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Being happy is not just a mood – it’s a state of mind that frames our outlook on life and has a confirmed positive effect on our mental and physical health.1
It’s easy to sit back and wait for happiness to come to us, but life is rarely that simple. We need to be proactive in seeking it out.
The key is understanding that it’s not some ‘Mighty Quest’ or major shift in how you live your life. Waking up and saying “Today I’m going to be a different person” is silly; you’ll only set an unrealistic goal and end up feeling disappointed.
We can explore the root of happiness by looking at the habits of happy people. Research has shown that people who define themselves as happy tend to have habits that can be seen as being beneficial to both their experience and perception of happiness. Actions or little daily routines that take very little effort to start, but can add up and help transform anyone’s outlook, slowly but surely. Here’s a selection of just a few habits characteristic of happy people.
An obvious one to start with;2 numerous studies have shown that close relationships with friends or family are a major factor in how happy we feel.
Without these connections, we lack support, mutual cooperation and company. At the very least, life is dull and boring without friends and family to see, chat to, laugh with or share hobbies with. More seriously, longer term lack of contact can lead to loneliness, which has its own consequences for our health.
Some people seem to naturally attract a host of friends with little effort. For others, making friends in the first place can seem challenging. But it’s not just the issue of making friends that’s important – it’s also nurturing those close relationships you already have.
Research has found that quality rules over quantity in friendships. It’s better and more fulfilling to have a few close friendships than lots of occasional friends. Nurturing a relationship takes effort, on both parts. Keep in touch, even when you’re both busy, and you’ll be maintaining a connection and a foundation for mutual happiness for a lifetime.
Happy people make the most of every day by stacking up the ‘little victories.’ Most people shackle themselves to delivering big projects or milestones, without recognising the smaller chunks of progress. It doesn’t have to be a huge achievement – just small things that you can do and take pride in having achieved.
Getting that long email sent, fixing that shelf, walking away from a tidy room – small daily achievements can get lost within the bigger picture of life, so consider recording each achievement. This could be in the form of a diary entry – one short sentence per day – or perhaps a blog entry. Keeping a record helps you to look back to how much you’ve achieved, makes each little victory real and meaningful, and gives you that important sense of positive momentum.
There’s a fine line between keeping busy and being rushed off your feet. The latter certainly isn’t ideal, not least as too much stress can be bad for your mental, physical and emotional health. Likewise, those who find themselves idle – under occupied – can feel like they’re not adding any value to their own lives or the lives of others.
But research has shown that happy people are those who have worked out the right balance. They are occupied, but not overworked. They have a defined purpose in their life and, much like aiming to achieve things, they enjoy and take value in keeping busy.
Pay attention to what needs to be done in a day, and learn to prioritise what is essential, and what can wait – this will avoid you becoming over-committed – a ‘busy fool.’ Where there are tasks that take up a huge amount of time and energy, but you find unfulfilling, take the opportunity to look at them objectively. Why is it unfulfilling? Could you approach it differently? Sometimes it can revitalise your thinking to ask such questions – and help you make sure your time is valued the way it should be.
Understandably, feeling unhappy goes hand in hand with a lack of self-esteem. The slings and arrows of life can give your confidence and self-image a knock, which can leave you feeling down and despondent.
Boosting your self-esteem after it’s been knocked can be hard, but worth concentrating on. It’s good to begin by telling yourself that your happiness is defined by you and you alone – linking how happy you are to external events, or the opinions of others gives things you can’t control power over how you feel. Doing so leads to introversion, shyness and lack of confidence.
It’s hard work learning to bind your esteem to your own mind, rather than what goes on around you, but it’s an exercise worth doing. Be confident in your own views and convictions, recognise their value – and as stated above, make sure to reflect on what you’re accomplishing, day to day – no one can take these from you.
There’s no denying it – it’s a materialistic world. All too often, people put too much value on things they buy. But as the saying goes, money doesn’t buy happiness.
What happy people do thrive on is experience. They’re often more open to trying new things, aren’t afraid to take calculated risks and enjoy learning from them.
When it comes to how you spend your hard earned money, instead of a new shiny ‘Thing’ consider what you might be able to ‘Do’ instead. It could be something completely new (or even a little crazy) or it could be as simple as taking a friend you haven’t seen for some time out for dinner. The point is that ‘doing something’ has far more potential for happy memories than ‘having something.’
So much of what makes us happy is derived from the memories we form, positive experiences that can sustain us for a lifetime. A physical ‘Thing’ wears out, runs down, and more often than not ends up in a draw. Skydiving with a friend? That memory might just last a little longer…
Compassion can be the most rewarding thing of all. Whether it’s through having a caring attitude to friends or co-workers, giving up time to conduct charity work or volunteer work in the community, caring can have positive benefits on your health too. Helping others has been shown to activate pleasure centres in the brain as we recognise the happiness we can create in others – and it helps you keep that all important sense of perspective about your own trials and tribulations.
Cultivating kindness in your daily life is easy. Set yourself a challenge to do one kind thing a day, however small or large, or try out the radical idea of performing random acts of kindness for those around you – or even strangers. You may be surprised at how happy it makes you feel!
People will often stall or stumble when asked to list what they are thankful for, but it can actually be incredibly affirmative to reflect on this. At the end of a day, simply write down in a journal or notebook, one thing you are grateful that happened that day, or one thing you’re grateful for in your life.
It’s a small but significant step, but when you start to analyse your life in this way, it’s amazing how many things, big or small, you actually are grateful for. Don’t forget to express gratitude too – thank the people who help you along day to day. Never underestimate how much of a difference it can make to someone’s day to be appreciated.
Studies into the psychology of happiness3 have found that those people who recognise and are thankful for the good in their lives have lower incidences of stress and depression, and are happier and more contented with their life.
If we’re lucky, some days we’re given reasons to be happy from out of the blue. But why rely on fate? Like anything, Happiness is a discipline, a habit, and practice makes perfect. Try a few new habits, or revisit old ones, and give yourself the very best potential for happiness, every day.
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