Let me start by saying that I wrote this post at the very beginning of March and planned its publication. All because from the moment I am writing this to the moment it is made public, a lot has happened, and above all that my boyfriend and are going to spend the next 6 months of our lives in Bali.
We decided to make dreams come true. We decided to be happy.
Just the thought that in exactly 2 weeks from now I will be 14,000km from my family home on the island of gods, with the love of my life, makes me smile, makes my feel garteful. I have feeling that happiness is in every cell in my body. I am fulfilling my dreams right now and living the life I have always dreamed of!
And all because of one question:
What makes you happy?
Behavioral scientists and philosophers have devoted much of their efforts to discovering and explaining the most desirable human emotion: happiness.
And although some people know perfectly well what makes them happy, some of us still have trouble answering this most important question.
Some philosophers, such as Aristotle, went so far as to say that happiness is the ultimate goal of human life. According to the Greek philosopher, everything we do has one ultimate goal: to make us happy. However, short-term happiness is not the same as a happy life.
We know that happy people are healthier, live longer and have a rich social life. So how to become happy? Where does happiness come from? What is happiness?
What is happiness?
It’s not a simple question, but it often causes a lot of difficulties.
Since the emergence of positive psychology, there have been many studies on happiness, quality of life, optimism and the factors that shape them. Many researchers, scientists and psychologists have provided us with information on what it means to be happy and what to do to be happy.
The definition of happiness:
“Happiness is an experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being coupled with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and valuable.”Sonya Lybomirsky
Happiness does not just happen to us, although sometimes it can be accidental. We all have the power to take control of our behavior, environment, relationships and habits and set ourselves on a course for a happy life. Here are some examples of how to do this:
Mind and soul
Happiness comes from within. Its main source is our mind and soul. Although negative thoughts and emotions are a normal part of life, they can be controlled and lead an optimistic and balanced life.
Not for negative thinking
With millennia of evolutionary adaptation to living in dangerous environments, we have developed a mechanism called the “negativity bias,” a fancy term for our tendency to focus on and care about negative information and experiences more than neutral or positive ones. Just look at the daily news – we are bombarded with negative information from every side.
This means that we need to put in a little extra effort to reverse our negative attitude and overcome our negative thoughts.
Master your negative thoughts
Forcing yourself to turn off the negative frequencies of your mind at all costs can only make things worse. Negative thoughts exist for a reason, and instead of silencing and numbing them, it is much more effective to have, question, and better understand your thoughts.
We call this approach a proactive approach to life as opposed to a reactive approach. Instead of waiting for things to happen to you or waiting for them to disappear, you take control of your life and become actively involved.
Ask and name your problem areas
Decades ago, cognitive-behavioral therapists began to implement the Socratic dialogue into their therapeutic techniques. Asking questions, analyzing and naming the problem is the general purpose of this dialogue.
Based on the premise that we blame external factors for our negative emotions, Albert Elis, the founder of cognitive behavioral therapy, developed the ABC Diagnostic Theory:
- A: activating event that triggered the negative emotion.
- B: our beliefs about what happened during the event.
- C: consequence: emotional or behavioral reaction to the event.
By following this simple pattern, you can identify the sources of negative thoughts and emotions, analyze your opinion about them, and better understand your emotional responses.
The key is to maintain a Socratic dialogue throughout the process and question your own beliefs about certain emotionally charged events. This is how we question our irrationality.
Let’s look at these examples:
- I’m upset because I didn’t get permission from person X. (A)
- Do I need this person’s approval to feel good? Why do I want their consent? (B)
- I can’t think, sleep or be productive after event X. (A)
- Do I have to be unhappy about event X, or can I just be moderately annoyed? (B)
Treat Your Negative Self Gently
While challenging irrational beliefs is a welcome way to combat them, remember that you are doing so to become more positive. Don’t torture yourself with internal debates about why and how something happened. Nurture yourself as a loving friend and practice self-compassion. These are the first steps to fully accepting your inner self and finding happiness through self-love.
