What is happiness, you may find yourself asking? Happiness, in simple terms, refers to the state of feeling happy. In wider terms, happiness may be defined as regularly experiencing positive emotions, which may include joy, satisfaction and contentment, as opposed to negative emotions (such as deflation).
Many of us wonder throughout life about how, or what we can do, in order to be happy. This may particularly be the case when we are struggling with a mental health illness, such as depression or anxiety. The concept of ideal happiness can look a little different for one person compared to the next, however, there are a number of things many happy people have in common, as we shall discuss in this article.
Let’s take a look now at some of the things you can do to increase your chances of experiencing happiness on a regular basis.
How to be Happy: Things You Can Do to Boost Your Level of Happiness
Focus on the Positive
A number of things we experience in life can be viewed in a negative frame of mind, if that is how we choose to see them. In many instances, regardless of external circumstances, it is often the way we view things that causes us to feel miserable, rather than the circumstances themselves. If we focus on the negatives, we are likely to feel negative and unable to move beyond a situation. However, when we are able instead to focus on the benefits of a particular situation or what we can learn from it, we can actually find ourselves discovering a number of opportunities for joy, rather than negativity.
Generally speaking, the more regularly you practise searching for and identifying the good in a situation, the more often you are likely to experience positive rather than negative emotions i.e. try to make it a habit.
Focusing on the positive rather than the negative in different situations can be a very helpful skill when faced with a challenge or dilemma. Where you find yourself really struggling to identify something positive in a particularly awful situation, it can help to try recalling a happy memory from the past or something you are looking forward to. Focusing on the positive can not only help you to better manage stress (and therefore improve your physical health), it can also help you to build your level of resilience.
Having a positive outlook rather than a negative one (i.e. being optimistic) does not mean a situation is not difficult or challenging, however, it can assist you to acknowledge the circumstances of a situation and help you to approach them with positivity rather than doom. For example, if you have a big presentation coming up at work, rather than focusing on your nerves or reaction from management, you may instead focus on preparing to the best of your ability.
Not only can having a positive or optimistic outlook benefit yourself, it can also help to improve your interpersonal relationships with your family, friends and colleagues. When you think about it, we are often much more likely to want to spend time with loved ones who have a positive outlook, as it makes us feel good (as opposed to spending time with people blanketed in negativity).
If you are feeling depressed, when you are overcome with negative thoughts, it can help to take some time to recognise how your negative thoughts are distorted, and that they are often untrue. For more information on this concept, you might like to consider reading the ever-popular ‘Feeling Good’ by David D. Burns, M.D. By learning how to recognise negative thought patterns, you are better equipped to challenge them.
Just as we can practise looking for the good in situations, we can also develop a habit of being grateful for the things we have in life. Practising gratitude (i.e. being grateful) is one of the most popular methods discussed in the world today regarding how you can go about increasing your happiness levels.
There are a wide variety of ways you can practise gratitude. For example, some people like to begin and/or end their day by writing down three or more things they are grateful for. Another method for practising gratitude is by sharing with a family member at the end of the day three good things that happened that day.
If you are not sure where to start, some things you might wish to consider expressing gratitude for are:
-a warm hug in the morning from your partner or children
-the beautiful smell or delicious taste of your morning coffee or meal
-the delight of stepping outside into and breathing in the fresh air
-a big smile and hello from a co-worker or stranger
-the excitement your dog displayed when you arrived home
-an able body, after experiencing an endorphin release post-exercise
-a hot bath or shower and having access to fresh, running water
When you start looking for these opportunities for joy and gratitude, you will be able to spot more and more of them, even as you go about your day-to-day life. You will most likely realise that we often have so much more to be grateful for than we ever thought possible.
It is also very valuable to you to express your gratitude to others when they assist or support you, such as making eye contact and saying a heartfelt “thank you” when your partner brings you a warm cup of tea or coffee, or sending an email to a colleague purely to acknowledge your gratitude for their assistance on a task.
Like practising searching for the positive rather than the negative in a situation, practising a gratitude habit can also help us to cope when faced with a challenge, as we tend to re-acknowledge just how much we have to be grateful for. When struggling through a tough time, identifying opportunities for gratitude can be very helpful and can help to lift your spirits (for example, having the support of your family, friends or colleagues, or access to exceptional medical care). Appreciating what we already have, rather than consistently expecting happiness to come, is central to feeling happy every day.
Practise Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing the mind (meditation) on the present moment (mindfulness). Mindfulness meditation has grown widely in popularity in recent years, and for good reason – it offers a wide array of benefits for mental, emotional and physical health, which can assist us in improving our happiness levels.
