Happiness can be defined in many ways and differs for each person. The life you build to create your happiness will never be the same as someone else’s, but, what is one thing all people have in common? A desire for life satisfaction, overall well-being, and emotional contentment.
Here come the big life questions… What is happiness in life? How do we know when we are truly happy? How do we get there? And here is the scary answer, I don’t know!
Happiness is subjective and forever changing for each individual. I wish I could tell everyone how to create happiness instantly and easily, but the way we nurture and grow this emotion is by working on our behaviours and ways of thinking.
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First things first we need to change the way we think. Like with many other emotions, the way we think affects how we are feeling and how we behave. If you are only thinking negative thoughts then your mood starts to drop, your well-being starts to decrease and your behaviours will change. Consider this example most people have probably experienced in some form: You don’t want to go to a certain class or lecture, it’s on a Friday afternoon for 2 hours and you really couldn’t think of anything worse to have to do. The more you think about this class throughout the day the more agitated and unhappy you become. These emotions start to overwhelm your mind, affect your well-being and you actually ruin your own day by getting into a bad mood. So now you are agitated, unhappy and in a bad mood. Now guess what happens? You snap at your friends; you pick a fight unnecessarily with your mom and you sit in that class completely defiant and learn nothing. This is a simple and normal example of how your thinking affects your happiness. Imagine how much your happiness decreases if you are thinking worse thoughts, more frequently and for a longer duration!
So, how do we change our thinking and become more positive? We need to retrain our brain to find the positives in each situation and moment.
1. Savour the moment. Savouring is an important skill to increase happiness, when we stop (physically and mentally) to savour the moment we learn to appreciate and feel joy. Savouring the moment is not just a quick 5 second stop to say “Oh, those flowers are pretty”, it is done by physically standing still, clearing your mind, and acknowledging each part of the moment using your 5 senses for as long as you can. Go and practice savouring right now! Go and stand outside in the sunlight, look around you and appreciate nature, listen for the birds or wind, smell the flowers around you, taste a fruit growing on a tree, and feel all the different textures of the plants.
2. Gratitude. Recognising the good things in your life help to increase and maintain happiness. Make a note of the things which make you grateful, ways you can express your gratitude, the moments you savoured, the people you appreciate and what you are learning from challenges in your life. These are all things to be grateful for! You could keep a gratitude journal each day and set up reminders on your phone so you don’t forget to practice this new skill.
3. Be kind to yourself. Changing the way you think of yourself increases your self-esteem and subjective happiness. Speak to yourself and support yourself the same way you would your friends and family. How often do you tell your friends it’s okay to take a day off and relax but you wouldn’t allow yourself to do the same thing? Being kind to yourself every day should start off with a positive affirmation in the morning – look at yourself in the mirror and say your affirmation out loud, for example, “I am smart and capable”.
Next, we need to change our behaviours and behave in positive ways through positive activities.
1. Random acts of kindness. Engaging in random acts of kindness, for those you love and altruism in your community, increase our happiness more then doing things for ourselves. These acts could be as simple as a kind message to a friend or volunteering at your local charity. It doesn’t matter which one you engage in, all that matters is that you use the experience for self-reflection and unconditional kindness and compassion.
2. Quality relationships. Build and nurture quality relationships with mutual respect, love, and compassion. Remember the old saying of ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’.
3. Reduce your stress. Engage in healthy challenges and strive towards meaningful goals but remember to manage your stress and avoid taking on too much. In order to be able to think positively and engage in positive behaviours we need to not feel overwhelmed and not have our brains overwhelmed by our stress hormone (cortisol).
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Happiness is not achieved in the way society makes us think. Happiness is not achieved by having more stuff and the most expensive stuff, by having the perfect job, by achieving the highest grade, etc. These things create fleeting happiness which actually decrease well-being over time. Studies have shown us time and time again that happiness comes from personal growth and changing our negative perspectives.
“Happiness is a habit, cultivate it” – Elbert Hubbard
Be kind and compassionate to yourself and to others always! This is the basis for developing your happiness, life satisfaction, overall well-being, and emotional contentment. Your happiness is within you so what can you do today to increase your happiness?