Many of us spend our adult lives searching for happiness without ever feeling like we’ve found it. This fleeting state of being can feel so out of reach, we wonder how to obtain a firm grasp on it. Happiness can be defined as, “The experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” This certainly doesn’t sound like something that can be achieved with a new pair of shoes or an annual phone upgrade. Yet, how often do we turn to spending to fill our happiness quotient?
Happiness and well-being are derived from far more than the belongings we keep. According to Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, we require engagement with the world around us; authentic, satisfying relationships; a deeper sense of meaning or purpose; feelings of accomplishment or success; and the experience of positive emotions. When we’re lacking in one or more of these areas, we’re bound to continue feeling like something’s missing, and no matter how hard we try, our purchases will never fill the void.
Some of the most common dead-ends to happiness include annual income, getting a promotion, physical attractiveness, and education level. While each of these may contribute to our happiness levels, they also have the potential to detract from our general sense of well-being and even diminish our feelings of joy and contentment. So where instead should we set our sights in the pursuit of happiness?
Gratitude can be defined as “a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” Focus on being grateful for what you have, rather than longing for what you don’t. Consider keeping a gratitude journal in which you record 3 different things that went well each day and your contribution to them, or writing a thank you letter to someone who’s helped you but you never properly thanked.
The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Kindness has been shown to be correlated with improved physical health, increased longevity, and reduced anxiety and depression. Challenge yourself to do 5 acts of kindness in a single day and journal about your experience. Repeat weekly.
What are your signature strengths? Consider taking a strengths inventory to help identify them. Most importantly, tap into opportunities at home, work, and within your community that allow you to use your talents. For an added challenge, try using one of your strengths each day in a way that breaks from routine.
Rather than focusing on the meaning of life in general, consider how you can cultivate meaning from your life as it is presently. Evaluate your priorities to see how they align with your personal values, sense of purpose, and long-term goals. Be deliberate by mapping out your time each day to incorporate activities that are congruent with what matters to you.
Connection is considered a basic need- as important as food and shelter. Loneliness has been linked to a number of physical and mental health problems, including cardiovascular disease, depression, and decreased memory and learning. While strong relationships don’t guarantee happiness, it can be difficult to find without them. Unplug each day to connect with those around you, verbally express gratitude, and listen intently during conversations with others.
When your glass is half full, you might be better able to cope with stress and negative emotions. Being optimistic doesn’t mean feeling happy all the time, but taking a balanced approach toward your future while recognizing what you have control over versus what you don’t. It’s no surprise that optimistic folks tend to live longer than their less optimistic counterparts. To cultivate more optimism, spend time thinking about your “best possible self.” Imagine what your ideal life might look like, and the steps you can take to get there. Write about the future you envision for yourself and develop concrete goals to work toward achieving it.
Adversity is a part of life, and learning how to navigate it effectively can help lead us in the direction of growth and healing. Resilience encompasses many of the strategies mentioned here, including practicing mindfulness, cultivating forgiveness, and showing ourselves compassion. Research suggests that resilience skills can be learned with time and intentionality, allowing you to endure and learn from difficult experiences.
Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our assumptions about the world. The sensation of awe is often encountered in nature or when witnessing the feats of others, but can also be found in music, poetry, art, religious experiences, or even our own accomplishments. Seek daily experiences of awe by getting outside, immersing yourself in your surroundings, tuning into the present moment using your five senses, and reflecting on the challenges you’ve overcome.
Health and wellness
Happiness and health go hand-in-hand, with higher levels of happiness being linked to increased longevity and fewer health problems. While studies around whether good health leads to greater happiness have mixed results, one thing’s for certain: physical health is a blessing that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Honor your body through movement, self-acceptance, and eating a well-rounded diet.
Forgiveness may not always be easy, but is often beneficial. Forgiveness has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, unhealthy anger, and symptoms of PTSD, and can help restore our inner sense of strength and safety. Remember that forgiveness is a complex process with many steps that often proceed in a non-linear fashion. If you don’t feel ready to forgive a major transgression, practice with something small first, like when someone cuts you off in traffic or when a friend is running late for lunch.
Mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment; and non-judgmentally.” While the modern world is full of distractions vying for our time, it’s possible to be more in tune with our day-to-day routines and surroundings. Practice engaging fully in tasks that you typically do on autopilot such as eating, walking, showering, washing dishes, or brushing your teeth.
Savoring can include basking in accomplishment; anticipating future joys; luxuriating in the moment; marveling at life’s wonders; and remembering good times. Our positive experiences come and go so it’s important to pay attention to them when they arise. In order to thoroughly savor joyful times, try single-tasking by tuning out distractions, capturing the moment in words or pictures, and reliving the experience by sharing it with others.