Practice gratitude and strive for a positive attitude
Appreciating the life you have, thanking friends and family for being an important part of your life, or keeping a gratitude journal are excellent ways to combat negativity.
Gratitude helps us discover the good in every situation, no matter how difficult life is. Sometimes a smile, a kind word, a kind gesture is enough to brighten our day.
In addition to helping us see our lives in a more positive light, gratitude has a number of other benefits, including better physical and mental health, balanced sleep, better relationships, and so on. This is the healthiest way to have a positive attitude, a logical approach to life colored with optimism and curiosity.
In the post regarding 30-day challenges you can download a free pdf with information and an example of how to keep such a gratitude journal.
Implement mindfulness in your daily life
Here and now presence, awareness and focus are ancient practices that have been brought back to life by positive psychology, life coaching and a modern, more humanistic approach to human nature.
Meditation, breathing exercises, and a routine can reduce anxiety, improve our sleep and mood, and help us be more mindful.
Becoming more aware in everyday life means practicing mindfulness in small steps. It is possible to be more present in the present and mindful in all everyday situations: eating, talking to friends, spending time outdoors, taking care of yourself, spending your mornings and evenings, and much more.
We can also make our workplace a more conscious place by organizing our time properly, keeping enthusiasm and energy, making room for meditation, breathing exercises and discovering activities for personal development.
Adopt a growth mindset
All people weave personal narratives based on past experiences, parental messages, or beliefs learned along the way. These narratives create our mindset: the mental configurations that shape how we feel and behave in different situations.
One such mental configuration that we consider particularly important is the difference between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
In the fixed mindset, there is a belief that skills, intelligence, and life opportunities are predetermined and that there is no point in changing them. Mistakes, setbacks, challenges, and risks can be major sources of frustration and unhappiness.
On the other hand, a growth mindset means lifelong learning and change. People with a growth mindset see threats and challenges as opportunities for growth and happiness. They see obstacles and setbacks as valuable lessons and move forward through life with intention and an optimistic attitude.
Physical activity: a medicine as old as time
Running, walking, dancing, stretching, throwing baskets, jumping rope, playing squash: physical activity is the main source of happiness. Study after study shows that just 10 minutes of physical activity a day can raise endorphin and serotonin levels, improving our mood.
Of course, this is the standard chicken vs egg dilemma, as it’s hard to tell if happy people are more physically active or whether physical activity increases happiness. Either way, they go hand in hand. Try taking a mindful walk each morning or after lunch and notice how you feel.
The outside world
Taking care of your inner world is crucial to achieving happiness, but external factors also shape the way we think and feel in life.
People differ in the extent to which they allow external factors to influence their overall happiness, as well as the extent to which they are able to control their environment and their reactions to it.
The cookie cutter principle does not work fortunately: some people find it extremely difficult to remain optimistic when their external circumstances are extremely difficult.
Sociologists have been studying what external factors affect human happiness for several decades, and it turns out that the pillars seem to be financial stability, meaningful relationships with other people, and education along with self-development.
There are also demographics and local politics, housing quality, job satisfaction and so on.
Design your happy environment
Where you were born plays an important role in how easy it will be for you to create your happy space. According to the World Happiness Report, the 3 happiest countries are Finland, Denmark and Norway.
According to the same report, the least happy countries are Palestine and Yemen.
The most important factors shaping the happiness of citizens on a national scale are life expectancy, social support, social freedom, generosity, corruption and GDP.
While it may not be possible to change any of these external factors for the better, there is something we can do and learn from:
- Be grateful for what you have in life: appreciate the people who support you, the material goods that help you fulfill your dreams and the opportunities you can create.
- Find a job you enjoy doing and turn it into a well-paying job – this way you can focus on your happiness, but don’t let the pursuit of money become your main activity.
- Surround yourself with people with whom you share mutual love, vision and support. Even if your environment is not strong in terms of “social support”, you can create it yourself.
- Take care of your health, both physical and emotional: exercise regularly, spend time in nature, eat healthily, and create grounding routines that help you gain clarity and relax when necessary.
