Happiness is something everyone deserves to have their own little slice of, but sometimes being happy isn’t quite so easy. If you are just in a funk or not super satisfied by life, you’ll be glad to know happiness is within reach in 5 steps!
Positive Psychology is Here to Happify You!
Positive Psychology is not really something we talk about very much in this world. The door is coming open for more and more people to share their struggles with mental health clinical conditions and every-man problems, but it feels like we talk about what it looks like when we aren’t struggling less and less. Sure, people flex their wealth or lifestyle on social media- but that’s not really showing off people being happy and what makes them happy. It’s just, you know, usually showing off plain and simple.
But the world isn’t full of just show offs or people feeling bummed pretty often even without a medical condition making them that way. There are people who are happy out there too, and you can learn to be one of them by learning more about Positive Psychology.
Positive Psychology is the study of what factors and processes breed a mentally and emotionally healthy brain. In other words, it was explained to me by my professor on the subject in college as “The Science of What it Looks Like When The Brain is Working Correctly.” So basically, the science of what makes us happy.
You know about that, right? Happiness? It hasn’t been drained away through the trials of adulthood I hope?
Unlike regular Psychology which feels like the study of mental and emotional disorders, and abnormal psychology which is a whole other ballgame, we get the only non-goth kid in the family with Pos Psych.
Happy Hasn’t Come Easily this Past Year for Me
Starting 2 (!!!) businesses, trying to build the career of my dreams and side hustle in enough cash to pay my (US ridiculously high) student loans at the same time, and dealing with the loss of two grandpas who were both key figures in raising me and continued to be really central in my life as an adult was hard. I know I definitely had my trials last year, but I still ultimately have a spark of happiness that has carried me through it all.
But it wasn’t easy to be peppy and cheerful and the optimistic person my friends know. I spent some hours lying down on the Living Room floor and staring at the ceiling. I spent a few nights going through boxes of tissues because I had long since used up my reusable hankies.
And even though last year was one of the healthiest years of my life to date- I had only about 75 very sick days instead of my usual 200 very sick days a year- I still ended up having enough stress and heartbreak in my personal life that being happy was a daily challenge and a choice for me instead of something I just slipped into doing as naturally as breathing.
And this previous year gave me a reminder that most people just go into a mental space like a zombie where they disengage from life when life gets hard like that. In turn, that inspired me to write this post.
Happiness Vs Joy
The kind of happiness you get from a raise, or a pat on the back, or a vacation, is great! But the science of Positive Psychology shows the key to long term happiness doesn’t lie in these external sources.
If you really want to be happy, you need to have the sort of happiness that sticks around so well that even on a bad day you have some contentment with your life.
The behavioral research lab Science of People (Don’t worry, their site is science-y but really cool and readable stuff) reminds us that we know for sure and true
success = happiness. Success is something that can make you feel good, but it’s not a gimme that having success will make you happy. Which is a bummer, because our society trains us in how to at least chase success, not in what actually makes us happy for the long term.
Find Out How Happy You Are Now
Happiness is not just something that stays still and strong with you for your whole life. There are ups and downs with it, just like every other thing in this world. As Positive Psychologist Ed Diener put it, “Happiness is not just a place, but a process…It takes the right attitudes and activities to continue to be happy.” And he should know about it, because he’s a top dog in the industry.
“Happiness is not just a place, but a process…It takes the right attitudes and activities to continue to be happy.”-Ed Diener
If you want to improve your happiness, you first need to find how happy you are now.
I went to a few favorite sources like universities’ resources, but the core principles of what improves happiness are inspired by The Happiness Project.
Dr. Setton, a professor of Psychology, founded The Pursuit of Happiness website to help regular people improve their happiness everyday. But you can see right now how skilled you are in the attitudes you need to have by taking the “happiness skills” quiz on his organization’s website. And if you do poorly? No worries, that just means you still have a lot to learn young Padawon.
(Bonus points in the comments if you can tell me which movie the quote is from, and which movie the scene is from!)
The University of Pennsylvania created a Happiness Questionnaire to test how happy you are right now, which is really great to help you get a concrete idea of how much your happiness could stand to improve!
On the General Happiness survey there, I scored a 5 and was average for age group and occupation and other demographics- but I was actually kind of surprised by that result! The stress of trying to start two businesses and make an income from the competitve field of writing I had thought was negatively affecting me more than that.
