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Come On, Get Happy

Everyone wants to be happy, but many aren't. Even if you're genetically disposed to be a Debbie Downer, you can still take steps to make yourself a lot happier.

Lindsay Morris
December 28, 2019

We all want to be more positive, though very few of us know how to go about bringing more pleasure into our lives. The search for happiness is an age-old quest. However, the advice many well-meaning people offer to find happiness is downright cheesy. Did your grandma ever tell you, “Count your blessings” … “Do unto others…”?

As we enter a new year and a new decade, maybe one of your main resolutions is to be happier. But perhaps you’re not even sure what would make you happy.

Not to get all philosophical, but are you even sure what happiness would look like for you? One way to determine this is to ask yourself, “What’s my vision of my best possible self?” says happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at the University of California at Riverside.

In other words, if your life was perfect, what would it be like? That will tell you what’s important to you and what your values are. This can give you a framework to start from on your journey toward happiness.

Unfortunately, as with most things in life, there is good and bad news when setting out to find your bliss. Approximately 50% of your happiness is determined by mostly hereditary personality traits. Half of how happy you feel is basically outside of your control.

The good news is that 50% of your happiness is totally within your control.

Though we all want to be more positive, very few of us know how to go about bringing more pleasure into our lives, while pushing aside our negative thoughts. Fortunately, if you follow these tips on how to be happy, you’ll hopefully find that life satisfaction could be more in reach than you think.

Be with others who make you smile
Studies show that we are happiest when we are around those who are also happy. There may be certain people in our lives who are perpetually grumpy that we can’t just magically remove from our lives — parents, spouse, children, siblings. However, for those relationships that you get to select, choose to be around happy people.

Increasing your number of friends correlates to higher subjective well-being; doubling your number of friends is like increasing your income by 50% in terms of how happy you feel.

Actively express your gratitude and thankfulness
In one study, couples who expressed gratitude in their interactions with each other experienced increased relationship connection and satisfaction the next day — both from the person expressing thankfulness and the person receiving it. In many cases, gratitude can be like a booster shot for relationships. The same is true at work. Express gratitude for an employee’s hard work, and you will both feel better about yourselves.

Another easy method of fostering thankfulness is to write down a few things you are grateful for every night. Another study showed that people who wrote down five things they were thankful for once a week were 25% happier after 10 weeks.

Happy people focus on what they have, not on what they don’t have. It’s motivating to want more in your career, relationships, bank account, etc., but thinking about what you already have, and expressing gratitude for it, will make you a lot happier. It will also remind you that even if you still have huge dreams, you have already accomplished a lot and should feel genuinely proud.

Actively pursue your goals
Goals you don’t pursue aren’t goals; they’re dreams. And dreams only make you happy when you’re dreaming. Pursuing goals, though, does make you happy.

If you’re pursuing a huge goal, make sure that every time you take a small step closer to achieving it, you pat yourself on the back. But don’t compare where you are now with where you someday hope to be. Compare where you are now to where you were a few days ago. Then you’ll get dozens of bite-size chunks of fulfillment — and a never-ending supply of things to be thankful for.

Do something new
Maybe you love watching movies, but binging Netflix on the couch has gotten old. Go to the movies. Variety is the spice of life. Try a new restaurant, a new recipe, or ask a new co-worker for lunch. Not sure if you’ll be good at something? That’s OK. Try tango lessons or taekwondo classes. You might surprise yourself … and others.

Imagine the best
Don’t be afraid to look at what you want and envision yourself getting it. Many people avoid this process because they don’t want to be disappointed if things don’t work out. The truth is that imagining getting what you want is a big part of achieving it. Dare to dream.

Take a walk
It’s been proven that exercise can affect your mood. Sure, a sweat session at the gym can serve as a distraction from whatever problems you’re facing. But you don’t need an intense hour of spin class or running on the treadmill to reap the benefits either.

A 2016 study conducted by psychologists at Iowa State University found that going for a 12-minute stroll, even without a walking partner or being outdoors, could improve your mood significantly. You can also exercise while cleaning or doing the laundry. Got a stack of heavy towels or pants? Use them as resistance during a set of lunges or squats, or you can lift your hamper above your head a few times to strengthen your arms and shoulders.

We need our physical choices to help our emotional state. Moderate exercise allows the body to get into the balanced state that it needs to stabilize hormones and release endorphins.

Do things you love
Perhaps you can’t skydive every day or take vacations every season, but as long as you get to do the things you love every once in a while, you will find greater happiness. Try finding a little joy in every day — whether it’s savoring that cup of coffee or pushing your kid on a swing.

Find purpose
Those who believe they are contributing to the well-being of humanity tend to feel better about their lives. Most people want to be part of something greater than themselves, simply because it’s fulfilling. Maybe you’re in a job that feels purposeless. We can’t all go work for nonprofits, but you can carve out time to volunteer for a cause you believe in.

Accept imperfection
Many of us strive for perfection. We desire to push ourselves to be our best. But to be truly happy, you must embrace the imperfection that is part of life. Perfection is impossible, and holding ourselves and others to these standards is futile. We will always end up feeling let down. Accept that life is imperfect and recognize that there is beauty and grace in that imperfection.

Take responsibility
It’s easy to feel that someone else is responsible for your happiness, but the reality is that it is your responsibility. Stop blaming others or the world, and you’ll find your answers much sooner. This often involves letting go of hurts from the past. You might find it helpful to see a counselor to help you work through your past and present.

Be open to change
Even if it doesn’t feel good, change is the one thing you can count on. Change will happen, so it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for the experience emotionally. Instead of dreading changes you know are coming, think about the positive things and new relationships that will come out of those experiences.

Live in the moment
Our thoughts and feelings often revolve around the past or the future. Reality is what you are experiencing at this very moment; what you are going through right now. Sometimes we want to escape that reality. But when we stay in the present, we are fully engaged in our lives. Endeavor to live in the moment, and you’ll begin to have a deeper appreciation for your life.

Spend less time on your phone
Disconnecting from technology, social media, and work frees up time to engage in other hobbies and activities that bring you joy. But let’s face it: If you have a job that requires you to check your email frequently, or you can’t resist posting that adorable photo on Instagram, perhaps you can start with the small goal of not checking your phone 20 minutes before bed.

One cause of stress and burnout can be the lack of an end to our workday. It isn’t very relaxing to continually check email or respond to texts. We need time to replenish and recharge our batteries.

Stop worrying
Constantly worrying about everything creates toxic anxiety, where your mind is steeped in negative, spiraling thoughts. Worries plague your mind and make you afraid and apprehensive about things you often have no control over. Sometimes we believe that if we worry enough, we can keep bad things from happening. But the truth is, you can’t experience joy or even contentment when consumed by worry.

Bask in the simple pleasures
Those who love you, treasured memories, silly jokes, your favorite snack, sitting by a warm fire with a cup of hot cocoa, and starry nights — these are the ties that bind and the gifts that keep on giving. Instead of being tied to your electronic device all the time, work on being fully present in the moment and enjoying those you are with.