Organize your personal space
Whether you live in a shared apartment or have an apartment to yourself, the state of your living space usually reflects your inner state.
How can anyone be happy living in a pile of useless, dust-gathering clutter?
You don’t need money to make your home an oasis of peace and happiness. It’s not shiny new furniture or tacky decorations that make a home a cozy and safe place. It’s your efforts to keep it clean, tidy, and yours.
Excessive clutter can be a major source of stress as it hinders concentration and productivity at home. Getting rid of things you no longer need can have a calming effect on the psyche.
Take a minimalist approach to cleaning and follow these steps to make your home a happier place:
- Give away things you don’t use;
- Pack things you don’t use but would like to have on hand;
- Sort winter and summer clothes and make room in the wardrobe;
- Stop mindlessly buying things that collect dust.
Create a corner just for yourself
We all need a place that we consider our “place of happiness”. Of course, as we said before, keeping your home tidy is good for your mental well-being, but while we’re at it, how about a corner dedicated to pleasure and relaxation? A space filled with joy and an atmosphere of gratitude?
This is especially important if you do not live alone.
For some, that place is the bedroom, so they equip it with nice and comfortable sheets, lamps, pillows, curtains, anything that makes them feel cozy and relaxed.
Of course, your “happy place” doesn’t have to be your bedroom. A couch in the living room or a comfortable armchair, a soft blanket and a dimmed lamp should also do the trick. Perhaps your “happy place” is the kitchen, which you fill with your favorite one-of-a-kind mugs, plants, and colorful plates. Maybe it’s a reading corner, a yoga or meditation corner, or a bathroom that helps you relax and unwind.
The goal is to feel safe and happy.
Relationships and Personal Habits: Where the Outer and Inner Worlds Meet
Paying close attention to your living and working space, as well as fostering a positive mindset and learning to manage negative thoughts can make a huge difference to our well-being and overall happiness.
However, happiness is about more than ourselves: other people.
We have already mentioned that belonging to a community is important because happiness depends on our sense of connection with other people and the world as a whole.
Nurture relationships with loved ones
While the number of close social relationships can affect our level of happiness, the quality of those relationships is far more important.
Supportive relationships motivate us to live healthier lives. They give us encouragement, support, and a sense of security: good mental health and overall happiness.
All of this lowers the body’s stress response because even when life hits hard, we know we’re not alone.
Make sure you spend time with your loved ones in a meaningful way: go out in nature, go on hikes together, prepare food and eat together, practice gratitude, and never miss an opportunity to have deep conversations about your feelings, experiences, and relationships.
Sometimes it takes very little to make us feel grounded and at peace, which is a precursor (and for some equals) to happiness.
Our brains like routine and ritual: they keep us safe and predictable.
Therefore, instilling a simple morning routine aimed at increasing daily productivity and healthy habits can help balance your mood and make you feel happier for longer.
In turn, evening routines should be aimed at summing up our day and preparing the body and mind for a nice rest.
A walk around the neighborhood, going out for dinner, meditation, relaxing tea, preparing a place for a healthy sleep – these are some of the activities that you can introduce into your evening routine.
Many of these activities are much more enjoyable when you share them with the people you love: meals, reading time, and even grooming rituals can become more interesting if you do them as a couple or with your family.
Fun and hobbies
Finally: make room in your schedule for fun and hobbies. No matter how busy your schedule is, it’s important to leave room for the things you enjoy the most.
Whether you’re playing tennis, painting, or spending time in nature with your dog, make sure you include activities that keep you fresh and that you find fun into your routine.
Hobbies give us the opportunity to live a better life, stress, relax and simply enjoy participating in activities that we personally find fun and rewarding.
Above and outside…
Even if you are not yet sure what exactly your happiness is, by following these simple steps you can get closer to discovery.
Although each of us is a unique combination of personality traits, character and personal background, there are some universal factors that affect our level of happiness.
Overcoming negative thoughts, connecting with others, or organizing your personal space can do wonders for our well-being.
For most of us, happiness is not given. It’s a long way to go before we learn to be happy.