A few years ago the song that had us all singing along was Pharrell’s “Happy” from Despicable Me. This upbeat and catchy song suggested to clap along if you knew what happiness means to you and inspired people from all over the world to create videos doing just that. So while most of us strive to live a happy life it is common to wonder what it really means to be happy. In addition, we may also wonder how we can be happy when life is hard, busy and exhausting. There are many definitions of happiness and include state of positive well-being and contentment combined with a feeling that one’s life is good and has meaning. The question is how do we achieve that contented state and positive feeling. The good news is researchers have been able to study happiness and the results show that it is not out of our reach and can be manifested through our day-to-day choices even when life seems out of control or just plain boring
The first step is to understand what happiness is and to begin to assess your own personal level. Sonya Lyubomirsky author of The How of Happiness defines a happy person as someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and less frequent but not non-existent negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety and anger. Research has also shown that each of us has a “happiness set point” that is determined by genetics, life circumstances and intentional choices. While we cannot control the first two factors we can control our choices. One way to start is to take a week or two and notice your emotions and determine the ratio of positive to negative. If the ratio is below 3 to 1, here are five daily evidenced backed interventions to increase your happiness.
Five Ways to Increase Your Happiness
- Be grateful! One of the biggest ways to increase happiness is to learn to savor and appreciate what we have in our life, no matter how big or small. Experts have even found that a daily practice of remembering 3 to 5 things that we are grateful for before sleeping makes us wake up in a better mood.
- Build relationships. Researchers found that social connections are the most important key to a happy life. These relationships include family, friends, co-workers and people in your community. Relationships need to be nurtured and it is important to find people who we can trust to confide in and who will support us. Helping others also helps us feel better. One key to positive relationships is to keep at least a 3 to 1 ratio in positive to negative interactions with our loved ones.
- Forgive. Giving up grudges makes us feel better about ourselves and increases our positive emotions. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that we reconcile with someone who hurt us, it just means that we choose to let go of carrying the heavy burden of resentment. Forgiveness is a process and may require help from someone you trust. One way to start is to write about the situation or person you are struggling with and determine if it is something that needs action on your part or if it is time to let go.
- Get up and move. Physical exercise is not only great for our body but also great for the mind. Studies have shown that regular exercise increases brain chemicals that make us feel good and at times can be the first step in depression treatment. It is important to find some kind of movement that you enjoy doing so that you will stick with it but it can be anything from dancing to a competitive sport. It can also be a great way to meet other people and form social connections.
- Develop healthy coping strategies. Life is not always easy and finding effective ways to cope with stress is essential to increasing happiness. One strategy is to track what bothers you for a week and review at the end of the week. What was in your control and what was not? Once you determine what you can and cannot control you can find ways to accept and let go of what is out of your control and come up with an action plan for dealing with what is in your control. For example, maybe you cannot control traffic but you can control what you do while waiting in daily traffic. If listening to the news is making you scream at the radio, maybe find music, an audiobook or even silence to stay calmer while commuting. This is a simple example but we can begin to determine how to change some of the happiness zappers that are occurring on a daily or weekly basis.