“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as the result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have” – Frederick Keonig
Have you ever wondered why some people seem so happy while others just don’t seem to be able to capture happiness in their life? There have been studies done into what makes people happy (of course, there are studies for everything these days) and they all seem to suggest that the most important thing for a happy life is a strong connection to family and friends, which makes a lot of sense. If you think about the unhappy people who are depicted in film and literature they are invariably shown as having cut themselves off from other people around them. Of course there are times when there are genuine reasons not to be happy, such as in times of grief, but there are also some people who just never seem willing or even able to allow happiness into their life.
So based on the study findings here is a list of the most important things that make people feel happy.
- As I said, many consider the number one requirement of happiness to be having a circle of family and friends around you who are there to offer support when you need it and with whom you can share your experiences. They are people who you can trust when you need advice or even simply to listen to you, and in return you do the same for them. Having deep and meaningful conversations have been shown to increase happiness. We all need connection, it makes our life seem more meaningful. In fact lonely people are apparently more likely to die early.
- For me I think the feeling of gratitude has to be high on the list. Today in my neck-of-the-woods it is beautiful – a sunny 23 degrees, gentlest of breezes and the scent of the Spring flowers wafting through the open door as I write. On days like these my happiness soars and I feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to experience this, gratitude that I am not stuck in a windowless office all day. It all comes down to what you focus on – if it is on the problems in your life then they take over your consciousness, but it is easy to find pleasure in small things and if that is what you are looking for then things that you can be grateful for will appear more and more often. If you are noticing the good things around you, no matter how insignificant, then there is less room to notice the bad. Gratitude needs to be expressed though, talked or written about and one way to do this is to keep a “Gratitude Diary” where you can write down what you have to be grateful about every day. “The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.” – Louisa May Alcott
- Lots of the things that we stress over are not changed in any way by the amount of attention we give them. Whether we stress them or not they go on and play out exactly the same as they would do if we put them aside and didn’t allow them to cause us such anxiety. It comes back to the old saying of “don’t stress the small”, but I would add “and learn to appreciate the small instead”.
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.” – Marcus Aurelius
- Allowing and expressing gratitude of course leads to you developing a positive outlook and to cultivate optimism. Recognising failures as the opportunity to learn and grow helps you to see the world and everything that happens as a chance for more experience. It’s really interesting that attitude is entirely related to what we see around us. Olympic Bronze Medalists feel fortunate that they have won a medal while Silver Medalists apparently feel bad that they missed out on the Gold. It comes down to focusing on what you have, not what is missing. So avoiding social comparisons helps to avoid the poison of dismissing what we actually have done or what we actually do have. If you need to make comparisons then use an earlier you as the benchmark.
- Forgiveness seems to be a biggie here. Holding anger, hatred and resentment is very toxic. Your mind can’t differentiate between emotions from the past and the present and so the negative, hateful feelings simply eat away constantly causing great harm to your immune system. Rita Mae Brown said that “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory”. No doubt that would help with cultivating forgiveness, but it seems that controlling your mind to avoid the negative may also be valuable as it helps builds the positive outlook. You can’t do anything about the past so let it go.
- You need to feel good about yourself to feel happy. First up you need to recognize your talents. We all hold great strengths within but often nobody, including ourselves, ever acknowledges them. Even when we seem to be failing we are often exhibiting strengths such as perseverance and courage which we are not even recognizing. The Virtues Project is one way you can learn to recognize these in yourself and all those around you. Once you acknowledge your talents and strengths you can start to develop and expand your passions, to excite your curiosity, leaving you hungry for more ‘life’. But probably most importantly it allows you to just be who you are – yourself.
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” – Oprah Winfrey
- Having meaningful work or an occupation is vital to feeling happy. It is not just about having something that distracts or fills you time, although being in the state of ‘flow’ certainly gives you flashes of intense living and distracts you from the more boring parts of life. Doing something meaningful provides a sense of fulfillment that allows self-actualisation. It is also about simply using your talents, building your character through the responsibilities and obligations it entails.
- Practise generosity and learn to give to others. Having meaningful work might offer you this opportunity. Giving may also be through caring for a family, volunteering, simply spending time with someone, basically just helping another. Altruism is deeply satisfying and will not only make you happier but also help shape your character.
- It is worth remembering that health and fitness is important as there are physiological factors involved in feeling more or less happy. Certain neurotransmittors such as dopamine, seratonin and endorphins have an effect on your feelings of well-being as do some amino acids. Production and levels of these are affected by your diet and exercise. Too little of the foods required or too little exercise, leads to low levels of these essentials in your body and an inability to feel happy. There have been studies done that show that exercise can be just as effective in helping people with depression as anti-depressants such as Zoloft and that these people were less likely to relapse as they also had a sense of achievement. This is a great article about foods (and their components) that have a direct impact on ‘feeling good’. It includes lists of the foods rich in mood-enhancing nutrients that you need to eat in order to boost production of neurotransmittors such as dopamine and endorphins, and provide you with necessary amino acids needed to feel happy.
Of course there are other things that help to build happy people, which could be seen as a sub-groups of those above – here are some more that I can think of:
- Take responsibility for your life- Victim mentalities don’t ever make for happiness
- Follow your gut – This is about listening to your intuition, and also not regretting the decision you made later
- Change – Being open to change allows you to grow
- Practice random acts of kindness – This raises serotonin levels in your brain, making you feel wonderful as well as making the recipient feel cared for and any onlooker feel better too – this is certainly a case of ‘passing it on’
- Practice compassion – The Dalai Lama said “ If you want to be happy, practice compassion” (but this one takes practice) and it is also linked to serotonin levels
- Develop coping strategies – “S**t happens!” having well-practiced strategies on call that help you to cope will always assist you in getting through the moment
- Practice spirituality (or religion) – Embracing a connection to ‘all’ gets you over the idea that you are all-important and allows you to recognize that life is bigger than any one individual
- Make commitments – Removing choices actually subconsciously makes you happier (it has to do with knowing your purpose) and having goals provides something to look forward to
- Freedom – You need to have the choice to determine your own fate
- Slow down to savour life – take the time to embrace and enjoy the joys. Learn to appreciate the simple things in life (there’s gratitude again!)
- Develop your creativity – Creative effort nurtures happiness and leads to ‘flow’
- Follow your life-purpose – First work out what matters and then work on building the courage to pursue it (but don’t get obsessive!)
- Smile – So simple! So effective! Do it all the time. “You’ve got to S-M-I-L-E, To be H-A-Double-P-Y ” – Shirley Temple
Here are some concrete ideas to increase happiness in your life.
When all is said-and-done your happiness comes down to YOU”!
How happy you are rests on the way in which you approach your own life, you are actually the one who makes the decision to be happy or not, whether you are aware of it or you are doing it subconsciously. There will always be ups and down in your happiness but you can raise the base-line of your happiness, so start working on it today. As Aristotle said “Happiness depends upon ourselves”
So have I left anything out? What makes you happy? Add your ideas in the comments below.
All information and opinions presented here are for information only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before trying any of the treatment suggested on this site.