no one will.
I promise you, that when you start taking care of yourself first, you will be better equipped to take care of others. Think about what brings you happiness, and do more of it.
Play paintball, get creative, hike, sing, dance, drink wine or eat cake all day. It doesn’t matter what you enjoy, just go out and have some fun!
Visit your grandmother, listen to your children, laugh with your friends until you cry. Surround yourself with people who love and appreciate you, who take the time to build you up and make you want to be a better person. Life is too short to waste it on negative people who use and abuse you!
I must admit it has taken me a while to realize what brings me happiness and what doesn’t. It took some serious introspection before I came to the conclusion that my happiness is cultivated in a number of ways. I also started to understand, that even on the days when I felt quite low, I wasn’t necessarily unhappy, I was just in a bad mood.
While I was journalling a couple of days ago it hit me. I was feeling quite low and I was stuck in a crappy headspace. I was writing about how terrible I thought my life was and how creatively stunted I was with my work. I decided to stop writing and go back through my journal and see what I was doing on the days that I felt really good. This is what I found out.
I probably have a “bad” day once or twice a week. Often due to stress or anxiety, my life feels like its been turned upside down. I also realized that I get over these moods quite quickly. Knowing that my feelings don’t always last has been a huge help to me. Now when I have a bad day I remember, “this too shall pass.”
Exercise is necessary for my happiness. I attend gym classes 3 times a week and Pilates classes twice a week. When I don’t gym I feel demotivated and insecure.
My diet (the way I eat) has a huge impact on the way I feel. I eat according to the 80/20 rule most days. 80% of my week is consciously dedicated to eating really well. Lots of fruit, veggies, good fats and protein. But I love my cheat days too.
So 20% of my week allows me the space for a delicious binge meal or two. Life would be so boring without chocolate, pizza or good old mac and cheese. I know if I restricted my diet and did not allow for all the yummy things in my life, I would feel totally bleak!
I try and practice gratitude every day. Sometimes I formally write down what I am grateful for in my journal. Other times I find moments in the day to appreciate all the things and people I have in my life.
I have written about journaling before. So many people talk about the benefits of journaling, and yet so few of us actually do it. Journaling is an AMAZING tool that helps put my life into perspective.
I have a love-hate relationship with meditation. I really struggle to schedule in the time to meditate, and even when I do, I am easily distracted. However, when I do actually meditate I am so much calmer and more in control of my feelings and emotions and life is much more pleasurable.
I work from home, so I spend most of my time indoors. When I start feeling frustrated or if I get cabin fever I make a plan to get outside. Nature energizes me. I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful part of my country. I have the nature reserve right around the corner, we live on the foot of a mountain range and the beach is 10 minutes away.
I try and schedule in a hike at least once a month, and during the summer months you can find me at the beach.
During summer I try and attend as many music festivals as I can. I love music and I love dancing even more. Winter doesn’t stop me either, so I’m probably watching a musical somewhere or listening to a band.
On my off days I am either reading or pottering around the garden
I consciously make time for my family and friends. This could be an hour long coffee catch up, playing board games, eating out or going to my local market with the people I care about.
Pets make the world go round – Enough said!
I have saved the best for last. One of the biggest positive changes I made in my life was actively working on my relationship with my husband. No matter what type of relationship you are in, make time for the other person. Listen attentively, swallow your pride and apologise when you are wrong. Work on intimacy and make sure you are close but separate. Have your own life and do not rely on your loved one to make you happy.
Happiness begins with you. With a little self-exploration, you will find happiness. Just remember there will be good days and bad, nothing lasts forever. The most important thing is to get out there and try something. If you sit around waiting for it to fall in your lap or expect other people and external circumstances to fill the void you will never find true happiness. Begin by taking one small step each day and eventually you will notice how much better your life has become.