Ask most people what they want in life, and they will probably tell you they just want to be happy. Happiness tends to be something we all seek. But what exactly is it? Of course, like many things in life, happiness will always mean different things to different people. It could depend on their culture, upbringing, or emotional background. Because of this, it can be hard to pin down a definition of happiness. That being said, we are going to try to develop our own definition and look at ways to be happy.
While there are a lot of different definitions for happiness, the most uncontested one is that it is a feeling of well-being, of being satisfied and content with our own lives.
For social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, whose research studies have focused on human happiness, it is “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” It’s nothing material, at least for long-term happiness.
Anne Malec, Founder and Managing Partner here at Symmetry expanded on this by adding, “We all some control over our happiness in that we are able to control our outlook and perspective. One’s level of happiness is very much related to their expectations of others, and their level of entitlement. If you feel that others or life “owe” you, you may be disappointed. However, if you make it a practice to look for all that is good in your life, and actively keep a mental gratitude list, increased happiness and wellbeing will be natural outcome.”
Of course, material things can definitely make a big impact on our lives. After all, we do need to satisfy our basic needs before we can aim for self-fulfillment. The happiness that material things can bring, however, tends to be temporary. Long-term happiness comes from what we have within ourselves, the way we see the world, and our own experiences.
Psychologists do generally agree, however, that happiness has three parts: pleasure where we feel good about something, engagement where we interact with families and friends and lose ourselves in our work and hobbies, and meaning where we see ourselves serving a bigger purpose in life.
So while material things can and do bring us temporary pleasure, it’s our engagement with others and the meaning we ascribe to our lives that bring us longer lasting happiness.
Why are some people happier than others?
For some people, happiness is so elusive they spend their lives trying to attain it. They seem to have everything, and yet they always want more. Others, on the other hand, seem to find it easy to be happy, despite maybe unbelievable amounts of stress in their lives, or even trauma and loss.
In studying this phenomenon, Sonja Lyubomirsky’s studies looked at people with extremely high and low levels of happiness through several factors: how they compare themselves to others, how they justify all their choices in life, how they judge themselves, and how they think of other people.
Lyubomirsky realized that across all these factors, truly happy people choose to think, feel, and act in a way that only reinforces their happiness. They see and experience things in a more positive and more adaptive ways than those who tend to be unhappy.
How to be happy
Is it possible, then, to consciously be happy?
Generally speaking, our propensity to be happy can be determined by our genes (around 50%), our daily activities (40%), and our life circumstances (10%). If we have noticed that our natural tendency is to look at the glass half-empty, we can consciously learn to cultivate happiness.
However, there’s no cookie-cutter approach to being happy. This is instead something you will have to work at every day, even if it feels like there is nothing to be happy about. This can be incredibly tough, even for the happiest of people, however there are some things you can do that will help solidify or even boost your overall level of happiness. Here are five:
Build relationships. Numerous studies have shown that social connections are a source of long-term happiness for most people. This doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to focus on personal relationships like marriage – many people find just as much happiness in relationships with family, friends and even coworkers. The key here is to look for and nurture relationships that are supportive.
Be grateful. Practicing gratitude can be as simple as regularly appreciating our blessings or a more conscious act such as keeping a gratitude journal. By doing this, you can positively reinforce the idea that there is always something to be happy and grateful about, even when times get tough.
Be kind. Psychologists have found the more you practice kindness, the happier you feel. It can be as small of a gesture as smiling at strangers, or something more selfless like regularly volunteering your time and skills to help others.
Learn to forgive. When we learn to forgive others for wrongs done to us, we’ll find that it can bring us peace. There are many benefits to forgiveness; happiness and other positive emotions are just a few.
Take care of ourselves. Exercise and get enough rest, because these don’t only reduce stress, they have been proven to raise our happiness levels. The key here is to just get out and do something moderately strenuous. Be it going for a hike, a bike ride, a ski trip or even just on a long walk, you will find yourself feeling happier after you exercise.
Happiness may seem like a hard goal to strive for. However, it’s not an impossible one to achieve. If you’re struggling to be happy, contact us. We’ll help you find a way.