The Beginner’s Guide to Happiness

What is happiness and how do I get it?

More than simply a “positive mood,” the definition of happiness is “a state of well-being, a sense of enjoyment in life, a sense of meaning and deep contentment.” A significant body of research also suggests that happy people have better physical health. Research tells us that feelings of positivity and fulfillment benefit cardiovascular health, our immune system, inflammation levels, and blood pressure, among other things. Happiness has also been linked to a longer lifespan a higher quality of life and well-being.

Repetitive experiences of positive emotions can change the structure and function of the brain. Prominent psychologist Donald Meichenbaum, in his book Roadmap to Resilience, believes that happiness or positive emotions can:

  • Undo the effects of negative emotions and traumatic experiences.
  • Open individuals to new experiences and improve problem-solving abilities.
  • Propel a positive mindset of flexible thinking and trigger an upward emotional and behavioral spiral.
  • Ward off depression and reverse a downward negative emotional spiral of bad feelings rumination, worry, avoidance, and withdrawal that becomes self-perpetuating.
  • Build and broaden coping skills and act as a buffer against stressors in life. Increase your well-being.
Happiness. Image: Shutterstock
Happiness. Image: Shutterstock

Happy people live their lives with purpose. They find joy in lasting relationships with friends or family, working toward their goals, and living according to their values. The happy person is not focused on getting material goods or taking luxury vacations. Happy people are fine with the simple pleasures of life — petting a dog, sitting under a tree, watching the sunset, enjoying a cup of tea.

The largest determinant of happiness, says Meichenbaum, is having a supportive network of close relationships. “Happiness is a collective phenomenon and positive emotions spread through social networks.”

Happy people consistently choose to:

  • Practice acts of kindness and compassion toward themselves and others. They believe that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
  • Invest their time and energy in family and friends, seeking opportunities to connect. They enjoy healthy relationships.
  • Contribute to the welfare of others. They practice being compassionate.
  • Live with meaning and purpose
  • Count their blessings rather than their burdens. Practice being grateful.
  • Appreciate life’s joys and pursue the small pleasures of life.
  • Possess a sense of humor and are playful. They smile and laugh readily.
  • Are open to learning new things.
  • Are humble and patient.
  • Go with the flow.
  • Do not feel entitled and have fewer expectations
  • Do not hold grudges
  • Don’t stress over yesterday or tomorrow

To increase life satisfaction/happiness, Meichenbaum suggests regularly indulging in small pleasures, being intentional about engaging in challenging activities, setting and meeting goals, maintaining close social ties, and finding purpose beyond oneself. They say that it isn’t happiness, per se, that promotes well-being. Rather, it’s the actual pursuit that’s key.

  • Create a bucket list. Discover what makes you happy, and generate a list of pleasurable emotionally uplifting activities that you can enjoy and you want to do more often. Make a list of engaging activities that you have not yet experiences but would like to do. Be intentional about scheduling the fun activities from your list.
  • Do something fun. Get involved in enjoyable activities. Do something fun and engaging. Make the choice to be happy. Immerse yourself in pleasurable aesthetic activities, such as reading, music, art, enjoying nature (sunrises, sunsets), walks… Feed your soul.
  • Develop new interests. Develop new interests and look for new possibilities in life. Follow your curiosity.
  • Rethink the past. Rethink past events, and look for the silver lining. Find the benefits and remember them.
  • Focus on the present. Focus on being present in the moment through mindfulness, which is a way of self-regulating your attention. Attend to moment-by-moment experiences in a mindful manner, without fixating on thoughts of the past or the future. Positive emotions flow from a nonjudgmental focus on the present
  • Accept your thoughts. View your thoughts just as “thoughts” and not as directives or commandments to act or as truthful accounts. Come to accept your thoughts, memories, and emotions without trying to needlessly change or alter them.

Finding happiness should be an ongoing process — one doesn’t just “arrive” at a place of happiness and end the pursuit. As we strive to create a meaning and joy in life, cultivating certain behaviors can help. Of course, there is no prescribed “one-size-fits-all” formula for finding happiness, but certain steps can help people achieve more of it on a daily basis.

How do you make a habit of practicing happiness?

I write to provide research, insights, and practical tips for living well and thriving in our personal and professional lives.

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