Most believe that happiness is just a feeling you sometimes stumble upon – if you’re one of the lucky ones. But what if it were possible to actually unlock it and have it readily available to you by using specific keys to a happy life?
It turns out there are very specific things you can do to experience more happiness in your life. But before getting into the keys to a happy life, let’s explore what happiness truly is and why it’s so important.
What is happiness?
Happiness is often thought of as any positive emotion. Words that people will often use to describe being happy include bliss, joy, gratitude, contentment, delight and enjoyment.
Yet these terms aren’t specific enough for happiness researchers because they want something they can measure. Researchers tend to define happiness as “subjective well-being.” And this means that the more satisfied people describe themselves as being along with the amount of positive emotion they experience, the greater their subjective well-being and the greater their happiness.
What this points out is that happiness is about much more than a fleeting or temporary emotion. Happiness is about the experience of more positive than negative emotions and an overall sense of satisfaction with your life.
Why being happy is important
It turns out that there are more benefits to happiness than just a general sense of feeling good.
- When you’re happy, you’re more likely to have healthier lifestyle habits including a healthier diet, getting regular exercise, even better sleep.
- Your immune system is stronger so you’re less likely to catch colds. You’re more resilient to stress.
- Happiness can help lower blood pressure.
- Happy people tend to live longer.
- Your perception of pain may be reduced – especially if you have a chronic pain condition like arthritis.
It also suggests that you’ll be more successful across multiple areas of your life besides your health. These areas include marriage, friendship, work performance, community involvement and mental health.
The same research even shows that happiness precedes many different types of success. In other words, we start to achieve more of our goals and find greater satisfaction in our lives when we’re happy.
Why your keys to a happy life will be uniquely yours
What’s interesting is that there isn’t just one way to find happiness. Happiness, just like every other emotion is a personal experience.
Despite its personal nature, we can often recognize happiness in others – just as they can recognize it in us.
The problem is there isn’t a one-size-fits all formula for happiness. That’s because it is a subjective experience. What makes you happy may not make me happy.
For example, I love to find interesting bugs in my yard. I’ll take pictures and watch how they behave. I’m thrilled when I find one I’ve not seen before. (Below is a picture of a rhinoceros beetle that I found on my back porch.)
Despite how much happiness I feel when I find an interesting bug, some of my friends aren’t so happy to see the pictures or hear the stories I tell about the creatures. (Maybe you don’t like seeing the picture of the rhinoceros beetle either.)
Because we are all unique, what exactly brings us joy will be unique too. However, there are some similarities in what tends to bring people happiness.
What are some areas to examine to see if you can dial up your happiness?
The following seven categories capture some of the most common ways people report finding happiness.
1. Decide you want to be happy It might sound silly, but sometimes simply deciding you want to be happy and then following that decision up with appropriate action can make you happy. It doesn’t mean that you’re flipping some kind of happiness switch by deciding to be happy. It does mean that you’re paying attention to your thoughts and attitude. Happiness is easier to attain when you have a positive attitude and tend to be a glass half full kind of person. It’s also easier when you can manage your emotions and thoughts so you can redirect them toward happiness when it’s appropriate. When you decide to be happy, you’re taking responsibility for your happiness. You’re not letting someone else have control over whether you’re feeling contentment or happiness, but if they contribute to it that’s icing on the cake. Taking this responsibility on means that you’re going to do what’s necessary to experience more joy in your life. You’ll look for ways to increase the pleasure you experience in each and every day.
2. Expect to be happy Our perceptions color everything about our experiences. Have you ever noticed that when you expect to have a bad day, you usually do? Well, the same thing happens when we expect to be happy. Positive expectations can help form our experiences into good ones. Of course, unexpected things can still happen, but when we choose to expect that we’ll be happy we tend to gravitate toward happiness. One of the easiest ways to condition yourself to be happy is to look for joy in each day. It may be just a fleeting glimpse of a cloud that reminds you of a tree or a flower, but when you take the time every day to notice when you have a positive emotion, you’ll start building your expectation of happiness.
3. Be grateful An attitude of gratitude, practicing appreciation, and accepting what is can all influence how happy we feel. Research in positive psychology has verified that there is a positive association between being grateful and happiness. Part of focusing on gratitude means that you’re not complaining or focusing on worry without searching for the cause of the worry so you can resolve it. Being grateful doesn’t mean that you’re always on the lookout for something amazing to be thankful for. You can be thankful for the little things. You can be grateful for a good stretch, seeing someone you love smile or even just the feel of the sunlight on your face. Gratitude can also easily flow from everyday victories. Maybe you need to celebrate that you got the dishes washed or loaded in the dishwasher. Maybe it’s time for a high five with your puppy when they understand what “Sit” means. Maybe you deserve to celebrate the prospect of the day when you first open your eyes in the morning.
4. Forgive Most get forgiveness and condoning poor behavior confused. Forgiveness is about letting go of an experience and choosing to move on from it. It is not about condoning or approving of poor behavior in any way. When we can forgive our shame, guilt, anger, resentment and any trauma we may have experienced, we tend to feel lighter and happier. Shame, guilt, anger, resentment, and trauma weigh us down and keep us from being our best. When we can accept and forgive ourselves and others for imperfection, we can be more present. And when we’re able to focus more on the present moment it’s easier to find the joy inherent in it.
5. Be Connected Feeling connected is empowering. And there are all kinds of ways to feel connected. You can feel connected to yourself, to others and even to the ineffable life force that flows through us all. Some call this sense of connection love. You also can feel connected to your purpose and passion. Most of us feel a great sense of contentment when we’re connected to our passion and purpose in life. You can achieve connectedness by increasing your self-awareness, practicing self-care, meditating, spending more time in nature and contributing to the world in some way. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” Happiness can be found through actively choosing to connect.
Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.
6. Be You It’s nearly impossible to be happy when you don’t allow yourself to be who you truly are. When you try to mold yourself into who someone else wants you to be, or who you think you should be you’re disrespecting yourself. And it’s pretty hard to be happy when you’re disrespecting yourself and pretending to be someone you’re not. When we truly embrace our imperfections and unique perspective, we become confident. Confidence then allows us to more fully explore our world and our place in it. And the exploration allows us to expand our limits and be even more fully ourselves. Think of it as a confidence-happiness cycle. As we get to know ourselves even better, we feel more confident and experience more contentment. And the more easily we can recognize our keys to a happy life.
7. Share Your Happiness Have you ever noticed that it tends to be easier to match someone’s emotions instead of bringing the joy with you? But what if you do choose to share your happiness – even with a smile. Doesn’t that make you happier too? Sharing your happiness is one fairly easy way to expand your happiness and that of those you encounter. You can share it through a great story, a hug, a kind word, or even a smile.
These seven paths to finding happiness are just the beginning. You may find your keys to a happy life within this list or just be inspired to search in another direction. Finding happiness requires action and you won’t find your sustained sense of wellbeing without taking action.
What if it doesn’t work?
However, finding happiness isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have challenges that we need support to overcome. Sometimes that support and encouragement can come from family, friends or a life coach.
But if you find that you have difficulty finding or sustaining happiness no matter what you do, it might be a good idea to talk with a therapist. Therapists are trained to help people find the support they need to begin finding their keys to a happy life.
The good thing is that we all have the capacity to experience happiness as more than just a fleeting emotion. We just need to find our unique keys to unlocking our wellbeing and contentment.
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