How to Find Happiness
Happiness encompasses feelings of satisfaction and contentment and the drive to live a life of meaning, purpose, and depth. It involves creating strong relationships and helping others. It requires uncomfortable or painful experiences—to continue to learn, grow, and evolve.
Misperceptions abound when it comes to what really makes people happy. From pinning hopes of happiness on wealth, status, and possessions, to avoiding any feelings of distress, we are poor predictors of our own future happiness. But understanding what underlies happiness can help you take steps to achieve it.
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Finding happiness will always be an ongoing process. As people strive to create a meaningful and joyful life, cultivating certain behaviors can help, including meaning, authenticity, optimism, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.
Living according to your values is a central component in the pursuit of happiness. If you don’t know which values are important to you, try this thought experiment: If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have everyone’s approval and admiration, what would you choose to do with your life? Take steps that adhere to those personal values.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for happiness, but certain steps can help people achieve more happiness on a daily basis, such as this five-step process. One is to take responsibility for your happiness, acknowledging that you can change your circumstances by taking action. Others are to put yourself first and practice living in the present moment.
Reformulating how you think about the underlying cause of negative events makes clear that optimism can be learned. Attributing a mistake or failure to insufficient effort rather than to a lack of ability provides motivation for people to improve and succeed the next time, research suggests.
People who cultivate gratitude tend to better appreciate and enjoy life, as gratitude creates satisfaction that isn’t dependent on outside sources. To practice gratitude, reflect on what you’re grateful for each morning to shape the rest of the day, keep a gratitude journal, and reframe negative experiences by finding something within them for which you’re grateful.
Authenticity is a cornerstone of mental health, connected to self-esteem, vitality, and well-being. Societal norms and expectations sometimes lead people to act in ways that don’t align with their true self. Exploring your behavior and challenging those underlying assumptions can help you lead a more authentic life.
A meaningful life can be defined as one having worth or value. People can then find meaning by creating value, such as by composing a beautiful song, forging a loving relationship, or committing to moral righteousness. Creating that value is an ability that can be learned and practiced.
Compassion is an undervalued key to happiness. Anxiety and depression are self-focused states, and helping others broadens perspective and dissolves self-focus. While money or possessions can provide short-term happiness, research suggests that compassion and service lead to long term happiness, health, and wisdom.
Mindfulness is a powerful way to cultivate happiness. It involves focusing on the present moment and observing thoughts and emotions without judging them. Simply acknowledging these feelings, rather than struggling against them, can help release their potency and negativity.
Spirituality and religion also have the capacity to create joy, community, and meaning. Abiding by the values of a given religion, which often include community, self-care, and a trusting relationship with God, can help individuals find health and happiness.
Practicing mindfulness is associated with experiencing more positive emotions, research suggests. Mindfulness involves slowing down and deliberately focusing on and appreciating aspects of your experience, as well as accepting your thoughts and emotions, viewing them with openness, curiosity, and kindness. The ability to release control and criticism may be the reason why mindfulness fosters happiness.
You can practice mindfulness in meditation sessions or in smaller moments throughout the day. Draw your attention to your breath, and to the sensations of your body and surroundings. Observe the thoughts and emotions you experience without judgment, simply acknowledging and labeling them. At a later time, exploring why those emotions surfaced may help address underlying challenges.
Research has revealed a strong link between psychological well-being and religion and spirituality. There are also connections to better health, such as lower rates of smoking and alcohol use, better sleep, and even a longer lifespan. Yet there are elements of religions that can cause distress in some cases, such as feelings of guilt or shame.
Three key reasons may explain the benefits of religion and spirituality. Many religions emphasize social support, and some institutions run support groups for community members. Religions often encourage taking care of the body and mind, leading to better health habits. Religion can also foster coping skills, such as through a trusting relationship with god or other people.
Above and beyond finances, intelligence, or hometown, relationships are a crucial determinant of happiness. Deep connections with family, friends, and romantic partners fulfill a basic human need for belonging. Investing time and energy to create and maintain those connections is therefore a central component of finding happiness.
Relationships provide acceptance, support, and safety, and they’re one of the most important keys to happiness and health. We benefit from close and nurturing relationships whether with a spouse, parent, colleague, or friend.
Certain choices are especially important in creating a happy, successful relationship. Being attentive and supportive, willing to work through differences, sharing household responsibilities, discussing sex honestly, being affectionate, and practicing gratitude are among the behaviors that boost relationship satisfaction over the long term.
Married people experience a boost in happiness in the early days of their relationship, but their happiness later returns to baseline. Some research suggests that aside from that boost, single people and married people have similar levels of happiness. One reason may be that single people have very active social lives.
Committing to work that aligns with your values can instill meaning and fulfillment. You may, for instance, prioritize creativity, travel opportunities, or financial stability for your family. Understanding your values can help determine which job options will bring you happiness.
Happiness also depends on factors such as whether the work is engaging, whether you’re skilled at your job, and whether you like the people you work with. A job that meets your basic needs is important too, including fair compensation, reasonable hours, a manageable commute, and job security.
People view employment in different ways: Some see a job as a way to make money, some see it as a path to success and prestige, and some see it as integral to their identity and life. The latter often find their work more meaningful and their lives more satisfying. Identifying your orientation can help you understand which career choices will make you happy.
A common narrative purports that if you work hard, you’ll be happy. But research suggests that the opposite is also true—positive emotions may promote career success. This could be due to happier employees setting higher goals, persevering at challenging tasks for longer, being more optimistic that they’ll succeed, and having more social support at work.
Many people feel unhappy at their jobs, but the answer might not be to find a new position. Research shows that people experience a burst of happiness after getting a promotion or new job, but that that change disappears after a year. What boosts happiness is the process of working toward challenging goals, which provides structure, meaning, and the opportunity to master new skills.
Money buys happiness to the point that it lifts people out of poverty and allows them to live comfortably. Beyond that point, money doesn’t boost well-being. Money also has a greater impact on overall happiness—stepping back and considering whether we’re satisfied with life—than the emotions people feel on a day to day basis.