Happiness 101: Strategies to Live a Happier Life
By Betty Hughes, Ph.D., LMHC
Everybody wants to be happy, but not everybody knows how. Happiness is a choice we can make.
This may be considered a radical statement. Don’t we have to achieve something in order to be happy? Don’t we have to marry the right person, find the right job, or win the lottery?
Those things are nice but not necessary. Many people are able to achieve happiness in the worst of circumstances. Conversely, others are unhappy even in the best of conditions.
Are you happy? How do you know? Is it a feeling in your body or a thought in your mind? Or is it both? Since happiness is subjective, each of us will define it in a different way. Take a moment to consider your definition: What kind of statements do you come up with for yourself? Do you imagine some element of pleasure, of light-heartedness? Do you see happiness as a way of looking at life that is generally upbeat, loving, or meaningful? Would you need to achieve a goal in order to be happy?
However you define it, the feeling of happiness that I am suggesting will, of course, come and go as all feelings do. However, we can learn to bring happiness back as we focus on the positive aspects of our lives. Let’s begin with the goal of being happier than you are now, and let it evolve from there.
Strategies to live a happier life:
1. The most important strategy is to start with the decision that you intend to achieve happiness most of the time and that you are willing to work at it. It may be helpful to write this in a daily journal format. This strategy may include your evolving definition of what happiness means to you, lists of happy times, and related thoughts and feelings.
2. Next, check in with yourself throughout the day. What are you feeling? If you are feeling relatively happy, then you are on track and there is no need to change anything. However, if you are feeling any of the negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, depression, or irritability, decide what steps need to be taken to return to a state of happiness. Remember that some negative feelings are temporary reactions to events that come and go. Therefore you may be able to simply change your focus from unhappy events to solutions for those events or you may simply distract yourself by remembering happy times.
3. Write a gratitude list every day. It will help you to stay positive.
4. Consider learning to meditate. Meditation helps to quiet the mind. This is important because much unhappiness comes from mind chatter that is negative. There are many ways to meditate, and books and CD’s are available to find the meditation technique that works best for you. There are also many free on-line meditation examples, such as those found at www.positivityresonance.com/meditations.
5. Happiness may be increased by giving to others. Volunteer work and acts of kindness tend to increase one’s self-esteem which increases the feeling of happiness. Even the simple act of opening a door for someone may lift your mood. Try it sometimes.
6. Any kind of social interaction can be uplifting, even waving to a neighbor or having lunch with a friend. On-going supportive relationships are even better.
7. Smile. Smiles are contagious!
8. Read about happiness on-line or read books on the subject. Read novels that are uplifting.
9. Affirmations can be used to redirect negative thinking. Try a famous affirmation by Louise Hay: “I love and approve of myself and others.”
Go to our Affirmations Page for more information regarding affirmations.
10. Listen to music that uplifts you.
11. Forgive. Forgive yourself. Forgive other people. Few things are as soothing as forgiveness.
12. For on-line tests of happiness and related topics, go to www.authentichappiness.org
You can be happier starting now:
Happiness is a choice that is worth pursuing and evolving over time. It can be fun to watch your personal experience of happiness grow and expand.
But for some people there may be a need to make a continuous conscious effort. If you are one of those people, I encourage you to read more about happiness, to write in a journal about your experiences of happiness, and in general focus your attention on happy experiences. Many resources are available to point the way, such as those listed in the following Related Readings and Bibliography.
Be consistent! Learning to be happy can make an amazing difference in your life. Above all, remember that HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE! You can do it if you intend it and follow through. "Much happiness to you!"
Related Readings and Bibliography:
For pursuit of happiness newsletter, go to:
Frederickson, Barbara L. (2009) Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the 3-to-1 ratio that will change your life. New York: Thee Rivers Press.
Gladwell, Malcolm (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Kipfer, Barbara Ann (1990). 14,000 things to be happy about. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
Lyubomirsky, Sonja (2007). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Books.
Lyubomirsky, Sonja (2013). The myths of happiness: What should make you happy, but doesn’t, what shouldn’t make you happy, but does. New York: The Penguin Press.
Rubin, Gretchen (2009). The happiness project. New York: Harper.
Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, Martin E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Atria Paperback.