Happiness is often treated like a physical object; we must find it and hold onto it. If we don’t, we are destined for a life of doom and gloom. However, happiness is not something we go out looking for and find, it is something we cultivate within ourselves.
What happiness is not
In our quest for a happier life, first it can be useful to understand what happiness is not. There are some common misconceptions, which will probably put you at ease and make finding your own happiness a little easier;
Happiness is not: feeling good all the time – happiness is like the weather, it has good days and bad days, there is always going to be change and no two days are the same. We need to feel and understand the lows of life to really know when things are going well, without that we don’t have perspective or a reference point.
Happiness is not: being rich or affording everything you want – while living below the poverty line may make it harder to be happy. Beyond that, money does not appear to buy happiness. How often have you wanted a particular piece of clothing or the latest gadget? You purchase it, which makes you happy, but a few weeks later (or months if you are lucky) it’s lost its shiny new appeal? There’s a new upgraded version on the market, which has caught your eye. And we have all heard about those who win the Lotto…
Happiness is not: a final destination – it is not somewhere you arrive, then sit back and relax. Have you ever said ‘when I get the promotion I’ll be happy’, ‘when I find my life partner I’ll be happy’? Most life events which make us happy in the short-term fade over time as we adapt to them. It takes regular effort to maintain happiness. Most established techniques for increasing your happiness are actually habits or small lifestyle changes which you can maintain.
What IS happiness?
Now we know what happiness is not, can we actually define what happiness is? There is much debate by psychologists and philosophers on a final definition of ‘happiness’. Common amongst them are a trio of happiness components;
Pleasure – the experience of joy and contentment
Meaning – you have a purpose in life, feel worthwhile, for example through job satisfaction or a commitment in life outside of work
Engagement – the connection you have with people, your surroundings, your life and the activities you pursue
Some psychologists have defined happiness, by incorporating the above components, into the more scientific term of subjective-wellbeing. Your subjective wellbeing, or happiness, is a combination of how good you feel on a daily basis, how satisfied you are with your life (does your life have meaning?), and how engaged you are with both activities that you love and your network of friends and family.
Of course, no matter how perfectly we conduct our lives, they won’t always be joyful. The happiest and fullest of lives are sure to have waves of pain and sadness. So perhaps a more attainable goal than ‘happiness’ is to seek wellbeing.
Tips to boost your wellbeing
There are some simple tips to help you tap into your wellbeing, as simple as they may seem, the compounding effect over time is undeniably huge.
Nod to the good – seeing the good, even during a terrible day helps give perspective on the curve balls life can throw at you each day. At the end of each day write down or say (a great activity to do around the dinner table with friends, family, partner) three good things from the day. They can be as simple as; I had my morning coffee and didn’t spill it, or I went for a walk at lunch in the sunshine. Then write or say three things that didn’t go so well, having the good next to the bad helps you see that even on the worst days there is some good.
Feel the feels – this is about getting out of your head and into the present. When we are in the present we cannot worry about the future or agonise over the past. Find something incredibly tactile, bare feet on the grass is a great one or stroking a pet, or standing in the shower. Close your eyes and take one minute to feel what you are feeling, explore it, name it, feel all the sensations. When the minute is up, move on with the rest of your day.
Keep it social – we are social creatures and so thrive on connection and a sense of belonging. Interacting with another human, be it a friend, a colleague or even just your local barista, is a great way to boost your (and their) well-being. Simply saying hello and asking how their day is may be all it takes. This is face-to-face connection; a like, wave or comment on social media doesn’t count.
Focus on weaving little ways of feeling positive into your everyday life, as opposed to large scale changes. You don’t need to feel it all day long, but if you know how to give yourself little positive boosts each day, it makes a huge difference to your happiness (wellbeing).