I also took the Wellbeing survey, to get a more nuanced view of my overall happiness right now, and I scored higher than the average, which was once again surprising. I kept having full marks for being very stressed and very worried, but I guess overall I have enough optimism for my future and satisfiction with my choice to pick up a career that is very risky but very loved by me to end up being happier than most people my age who’ve taken the survey. What a relief!
There’s still some things I’m reminded I need to work on thanks to these surveys. I need to work on fitting in more time with friends- even though they are busy working long hours to pay the rent and will be hard pressed to fit me in as well. I need to spend more time with my community or volunteering and feel like I’m part of my world. And I need to work on my writing income which is honestly 99% of my worry and stress bumming me out.
Happy Body Happy Mind
Fix Your Health For a Happier Self
I’ve gotten into the habit of using a chart that’s kind of a Ta-Da list version of a bullet journal to track what I’ve gotten done each day, partially because it’s super encouraging (especially compared to depressing never-finished to-do lists) but also because it helps me see patterns.
Shockingly enough, I’m sure (well, or maybe I’m being a teensy bit sarcastic) I rated days with exercise and socializing as days I was satisfied with. Days without either of those things, I wasn’t satisfied with.
Okay, I know actually that’s not surprising at all. Doctors are always telling us that the food we eat is important for our weight and energy, but the exercise we do is important for our brain power and mood. (American Psychological Association)
Not that it’s a super power. Sometimes, life happens and you just don’t feel great. You don’t need to fake yourself out and pretend everything is hunky dory when your life is falling apart. But being generally content with life or even actively happy most of the time can be possible for most people without a mental health condition screwing up the brain chemistry if they are a little active every day.
I’ve found for my own mood and concentration, honestly just using a Pomodoro timer for work and doing some yoga or shadow boxing during the 5 minute breaks between each 25 minute chunk of work time has made me feel happier and just, you know, better.
Maybe something simple like that, that doesn’t hardly take up any of your time, will help you add a little pep to your step.
I also take a short stroll each morning on a nearby trail. The combination of being in nature and in sunshine is really powerful stuff for making me feel happy when my extroverted self is feeling lonely from working alone all day.
Keep Your Friends Close, And Your Happiness Closer
Relationships are super important for feeling happy. I’m not talking about toxic relationships of course- people who only use your emotional support or your stuff or just use you and hurt you period aren’t going to make you happier.
But the friends in your life who give and take support in bad times and great jokes and conversation and fun in good times- they make you happier.
Same with family. And acquaintances who could become your friends.
It can be a struggle to maintain those friendships. You change your work, your school, you start a family, whatever and all of a sudden you don’t spend time with your friends anymore. I get that. Heck, I basically live that right now! But there are ways you can stay close to your friends, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
So fitting in time with friends really is powerful for your mental and emotional health. I guess basically that means you need to schedule brunch or a video chat date with your pals today- science says so!
Stay Grateful My Friends
But it really can help you to be a happier person. It’s actually powerful stuff!
Gratitude for what is going right in my life and forgiving myself for what is going wrong have been the keys to a happier me.
Gratitude for what is going right in my life and forgiving myself for what is going wrong have been the keys to a happier me.-The Great Zambini
Harvard shares some studies that back up the power of even something as simple as writing what we are grateful about, and recommends maybe writing a thank-you card or DM (or at least thinking your thankfulness in your head.)
I don’t take the time to write down what I’m grateful for more than maybe once or twice a month, honestly, but I do spend time every night during those few minutes after I put all the screens away to help me sleep but sleep still escapes me to reflect on the things I did get done during the day, and the things in my life I am thankful about. Somehow counting blessings sounds like the cheesiest and stupidest thing to do, but it actually really helps my brain chill out and eventually go to sleep.
Bring More Meaning in Your Life
Something I’ve found since going the route of self employment is that life can go stale pretty fast when you are in control of your time completely.
Sure, you have the freedom to set time aside for hobbies and relationships and the things that are good for you, but when you first turn to self employment you tend to spend a few days or maybe even a week or two doing just what is fun. And that’s great! Until it gets boring because you need more from your life than just that experience of fun. You need, you know, some meaning.
Turns out that’s true for humans in general. We need some kind of meaning to feel happy.
Religion and Spirituality Can Boost Your Mood
Despite the popular narrative to the contrary, spirituality and religiousness can make you more happy.
