Often, when writing psychology related articles, my topics tend to focus on understanding problem areas, dealing with struggles and how to cope with challenges. The stigma around ‘having a problem’, as being the main reason why someone would need to see a mental health professional, is still very present. However, the study of Positive Psychology (or as some are calling it ‘the science of happiness’) is growing and people are focusing more and more on the strengths that lie beneath and how to access these even before any ‘problems’ arise.
There are literally thousands of books and websites claiming they have the solution on how to live a happy life. I’m sure most, if not all, of them are right in their own way. Happiness is different for everyone and changes significantly throughout our lives as our own priorities change along with it (what made you happy as an adolescent might not do it anymore for you as an adult).
Our personality traits, interest etc also determine our individual definitions of happiness. While one person gets great joy from being surrounded by a large number of friends, another person might prefer to hide in a quiet room and curl up with a book.
I won’t be writing anything that hasn’t been written a million times before, but I thought I would summarise for you the 10 habits I’ve witnessed to be most effective on people’s happiness:
1. Be Kind, Always
People who cultivate kindness tend to me happier and show less signs of depression. Being kind to others and caring for others, tends to make us feel good ourselves (like they say, there are no selfless good deeds). So not only do you better someone else’s life, but you’re also improving your own in the process.
Being kind, doesn’t mean we need to always go overboard and ‘save’ everyone that crosses our path.. Kindness can be shown in the simplest of forms by acknowledging someone with a smile, wishing someone a good day or reaching out to someone who might need your help (however big or small that help is). It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
2. Recognise your Strengths and Work with your Weaknesses
Studies (such as M. Seligman’s research in Positive Psychology) have shown that people who discovered their unique strengths and used them for more than their own personal goals, are generally happier.
I would say this also goes hand in hand with recognising your own weaknesses and working with them, rather than letting them hold you back.
Strengths include, but are certainly not limited to, things such as integrity, critical thinking, humanity, motivation, determination, kindness, open-mindedness and many more.
Weaknesses such as people-pleasing, self criticism, prejudice, discrimination etc should be acknowledged (after all, none of us are prefect), but we can work around or with them in our path to improving ourselves and how we are with others.
3. Mindfulness and Positive Thinking
As a psychologist, the word ‘mindfulness’ and positive thinking, often had some of my patients roll their eyes as they sat back and expected the caricature speech on yoga positions, relaxation exercises and group therapy (even though they’ve all been proven highly effective, but that’s not my point 😉
Mindfulness is focusing on the here and now, and what is around us. It’s being aware of our situation, our feelings around it and the effects they may be causing. Practising mindfulness does not require you to be incredibly spiritual or religious, and it can be done by anyone as it is something we naturally do. However, practising it on a regular basis, allows us to strengthen it as it can help us improve our state of mind.
Positive thinking, in conjunction with being mindful, focuses on our appreciation of the good things we experience and have in life and allows us to better manage the negative flows that often cross our way.
Practising mindfulness does not necessarily require you to be in the seated position surrounded by only quietness. We can be mindful whilst doing every day activities. Pay attention to your breathing, get in touch with your feelings, or get lost in the flow of doing everyday simple activities you enjoy (for me personally, cleaning gets me very relaxed, as I can just ‘switch off’ and focus only on the task at hand) .
Laughing truly is the best medicine. Laughing (like exercising) triggers the release of endorphins, which are our body’s feel good chemicals, as well as decreases stress levels and increase our immune cells.
Not only do we see physical benefits form laughter, but it also takes a load of our mental burdens and strengthens our emotional health.
It’s not always easy to find situations in which we can spontaneously burst out in fits of laughter (although the concept of ‘laugh yoga’ is increasingly becoming more popular), but we can find ways to at least spark a grin here and there. Smiling is a good start.. a smile is contagious and can go a long way not just for you but for others as well.
Spend your time with playful people and appreciate the humour in life. It’s important to remember the funny side of things and to appreciate the laughter when it happens.
5. Live healthy and Move
I could write an entire article alone in this, as everyone has their own definition of what ‘eating healthy’ and ‘exercise’ means.
To put it simply, eating healthy involves eating fresh food, avoiding processed meals, junk food and unhealthy fat/sugar levels. How you want to go about that and to what extreme is your choice. Basically, feed your body what it needs rather than what it wants (ok… from time to time also eat what it wants, because eating a treat often contributes greatly to our happiness as well 😉
Exercise does not mean spending your life in the gym (although if that makes you happy then absolutely go for it!). With exercise here, in order to promote happiness, I mean moving your body every day to get your endorphins going. This can be as simple as a 30 minute walk, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking that extra block to avoid taking the bus.
6. Nurture Positive Relationships
Humans are social animals. Surrounding ourselves with people we care about often has an immediate impact on our levels of happiness. Again, this differs for many people as some are perfectly happy with one or two people close to them whereas others thrive from interacting within a large group.
The number of people in your life isn’t the important aspect here, but rather the effort you put into your relationships that matters.
Social relationships come and go and even the closest of friendships can dissolve in time. Having social relationships takes effort from all parties involved and should not be taken for granted. The focus should not be on ‘how often’ you see someone, but on ‘how meaningful’ it is when you do. Happy people tend to surround themselves with people who make them feel good instead of negative people (misery loves company). Happy people also nurture their relationships by talking about the things that matter and resolving any issues that might come up.
7. Be Inspired to Grow
There are two different mindsets… People who are ‘fixed in their ways’ and who refuse the notion that they can change because they feel that this is who they are. When confronted with something they don’t know, people with such a mindset might find themselves feeling overwhelmed or hopeless about something they feel they can’t handle. When people show a more open-minded approach, it encourages them to learn from and improve their footprint in the world. Open-minded people don’t shy away from a challenge, which in turn builds the tools we need to manage difficulties in life or make necessary adjustments. Challenges are viewed as opportunities, and succeeding in them leaves us feeling happier with ourselves.
8. Find a Balance
Being happy doesn’t mean we constantly need to walk around with a smile, making us feel as if we slept with a hanger in our mouth. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to feel the bad things, and to complain as we work through them. Life is not all rainbows and sunshine and we can often find ourselves in a downright sh*t storm. But even a thunder storm helps the tree get rid of dead branches (how’s that for positive visualisation! ha!)
Let yourself feel the negativity, we can’t live without it, but try to find ways not to let yourself drown in it.
For example, after a negative experience, focusing on what you have learnt from it or how you can improve/avoid it in the future, might help in processing it and moving on.
9. Make an Effort
Happiness that lasts is built through habits. It’s easy to get sucked in by the daily routines and struggles that sometimes impede on our happiness. It’s also hard to sometimes not let go of the negatives and overthink where we went wrong. We can’t sit around and do nothing expecting happiness to fall in our laps, nor can be expect happiness to stay if we don’t actively do things to maintain it. This should not be seen as ‘work’, but rather as seeing that the mere actions of these habits is what makes us feel happy in the first place. This doesn’t mean we can’t allow ourselves to feel the negatives, it just means that, on some days, we might need to push harder to focus on the positives.
If you want to be happier, or want to continue to strengthen your happiness, try out some of the above habits!
Remember, the definition of happiness is different for all of us, so don’t compare yourself with others, but focus on what is important to you in order to increase your everyday ‘happy’ and dive in, head first …