Happiness feels like an elusive emotion sometimes. If you’re reading blogs on this site, it probably means either you or someone you love deeply is struggling to find happiness. I’ve been there too. It really hurts. It can be such a struggle to find more than just fleeting enjoyment.
We look to things like a new outfit, the latest video game, a trip to a theme park, or something good to eat. We know these things are associated with pleasure. For a few minutes, and maybe a few hours if we’re lucky, we feel happy. These things keep us coming back. Ultimately though, they wind up empty.
Here are 5 things that contribute to more lasting happiness.
1. Actively demonstrating gratitude. There are most certainly people in your life that you rely on. Whether it’s that weekly call with your mom you use to vent, or your assistant at work who schedules your meetings. If you’re a teenager, then it’s that one teacher who always actually listens, or your friend at school who sits next to you at lunch each day without fail. Try your best to visibly thank someone each day. Send a text, an email, write a note, etc. If you just do this once a day you will truly increase your happiness.
2. Control your thoughts. It’s really easy to think nobody cares about you. It’s easy to think you’re not as smart as the next person, or that you will never amount to anything much. It’s harder to remind yourself of why these thoughts are simply untrue. Happy people work hard to fight their negative thoughts. The first step is to recognize them. The second step is to honestly test them. The third step is to reshape them. If you think nobody cares about you, you need to test this theory. You don’t need to actively do anything, you just need to look back at the last 24 hours. Did anyone say hello to you, hug you, smile at you, give you a ride somewhere, send you a message, etc? If even one person did any of those things, then you need to reshape your thought to something more positive. You might change it to something like, ‘At least one person cares about me.’
3. Get in the habit of smiling. People wait for someone to smile at them first. If you’re both doing this, nobody ends up smiling. Smile first. It might feel awkward, but you get incredible results. If you smile more, others interpret you as more friendly. They want to be around you more. You end up happier. Also, the muscles we use to smile are linked to the “happiness center” in our brain. When you smile your brain automatically feels happier.
4. Exercise. People who do some sort of daily exercise are happier.
5. Prayer or meditation. 5 minutes a day is not much time. If you stop for 5 minutes and slow down your mind, you will gain hours of a better mood. Better moods equal increased productivity. Increased productivity equals a feeling of accomplishment, which is linked to happiness.
Most, if not all, of these tips are things you’ve heard and read before. What’s keeping you from actually putting them into practice? It probably takes 1 week of actively doing these things to increase your overall happiness. Happiness is the result of habits, not the result of luck. This means it’s something you make. As humans our natural state is one of complaint, irritation, and frustration. This can be overcome, but you have to work at it. You can do it! Use that positive thinking to tell yourself you can!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT