Humans have been pursuing happiness as long as we can remember, and if you aren’t prone to too much nihilism, you must be as well. What is happiness? Happiness is described as the overall subjective experience of our positive emotions. The human brain is wired for happiness and positive connections with others. It is actually possible to experience and learn happiness despite what has been genetically hardwired.
Pleasure, comfort, gratitude, hope, and inspiration are examples of positive emotions that increase our happiness and move us to flourish. In scientific literature, happiness is referred to as hedonia (Ryan & Deci, 2001), the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative emotions.
If you are feeling low or generally tend to feel a little low in life, here are some simple but proven ways to uplift yourself and bring about more happiness into your life. These are not given in any order of importance as options like food and exercise may prove more beneficial for some whereas having better social connections may be the more important option for others. Either way, try to incorporate all of these to improve your life and have a wholesome happy life experience.
1. Understanding that happiness is not a goal but a reward for a healthy mindset. There is no point chasing after happiness as this pursuit itself denies you the experience of embracing happiness. If you think something outside of you is going to bring you happiness for eg.having lots of money is going to make me happy and you chase after it, this will only cause you to be more miserable. It may be true that having money increases your happiness quotient but that does not mean your happiness lies solely in it. If you put your hopes of achieving happiness on something you don’t have yet and believe that you’ll be happy only if you achieve it, then you are in for a disappointment. Achieving something may trigger the release of some happy hormones like dopamine at the time but you’ll find your self back in your old self of wanting something more as a means to being happy as opposed to finding joy in and appreciating what you currently have. Attaching our happiness to external things and material wealth is dangerous, as we can lose our happiness if our material circumstances change. Also trying too hard to find happiness often has the opposite effect and can lead us to be overly selfish.
So instead of waiting to get something and thinking that fulfilling that goal will lead you to be happy, change your perspective to an understanding that happiness is a mindset and work towards developing a healthy happy mindset. Stay in the moment and practice being happy now and having gratitude for what you have right now. Try it now and feel the difference.
2. Learn to be optimistic. Many people view optimism as naive or even a delusional trait. They say that if you’re realistic and understand how the real world works, you will tend to become pessimistic. Since we decide how to view the world and comprehend things around us is what defines us and how we tend to feel both short term and long term, it is up to us to decide whether to focus on the good or on the sensational negative jargon that is fed to us through the media and press. We can develop a positive mindset and train our minds to be happy in spite of being surrounded by an otherwise unfortunate circumstance. So try to switch from pessimism to optimism to lead a happier life.
3. Social connections and family time. Provided that you don’t live in a dysfunctional family set up or have toxic friends, in which case you need to learn to put up boundaries and find people who are like you or can help you, its been proven that pursuing happiness through social means like spending more time with family and friends is more likely to be effective than other methods in terms of achieving happiness. Make sure you keep in touch with your friends and build deeper connections by sharing your life stories with them and with your family. Ask them to share their stories too and take time out to connect. Going on trips with friends and family is one of the best ways to bond and create amazing memories that will last you a lifetime.
4. Learn to love yourself. Feeling stressed after a long day of work? Treat yourself to a bubble bath. Feeling blue? Treat yourself to a yummy dessert. Feeling frustrated after an argument with a friend? Skip your workout and have an extra scoop of ice cream. Loving your self and being kind to yourself is really important when it comes to feeling happy. Learn to watch out for yourself when no one else will. Also accepting yourself as you are and embracing your flaws with a positive mindset of working on them is important.
Loving yourself also includes letting go of certain things which can bring about huge shifts in mindset. Perfectionism is one such example. It involves inappropriate levels of expectations and intangible goals. It often produces problems for adults, adolescents, and children as they set to achieve something beyond them and are disappointed when they find themselves not able to reach those standards set either by themselves or by the society around them. Another thing to let go is social comparison. When we compare ourselves to others we often find ourselves lacking. Healthy social comparison is about finding what you admire in others and learning to strive for those qualities. Learn to focus on your own gifts and talents as you are unique in what you have to contribute to the world. Strive to become a better person than you were yesterday and work on yourself, rather than focusing on what someone else is achieving or has achieved.
5. Exercise and getting healthy. Excercise is long proven to improve both emotional and physical fitness. Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones) and regular exercising is seen to play a major role in keeping you both fit, active and happy. So the easiest thing for you to do to make sure you are getting your daily dose of happiness is to start moving around and doing physical activity that keeps you from living a sedentary which can lead to sadness and depression. Don’t let your excuses hold you back from making this happen. If you can’t afford the gym or have time for it, exercise at home. Even something as simple as walking up and down the stairs, dancing to your favorite music to investing in a treadmill or an indoor cycle has proven to help beat the blues and stay healthy.
6. Eat happy food. Scientists have found that certain foods play a role in altering your mood. Research studies show that serotonin (another happy hormone) is not just found in the brain but more so in the gut. So food probably has a more important role in happiness than anything else so far. As tempting as it may be to reach out for that donut or chocolate cake when you find yourself craving sugar, its better to start investing in healthier food which doesn’t give you a sugar crash and which help release happy hormones and keep you healthy, which is also very important in long term happiness. Food like honey, mussels, spinach, bananas, eggs and dark chocolate are all proven to improve happiness quotient and improve your mood. Beverages like green tea and coffee also plays a role in reversing sadness and giving you an energy boost as well as a happiness boost. So aim to start eating healthier and watch yourself shift to a better mindset guaranteed to bring about happiness.
7. Beat that stress. While stress may be something we can’t avoid, be it in your job or generally in your daily activity like looking after your family, try to learn to be mindful, and incorporate healthy habits to beat that stress. Daily meditation is proven to help alleviate stress and help you manage it better in the long run. You should also treat yourself to break times and have a vacation when you feel like a burn out approaching. You should also set aside some me time to follow your personal passions or hobbies that brings you happiness (like gardening, painting or journaling). This goes a long way in making you feel productive and happy as you create something or grow something with your hands, thereby keeping you mentally fit as well.
Sometime you may have to face major stressful events in your life that necessitate mourning and sadness. These include the death of a loved one, the loss of livelihood, or feeling trapped in a dead-end job. The way to become happy despite of these things is to address the issues and do something about them. If and whenever you find yourself overwhelmed either talk to your friends and family about it or seek professional help. If you find yourself experiencing depression, please seek professional help as psychotherapy and certain cognitive exercises can help a lot in overcoming this and improving the quality of your life. It is not healthy to suffer in silence or to not ask for help thinking of it as a stigma. More and more people are opening up these days regarding depression and chose to speak out rather than hiding it in hopes that it will just go away. Take proactive steps and you’ll find yourself grateful for having done so.
All said and done, there are other factors that contribute to happiness as well like doing random acts of kindness, helping out the community or your neighbors in some way, all of which can help you feel like you have contributed in some way which in turn boosts your happiness quotient. Try to read positive self-help books and watch happy funny videos or movies rather than focusing on sad negative news etc. Listening to good music that you enjoy is also proven to help boost your mood. If you have any drug or alcohol addiction, seek help and find ways to naturally boost your happy hormones to stay happier and improve life quality and longevity. All in all, find your own tailormade method to incorporate this beautiful feeling into your life. Forgive yourself if you find yourself self-loathing or not able to incorporate positivity and attempt to try again or start over. Believe that you can change your life at any given moment of time and take those steps today.