Of course, if your local branch of a religious community is toxic, that can completely outweigh the benefits. If you find yourself in that situation, I think it would be worth it to find a new branch of your community in your area that is more positive. They might have hard truths that cause self reflection that isn’t comfortable, but a healthy religious community shouldn’t feel like a center of hatred, judgement, and hypocrisy. Truly. So if that’s been your experience with your local religious community, you might want to go for a different worship center or group of believers or community in town, or perhaps even explore a different sect/denomination of your religion.
Or you might not have a negative gathering for your religion, but just a poor fit for you. For myself I found that a house church fit my particular views and personality better than the totally positive and healthy (but not really for my free spirit personality) church I grew up with, and that’s totally okay.
Alternatively of course many people choose to connect to their religion by themselves or with an online video group or some other non-traditional approach. (That said, there’s a huge variety of religions out there in the world at large, so these things will be perfectly traditional for some and that’s cool too. You do you, boo!)
But overall feeling connected to a higher purpose in life is really, really, really good for you.
And if religion doesn’t cut it for you, spirituality might be just the ticket for you.
Meditation, nature walks, and volunteering are all ways some people have pursued spirituality outside of religion. Do what works for you!
Doing Good Can be Good for You!
It’s not quite like karma, because being kind doesn’t make you happier in the sense that good things will be more likely to happen to you in return. Instead, the act of being kind all by itself makes you feel happy. Isn’t that cool?
Your Strengths Can Boost You Up!
Being happier isn’t just about doing the hard stuff. Sometimes doing what you are best at can also make you feel better
Spend Some Time Doing What You Already Rock At!
People can’t be happy if they are always focused on the things they struggle in.
Focus on spending some time doing what you are good at.
People learn and grow by challenging themselves to do things that are hard for them- but if you only do what makes you struggle, you are going to feel, well, pretty bummed pretty often. That’s no good!
On the flipside, doing things you are skilled at makes you happy! So think of your skills- at work, in your hobbies, your relationships, that elective you loved in school but had to abandon when you became busy as an adult- and remember that spending some time every now and then doing things you are already good at isn’t just fun, it’s also really powerful for your emotional and mental health.
So basically that means I can schedule in some time to have fun reading every day with the excuse that it’s just as important to my health as my workout is!
Get Into the Flow
Another bonus to doing what you are good at is that you’ll be more likely to get “into the flow”- the state of high concentration where your worries just melt away because all your focus is on what you are doing.
Some people also like to get into the flow through meditation, or exercise or a hobby.
But for me, I love it when I write a chapter in the morning and sometimes I get so absorbed into the story that it becomes my whole world.
Doing things with my hands, like cleaning the dishes, helps me to get into the flow where I can just focus and let all my stress flow away from me too.
Little Habits to Get Happier
Just a few little habits every week- or at least every month- can get you feeling happier and more satisfied with your life.
- Use a gratitude journal to record at least one thing you are thankful for each day
- Do some stretches during work breaks (perhaps using a Pomodoro timer to make time for them)
- Take 5 minutes a day to meditate/pray or do some other spiritual activity
- Talk in person or on video with a loved one every day. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation to make you feel connected!
- Take some time to do something you rock at every month!
You Love to Do Things That Bum You Out and Bring You Down
A lot of things that target the pleasure centers of our brains with a brief zap of “This feels great!” A short lived thrill isn’t the same as getting and staying happy though, no matter what your gut instinct is trying to convince you.
Harvard lists three big “happiness myths” on their site that we think will make us happy but just plain don’t work that way: money, youth, and kids.
It’s not just them saying that though- if you think about it, you definitely know that’s true.
Stuff doesn’t make you happy. Neither does success or money.
Just having people in your life who love you doesn’t make you happy- no matter if that’s a platonic, family, or romantic relationship.
Being young doesn’t make you happy. Heck, the kids these days have a way higher rate of Depression than previous generations, so obviously just being young hasn’t helped them.
Looking young or pretty won’t make you happy either.
Basically, if you aren’t ready to be happy, you just won’t be. Outside things that make you feel a short thrill don’t create the kind of happiness that sticks to you and helps soften the blow of the downs in life and make the feeling of the highs that much better.
Happiness can only really happen even in a person without any mental illnesses if they have it internally- and thankfully if you don’t already have it, now you have a roadmap to make your own happiness!
You Can Make Yourself Happy
With a few small daily habits and the mindset that happiness is something most people can grow within themselves, you can make yourself into a happier person.