Mindfulness meditation enables us to focus on the present moment, which can help to prevent us from focusing on what has already occurred previously, or what is yet to happen in the future. It can assist us to focus on the ‘here and now’ i.e. rather than what we cannot control.
Mindfulness meditation increases the production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter (otherwise known as a ‘chemical messenger’) that plays a key role with regards to happiness. Serotonin assists mood regulation, boosts cognitive function, is important for appetite regulation and proper digestion, and also helps us to achieve quality sleep.
Mindfulness meditation can assist us to reduce stress levels, which are largely associated with anxiety and in some cases, depression. Regular mindfulness meditation practice can assist us to reduce activity in the amygdala, the area of our brain that is responsible for activating our stress response, and may also lead to reduced production of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’.
By practising mindfulness meditation often, we learn to practise detachment from our feelings, which can help to lessen emotional reactivity to particular situations as they arise. It is also a helpful tool for reducing repetitive negative thoughts or worries (i.e. reduces rumination), as you learn to focus on the present moment rather than the past or future. Slowing our thoughts, focusing on the present moment and reducing our stress levels can also assist us to achieve better sleep, which can help us to feel brighter and happier. For more information regarding mindfulness meditation for depression and anxiety, please read our article ‘Beginners Guide to Mindfulness Meditation for Depression and Anxiety’ by clicking here.
Prioritise Activities That Bring You Joy and Plan Things to Look Forward to
It is very important when it comes to working on improving our happiness that we recognise and understand happiness is a process, not a destination. As we learn more and more about “how to be happy”, we can implement different strategies (such as focusing on the positive, practising gratitude and mindfulness meditation) and work to start feeling happier now, and each day into the future.
Many happy people prioritise activities that bring them great joy. Whether it’s reading a fabulous book, sharing a meal with loved ones or playing our favourite sport, it is very important to make time for the activities that light us up and make us feel good.
Despite happiness being a process and not a destination, it can be very helpful to have things to look forward to. This is not limited to organising a future holiday or vacation; rather, this idea can be applied in our day-to-day life. For example, each weekend, you may wish to plan the week ahead, and alongside things such as exercise, family commitments, work and meal preparation, etc., do your best to make time throughout the week ahead for the things you enjoy most.
Where your responsibilities are particularly demanding (e.g. raising young children), even aiming for five or ten minutes a day of “you” time, doing something you enjoy, can work wonders. When we are faced with challenges throughout our day or week, we can look forward to our favourite activities with joy and anticipation. After all, in many cases, it is not so much the intensity of our positive experiences that makes us happy, but how regularly we experience positive emotions.
Spend Your Money in Ways That Boost Your Happiness
Where we spend our money has a large impact on the things we are (and are not) able to do and hence, can affect our happiness levels. Where we choose to spend significant amounts of money on things such as extravagant homes or vehicles, we reduce our disposable incomes and lessen our ability to spend money on things that truly bring us joy (for example, our loved ones and/or amazing experiences).
When we spend money on experiences rather than material items, we often feel happier. This is the case for a number of reasons. Experiences in many cases are social, and therefore shared. Experiences allow for us to share joy and excitement with others, and as a result, can bring us closer to the ones we care about (i.e. our family and friends).
We are much more likely to recall an outstanding experience than we are material purchases, and often when we think back to special, memorable experiences, our joy can not only be shared with others, but is able to be relived, over and over again. Additionally, people tend to adapt more slowly to an experience, such as the joy of a recent holiday to an amazing location, compared to when making a material purchase.
It is important for us to remember that once our income is sufficient enough to cover our basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter and social connection, happiness is in fact unable to be significantly increased by spending money on material possessions.
Take Breaks from and/or Adjust the Way You Use Social Media
Social media can be beneficial for keeping us in contact with friends and family from all around the world, and to help us re-connect with people we had lost contact with previously. However, it can be helpful to take a look at the way you use social media and investigate how it makes you feel.
Despite having its benefits, social media has some drawbacks. Posting updates and photos on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can drive a need for instant gratification and positive reinforcement from others, which can negatively affect our self-esteem when we do not receive the reaction we are hoping for. Additionally, comparing what we see other people doing via means of social media with our own personal life can be unhealthy.
Social media can also take away time from what matters most – doing the things we enjoy and spending quality time making memories, in real life, with the people that matter most to us. A high number of friends across social media platforms does not necessarily equate to quality, meaningful connections with others, which are very important for our happiness.
If you feel you need to re-think the way you use social media in terms of your happiness, you might like to consider taking a break from it, or setting a time limit, such as ten or fifteen minutes a day, and using the applications in moderation.
