What is happiness exactly, and how can we achieve it? Sometimes it starts with what we do every day.
We all want to be happy in our lives. It’s one of the great universal goals. But what defines that happiness can differ greatly from person to person.
For example, some of us strive for contentment and fulfilment in our personal relationships. Others aspire to professional success (another term open to interpretation) or feeling that we’re contributing towards our society. Or most likely a combination of all three.
Whatever your priorities, one thing is for sure – happiness is very much a subjective feeling about your life in the present moment.
The meaning of happiness
Everyone experiences both positive and negative emotions throughout their lives – ups and downs on a sliding scale, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. The secret to happiness, perhaps, is for the positive to outweigh the negative.
And while your unique character may dictate how happy you are feeling, there are some key signifiers scientists use to measure a person’s happiness. These include feeling you are achieving your goals, living the life you wanted, enjoying positive relationships with others, being open to new ideas and experiences, and feeling that your life has some kind of meaning.
Give yourself a tick on any or all of these, and the chances are you may well consider yourself happy overall. It doesn’t mean you won’t still experience the full range of human emotions from time to time – anger, boredom, frustration, isolation, and yes, sadness – but your general perception of self and underlying optimism will help you to bounce back and feel happy again.
So how can we help to fuel this underlying optimism? To paraphrase Aristotle, ‘we are what we do every day’. Happiness isn’t just something that happens to you. It’s forged by the way you live your life. And if you get into bad habits of negativity and inactivity, you seriously hamstring your opportunities to feel fulfilled. On the plus side It follows then, that if you make positive habits part of your daily routine, you greatly improve your chances of being happy.
With this in mind, here are some of our top tips to help you be happier, feel more in control, and cope better with whatever life has to throw at you:
1) Spend more time with friends
We humans are social creatures, which means we’re often happier when in company. Meaningful relationships – even just one or two – are thus key to our contentment, a fact recently reinforced by the Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2022, especially among women and older people.1 So if you miss someone, reach out and let them know. Meet up in person, or have a phone, text or video chat. Or if you feel you’d like to make new friends, take up a hobby and join a local group. You might be pleasantly surprised how many likeminded people are out there.
2) Sleep well
Getting a good night’s sleep is absolutely vital to our physical and emotional health, as well as our brain function. Waking up refreshed can help you start the day with a positive outlook, whereas losing sleep can seriously impact your mood. So try to practice good sleep habits, and make your bedroom a haven for rest. Most sources recommend between 7-9 hours sleep a night for adults aged 18-64.2
3) Get more exercise
Feeling healthier is much easier when you stay active. Exercise stimulates your blood flow, which can only help you feel better. So try to ensure you exercise more and raise your heart rate a little at least 3 times a week, for half an hour. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout – although some people crave the endorphins it releases. Just a small amount of movement can be beneficial to your mood, lower your stress levels, and improve your sleep quality.
4) Eat healthily
Your food choices can have a marked impact upon your mood, and your overall physical health. So try to retain a healthy, balanced diet. Remember the rule that around half your dinner plate should consist of fresh fruit and vegetables – it’ll help you get the complex carbs you need to keep your serotonin levels up. And try to limit your alcohol intake. Having a drink may help to numb any feelings of discontentment you may be experiencing at the time, but it can also act as a depressant in the long term.
5) Think positive
If you find yourself having negative thoughts, try to nip them in the bud. Think of all the things you can be grateful for in your life, but don’t stop there. Try to spread that optimism across all areas of your day. Make a point of smiling more, and compliment others on their appearance or behaviour. And most of all, don’t be so down on yourself – you’re better than that.
6) Ditch the phone more
There is increasing evidence out there to suggest that using our phones to excess can seriously impact both our brain and our mood, especially during our formative years.3 So try to turn off more, or at least take more regular breaks from scrolling. Spending less time on social media can also help you avoid constantly comparing yourself to others, which can lead to lower self-esteem, or even anxiety and depression.
7) Let go of the pain
It may sound easier said than done, but there’s bound to be a reason for you feeling unhappy, so try letting it go. If you’ve had an argument or you feel someone has done you wrong, work it out, forgive them and move on. Those negative emotions are only hurting you in the long run. Better still, throw your emotions into doing something creative or cathartic instead. Write a journal or a book, paint or sew something. Anything you can get passionate about, and achieve a tangible outcome.
Remember, happiness is a continual journey, not a destination, and no matter what impression people may give, no-one is happy all of the time. It’s okay to have days where you feel down. But if you find that your negativity continues for a prolonged period, be sure to reach out and talk to friends and family, or consult your local GP or health professional.