In my previous article, I outlined a number of insights about happiness that feature in Sonja Lyubomirski’s book ‘The How of Happiness’. Today’s article expands on this topic, describing 12 strategies she has derived from scientific research that, when implemented correctly, will make us feel happier. You will notice that what they have in common is that they are extremely simple and practical. And the great thing about them is that you can start applying them straight away, irrespective of the phase of life you’re in. Becoming happier or not is something you have control over; are you going to take action or not? Note: Lyubomirski advises against implementing all 12 strategies at once – start with the ones you feel most comfortable with.
1. Count your blessings
Look around you and appreciate what is already there, what you’ve already achieved, and express your gratitude for it. You will soon see that you can influence how happy you feel by simply focusing, and thinking consciously about these things. Of course you can say it out loud, write it down, or record it in some other way. And don’t forget to convey your appreciation of other people who deserve it. That way, you not only influence your own happiness, but also that of others.
2. Cultivate optimism
View challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth. By looking for the positive in these situations, you will start to view the world as a place full of endless possibilities. Does this mean you will never have to be disappointed again? No, of course not. The question is: how long will you allow yourself to stay in that state? Writing down the positive elements can help remind you of the opportunities that are available.
3. Avoid overthinking and social comparison
Comparing yourself with others is a meaningless exercise, the most important thing is to accept yourself for who you are, with all your positive qualities as well as your darker side. A comparison in your favour will give you an unhealthy feeling of ‘superiority’. And if the comparison turns out negative for you, there’s a good chance you will focus on that negative aspect and forget about all the good things you have achieved. If you find you can’t stop comparing yourself with others, ask your friends to tell you why they enjoy your company – and revel in their answers.
4. Practise acts of kindness
Doing something good for a friend, colleague, family member or even a total stranger, without wanting anything in return, will automatically produce serotonin in our brain. And that’s our ‘happiness hormone’. It doesn’t matter if you planned it beforehand or whether it just happens spontaneously. As well as making you feel happier, even passers-by who witness your ‘good deed’ will get a serotonin boost. A great example of this can be seen in the short film ‘Validation’. It lasts a bit longer than normal (15 minutes), but I promise you it will be well worth the time you invest. Enjoy!
5. Nurture relationships
The people that are happiest are those that have intense and meaningful relationships. By investing time and energy in strengthening your relationships (and of course by enjoying them) you will not only become happier, but you will also live longer! Studies have proven that people who are lonely die younger. So, meet up with your friends and share experiences. And don’t forget that genuinely deep connections are more than just an exchange of business correspondence. Dare to be open about your emotions and share the vulnerable moments in your life as well as your joyful ones.
6. Develop strategies for coping
Just as the sun doesn’t shine all the year round, rain and stormy weather are also part of life. So it’s a good idea to take an umbrella with you if you’re expecting bad weather, or to even stay at home. And that’s how things are in life too. If you’re expecting a period of stress, sorrow or setbacks, think about what you can do to deal with such situations when they arise.
7. Learn to forgive
Being angry with someone (or even worse, despising someone), and allowing your thoughts to be dominated by that person, will have a negative impact on your immune system. And even looking back on such a situation will create negative emotions in the here and now. The downside of this is that these emotions will generally persist for a long time and will therefore continue to influence your thinking, behaviour and pleasure. So learn to forgive so that you can release your anger and sorrow towards others, and stop these emotions getting in the way of your wellbeing.
8. Do more activities that truly engage you
Have you ever experienced moments when you are so preoccupied with a task that you become totally absorbed in what it is you’re doing? It’s as if time stands still, you don’t feel hungry or sleepy and you are so focused that you are at one with the activity you are engaged in. The activity and your consciousness have merged; you’re experiencing what we call ‘flow’! Try to identify the tasks that will help you achieve this ‘state’ and practise them as often as you can.
9. Savour life’s joys
‘I’m busy, busy, busy’ is an expression we hear a lot these days and which people seem to say with some pride. We keep rushing from one event or task to the other without taking the time to enjoy the moment or the result, thereby causing it to lose its special quality, and robbing you of the chance to feel happy. In other words, slow down once in a while, take time to contemplate on a joyful moment or a result achieved – enjoy it, and celebrate it.
10. Commit to your goals
How do you eat an elephant? A small piece at a time! And that also applies if you want to achieve the life goals you’ve set for yourself. What are your most important goals or sub goals at the moment? These are the goals for which you are prepared to put your body and soul into to accomplish. Dare to make choices and make a real effort to achieve them.
11. Practise spirituality
People who are religious or who practise spirituality are generally happier. They enjoy a feeling of deeper connection with life on earth and outside it (whatever form that may take). And this often results in the conviction that we are here to ‘fulfil a task’. Does that mean you immediately have to become a member of a religious community or a spiritual movement in order to experience happiness? Possibly, but it’s not a necessity. Being open to the idea and reading about it is also a fine way to develop your spiritual side.
12. Take care of your body
A healthy body is a breeding ground for spirituality (your life goal), for emotional energy (your feelings), for mental energy (your focus) and forms the ideal springboard for taking action. Studies involving the clinically depressed indicate that regular physical exercise results in a greater feeling of happiness. In other words, eat and drink responsibly, take part in sports activities or walking, meditate or practise yoga, etc.
Being happy is a choice!