Seek Joy in Your Work and Prioritise Work-Life Balance
It is often thought that by resigning from a job that makes us unhappy and seeking a new role, we will find happiness. Happiness at work in fact depends a lot on how your industry, employer and role align with your personal values and interests, as well as the depth of your relationships with your colleagues.
Do your best to identify opportunities for happiness in your work, especially if you feel the need to seek a new career in something that brings you more happiness and fulfillment. Try to begin your day with a positive attitude and consider other opportunities for happiness at work, such as setting achievable goals for yourself for the month ahead, or interacting with colleagues that bring out the best in you. Practising gratitude with regards to work can also help, such as appreciating the opportunity to do what you do, having solid working relationships with supportive and helpful colleagues, or even how your earnings enable you to feed, clothe and house yourself.
It is important to remember too, that we are not limited to our work alone when it comes to finding ‘meaning’ or ‘our purpose’ – our life outside of work (including our relationships with others and enjoying experiences that bring excitement, fulfillment and satisfaction) also includes many opportunities for finding these things. Maintaining as much balance as possible between work and life outside of work can also be very helpful for boosting happiness levels, including make time for eating well, exercising regularly, doing activities we enjoy and spending time with the people we love.
Prioritise Your Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellbeing
Find Physical Activities You Enjoy and Exercise Regularly
Exercise has a large number of benefits for improving not only our physical health, but our mental and emotional health as well. Participating in regular exercise, especially activities you enjoy, can help you to boost your happiness levels.
Regular exercise enhances our mood, via the release of feel-good endorphins. Exercising enables the release of physical tension and can improve our energy levels. It is a healthy tool of distraction when we are under period of stress and can also help to boost our self-confidence and resilience. By (safely) pushing beyond our comfort zone when exercising, we can enjoy a great sense of achievement and heightened self-belief that we shall we able to rise to challenges as we come across them in life.
Participating in regular exercise encourages positive social interaction with other people, such as family and friends. A friendly hello or smile from another person can bring us great joy and can help to brighten our day. Exercising with loved ones also allows for us to have fun together, while simultaneously creating joyful and memorable experiences.
Exercise promotes quality sleep and good overall health, and may help to alleviate symptoms of associated conditions, such as anxiety (chronic worry) and depression (persistently feeling intensely flat/sad).
Getting outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can help us to increase our happiness levels. Getting outdoors gives us the opportunity to: switch off and disconnect from the world, soak up Vitamin D from the sun, breathe in fresh air, see, hear, smell and feel the delights of nature (such as birds chirping, or feeling a gentle, summery breeze), as well as spend time connecting with others. These are just some of the many benefits of getting outdoors into nature.
Prioritise Healthy Eating and Your Sleep
Achieving quality sleep each night (approximately 7 to 8 hours) alongside eating a balanced diet rich in nutritious, fresh wholefoods (as opposed to a diet rich in high-sugar/salt/fat processed foods) can provide us with the energy we need to go about our day, help us to regulate our moods and assist us to maintain good health and wellbeing, which are important factors for happiness.
Manage Your Stress Effectively
Stress management is central to a happy life and experiencing a surplus of positive emotions (rather than negative ones). In some instances, a little stress can help us to perform at our best (e.g. preparing for an exam), however, chronic stress can wreak havoc with our physical, mental and emotional health and cause us to feel unhappy. It is therefore vitally important to do what you need to in order to maintain your stress levels. For more information on what you can do to manage stress, feel free to read our article ‘Eight Ways to Manage Stress Naturally’ by clicking here.
Determine Your Values and Path for Personal Growth
Determine Your Personal Values and What Happiness Looks Like for You and Align Your Actions Accordingly
By determining your personal values (i.e. what is most important to you), you can help yourself uncover what makes you feel truly happy and align your actions and live accordingly. When our actions are not in line with our personal values, we are likely to experience dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
In order to identify your personal values, you might like to take a few moments to think about when you feel happiest and what is most meaningful to you. Perhaps your dedication to your family and/or the environment is very important to you. Whatever your values are, write them down, and over time, aim to align your day-to-day actions with these values.
Identify Your Qualities and Strengths
Do you have a solid awareness of your qualities (best personality traits) and strengths (what you are really good at)? For example, perhaps you are honest and an excellent communicator.
If you struggle to identify your qualities and strengths, reach out and ask someone close to you for help, or think about what elements of your personality you are most proud of. Whatever your personal qualities and strengths, by acknowledging them, we can boost our self-esteem and utilise them to our full potential, which can lead to great satisfaction and fulfillment.
Work on Building Your Self-Esteem
Self-esteem refers to the emotional evaluation of one’s self worth and how confidently we believe in our own abilities. Struggling with poor self-esteem can leave us feeling unhappy and can cause us to miss out on a number of amazing opportunities and experiences. Fortunately, there are a number of different things you can do in order to improve your self-esteem.
Firstly, spending time connecting with people who care about you can assist you to identify and challenge any negative thought patterns you are battling, and instead help you to feel positive about yourself. When you are struggling with low self-esteem, putting yourself down can be a habit. Practising positive affirmations (i.e. purposefully thought or spoken statements that assert something positive to be true) can also help you to remind yourself of your qualities and strengths when any negative thoughts or self-beliefs run through your mind.
Taking good care of your physical and mental health is a key part of improving your self-esteem. A good self-care regime may include regular exercise, eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting the right amount of sleep, working to reduce any stress, practising good personal hygiene, engaging in activities that make you feel good and keeping your living and working spaces clean and organised.
Setting yourself achievable goals can help to build your self-esteem, as you can enjoy a sense of accomplishment knowing you worked hard to achieve them. Meanwhile, it is important to remember that perfection is not attainable, and in fact, mistakes can lead to growth. While it’s great to have ambition, striving for perfection can make you feel worse. Focus on creating small and achievable goals for yourself and be sure to celebrate and soak up the satisfaction of your small wins.
Set Goals and/or An Overall Direction for Yourself
Other than helping to boost our self-esteem, goals can also contribute to overall happiness by adding meaning and direction to our lives. Address your personal values and think about what you might like to partake in and accomplish and set goals that are meaningful to you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone and Try New Things
Trying new activities and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone can help to improve our happiness levels, by means of building our resilience and belief in our ability to rise to challenges as we come across them. When we successfully overcome a challenge or dilemma, we often experience significant satisfaction – a key positive emotion, with regards to happiness.
Treat Other People with Kindness and Respect
When we treat other people, whether they be family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances or strangers, with kindness and respect, we feel much better than when we approach others with negativity. Doing something nice for another person and displaying generosity not only benefits the recipient, but ourselves as well.
Voice Your Needs Assertively
When we allow other people to take the reigns when it comes to our needs, we are likely to feel unhappy and sometimes resentful, too. Expressing our needs assertively (i.e. placing equal importance on our personal wants and needs as well as those of others) enables us to feel empowered and liberated.
Do not hesitate to say no to particular people or specific situations that bring you and your spirits down. Setting boundaries for yourself is healthy, and doing so can help to reiterate our personal value and boost our self-esteem.
Build Meaningful Relationships with Your Family and Friends
Strong social connections with other people, including our partner, children, family and friends, are central to improving our happiness. In order to strengthen our relationships with other people, we must treat one another with kindness and respect, accept them for who they are, be grateful for their presence in our life and do our best to spend as much quality time with them (or connecting with them, if they live far away) as possible. It is important to remember that when it comes to meaningful relationships, quality far outweighs quantity. Having fewer, stronger, more meaningful connections is much more beneficial for our overall happiness that having a larger number of poorer social connections.
General Tips for Boosting Happiness
Take Action and Exercise Accountability
Despite the fact that genetics do play a relatively big role when it comes to our happiness (approximately 40%), actively working on boosting our happiness by an array of different means is essential for improving our happiness levels. We must make a conscious decision each day to work towards elevating our happiness levels.
Establish a Growth Mindset
In addition to making a conscious choice each day to work at improving our happiness levels (using an array of strategies discussed thus far), we must also be sure to establish a growth mindset i.e. believe that we are capable, in fact, of experiencing increased levels of happiness.
Celebrate Your Achievements and Treat Yourself with Compassion
No matter how small they may seem, it is vital to celebrate our achievements, in order to boost our happiness levels. Congratulating ourselves for getting out of bed, preparing a healthy dinner and exercising are all achievements in their own right, and should be celebrated. This concept is linked to gratitude – what we may consider ‘small achievements’ may in fact be considered major achievements for another person, and it is important not to take our accomplishments for granted. Give yourself a pat on the back!
It is important to remember on days where we are speaking to ourselves in a negative fashion or putting ourselves down, that we would be very unlikely to speak to someone we care about in the same way. Therefore, always treat yourself with kindness and compassion, as negativity will only hold you back. Instead, try to impart a positive attitude towards yourself.
As you can understand from this article, there are a wide number of strategies you can implement to help you feel happy on a more regular basis. If you are feeling unhappy and struggling with a mental health condition, such as depression, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly team here at Brain Wellness Spa, for professional help and support to get you feeling joyful and happy once more.