It may seem self-serving to some to study happiness in a world full of misery. However, research findings support the theory that being happy motivates people to constructive action in the world. So cultivating happiness and well-being influence your energy and enthusiasm.
Happiness is not a static state or a finish line. Emotions provide important information; they direct action and interaction. Negative or painful emotions may be entirely appropriate to a situation and serve to inform intelligent actions. Opportunities for building happiness may be maximized, when appropriate, and often consist of incremental changes that become new habits over time.
Here are nine suggestions for finding happiness:
- Practice gratitude. Take the time to notice the simple pleasures as well as the greater moments. Give thanks for your hot shower, a delicious coffee, the blue sky, your family, friends, job, and pets. Martin Seligman suggests writing a gratitude letter to someone who has been a positive influence in your life and conducting a gratitude visit to share the letter with them. Keeping a gratitude journal is another popular suggestion. Before you fall asleep, try reflecting on three things per day that inspired gratitude or that simply went well that day.
- Build and maintain relationships. Make it a priority to connect with and support others, as well as enlisting their support. Make time for the people who are important to you. The self-centered pursuit of pleasure does not create a lasting happiness. Interdependence is proven to be an effective route to more happiness.
- Move your body. Physical exercise is an important component of any plan to increase well-being. Build small increments of movement into your day. Get up, stretch, and walk around if you find yourself sitting for long periods. Take the stairs, walk around the block, stretch your arms up and over your head. Incorporate longer periods of exercise when you have the time. Spice up your routine with variety.
- Practice mindfulness and experience the moment. Some drifting away from the present is to be expected. However, research exists that links frequency of inattention to the present moment with level of unhappiness. By paying attention to the present moment, you can savor the enjoyable moments and focus on coping constructively with the more challenging or negative ones.
- Get sufficient sleep and let yourself relax regularly. Quality sleep is a cornerstone of well-being. Make sleep a priority and notice the difference in your day after a great night’s sleep. Determine your adequate length of sleep quantity. For most adults this falls between 7.5 and 8 hours per night.
- Be generous. Recent research has shown that people who spend money on others report greater happiness than those who spend on themselves. Give of yourself to others, including your time, available resources, support, love, and attention. People who help others are consistently found to be happier. Create meaning through connection and community. Join others in celebrating their successes and accomplishments. This does not always have to be on a grand scale. There often are multiple opportunities throughout the day to practice generosity in small increments.
- Use your time wisely. Time may be the true luxury in our modern world. It is important to carve out time for people and activities we truly enjoy. It is very challenging not to “zone out” with television and social media after a long day. We can easily find ourselves in the position of habitual spectator, not creator or participant. Dosage is everything — balance distraction with more active pursuits.
- Be flexible in your thinking about happiness. Daniel Gilbert and other researchers believe that we are not adept at predicting what will bring us happiness. People tend to believe that they will have similar feelings in the future as they are experiencing today and do not consider the constancy of change. Happiness in some respects may be a moving target.
- Install happiness and positive moments in your brain. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson encourages us to “take in the good,” but go a step further by completing an install in the brain. Many times when good things happen, we indulge the related good feeling for a few seconds and then are off and running. By intentionally lingering with the positive feelings and dwelling there longer, we influence changes in the structure of our brain. Activate positive mental states and install them as neural traits. Rick Hanson says that our brains are like a garden that is better at producing weeds than flowers. We can pull the weeds by decreasing our focus on the negative and grow the flowers by increasing and sustaining our attention to the positive.
Seligman, M. E. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. Simon and Schuster.
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932-932.
Epstein, L., & Mardon, S. (2006). The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. McGraw-Hill Professional.
Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688.
Gilbert, D. (2009). Stumbling on happiness. Random House LLC.
Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness: The Practical Science of Reshaping Your Brain — and Your Life. Random House.