It’s a mystery for the ages: Why are some people happy and others less so?
Scientists may never fully understand it — and that may be because much of it has nothing to do with science at all. Studies show that if we engage in the established behaviors of happy people, we will be happier, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. “Of course, there are caveats,” she says. “You have to pick a strategy that fits your personality, goals, and resources and put effort into it.”
If you knew the secrets of happy people, could you practice them and become happier yourself? It’s worth a shot!
Look for the Positive
“Happy people are more likely than unhappy people to perceive themselves, as well as the world around them, positively,” says Lyubomirsky. This also translates into seeing the future with optimism. The key here, she says, is to write down your hopes for the future, create goals and mini-goals, and go for them. Along the way, identify any thoughts that seem to be pulling you down and replace them with more positive versions to be happier.
Not only do friendships and family relationships make you happier, the data also suggests that strong, supportive relationships help you live longer, notes Lyubomirsky. But relationships do take a little work. Proven strategies for happiness are to make time for the ones you love or people you would like to get to know better; share in other people’s successes with your own delight; show appreciation for the people in your life; and do something every week to support or further someone else’s dreams.
Be Physically Active
If you need one more reason to get up and get moving, here it is: You could be happier with regular exercise. Exercise is a proven method for preventing or managing negative emotions. You could get even further along the way to happiness if you can work out with a group, building relationships even as you start to feel better about your life and your body. The key to success is making a regular appointment with yourself to work out — and sticking with it.
Send thank-you notes — not just the obligatory kind, but heartfelt letters. Gratitude is a great antidote to anger and bitterness. Expressing sincere gratitude for someone in your life in a letter actually makes you happier, even if you can’t actually send or share the letter. Further, practicing gratitude for the little and big gifts in your life can push you along the way to happiness. Try writing down three to five things you are grateful for each week.
Offer Help to Others
Happy people are often among the first to lend a hand. And while they probably aren’t stepping up purely because it makes them feel good, the reality is that being helpful does allow you to feel better about yourself, which helps you be happier. It also strengthens your social networks and gives people another reason to like you. Remember to find ways to be helpful that suit your personality and overall lifestyle, so that you will make helping out a regular habit
Forgiveness is a tough — and deeply personal — subject. However, people who can forgive generally have higher self-esteem and more joy and happiness in their lives. While forgiving someone in person may not be possible or advisable, you can still practice forgiveness by writing a letter (even if you don’t send it) or imagining what it would be like to forgive them in person. It might help to think about times in your life when you have been forgiven.
Take Pleasure in Small Things
Savoring the big and little joys in your daily life increases self-esteem and may even protect against negative emotions, creating a buffer against stress. This particular habit includes reminiscing about happy times in your past, enjoying the little details of your daily life, taking time for a unique pleasure or a moment of beauty, and allowing yourself to fully appreciate even the bittersweet moments. You might want to create a “happiness album” of pleasurable memories.
Make Spiritual Practice a Habit
Religious or spiritual practice can help you get through hard times, give meaning to the good and bad days of life, and help you see the way to happiness more clearly. If you can join a spiritual group with similar beliefs, you will reap the benefits of social connections and experience greater happiness in your life. Lyubomirksy recommends regular prayer or meditation with a focus on seeing the spiritual in everyday life as a way to begin