Introduction: How To Be Happy
While people have many and varied goals that they pursue, there is an almost universal underlying goal to virtually all pursuits: the goal to be happy. People who spend a lot of time making money generally do so because they believe that the money itself will make them happy, or will guard them against things that will make them unhappy. If the focus isn’t on the money, but on the jobs that bring the money, those jobs are generally thought to make people happy. People strive for that perfect relationship, the perfect house, the beautiful body, the approval of others, all in an attempt to be happy. Sometimes these things make us happy; other times, we stress over not having reached our goals, or we reach them and find that we’re still not happy. Other times, we focus so intensely on one goal that’s thought to bring happiness that we don’t have time for other things in our life that will make us truly happy. This can all be confusing, and begs the question: how does one reach the goal of being happy?
The following is a step-by-step guide that can help you explore the current state of your life, assess how truly happy you are, and find a direction to work toward that will likely bring more happiness. You’ll also find resources and tips for reaching your happiness goals and setting new ones. These pages are the gateway to a life that truly makes you happy.
Look At Your Life: Does Your Lifestyle Make You Happy?
Positive Psychology experts—those who study human happiness and the factors that contribute to it–have identified several key areas of life that seem to be more related to personal happiness. While it’s not an absolute given that dissatisfaction on one or three areas of life will lead to personal unhappiness or that satisfaction in most areas will automatically lead to bliss, there is a correlation: if you’re more satisfied with these areas of your life, you tend to be more happy in general. So what are the things in life that are correlated with personal happiness? Some of them are the things that you would expect: money, friends, health, living conditions; others are things you may not think of in your daily life, such as your neighborhood, spirituality, community involvement, and sense of meaning in life. (The role that these things play in your life can also impact your happiness, but there’s more on that later.)
For a full list of the areas of life that tend to bring happiness, see this article on finding authentic happiness; each item of the list is a link to more information and resources on the happiness-inducing lifestyle feature. Also, for a more personalized view, you can take this Happiness Self Assessment Test, which will ask you about different areas of your life and provide you with an assessment of which areas of your life may be bringing you happiness and which may need some changes. You’ll then find resources to learn more and make changes that should bring you more happiness.
Lifestyle, however, is only part of the happiness equation. Your attitude about life and the things that happen to you each day can also greatly impact your overall level of happiness and life satisfaction. Find out more about cultivating an attitude for happiness.
Look At Your Attitude: Do Your Thoughts Make You Happy?
As mentioned in the earlier section, lifestyle features have a significant impact on personal happiness levels, but a significant piece of the equation is one’s attitude toward life. It’s probably no secret that optimists tend to be happier people, but you may not realize that there’s more to optimism than ‘putting on a happy face or ‘looking on the bright side’. There are specific traits of optimists, pleasantly distorted ways of thinking, that bring optimists more success, greater health, increased life satisfaction, and other goodies on a regular basis. Cultivating the mind of an optimist can not only mean cultivating happiness, regardless of your circumstance, but it can actually bring more things into your life to be happy about. (Not sure if you’re an optimist or a pessimist? This Optimism Self Test can tell you, and provide resources; many people have been surprised by their results, so I highly recommend this enlightening self assessment tool.)
In addition to optimism, happy people tend to have an internal locus of control; simply put, they tend to believe that they are the masters of their fate, rather than the victims of circumstance. When you view the stressors of your life as a challenge rather than a threat, you tend to come up with more effective solutions and feel more exhilarated (rather than drained) as you tackle these circumstances. (Read this article for more on cultivating an internal locus of control.)
Set The Right Goals for Happiness
As previously mentioned, many people pursue goals that they expect will make them happy, but happiness isn’t always the end result. We all know people who have put everything they have into their careers—at the expense of their personal lives—only to wonder why they’re successful and still unhappy. It’s also all too common for people to be surrounded by a beautiful home, expensive cars, designer clothes (and sometimes mounds of debt) and still have less personal satisfaction with life than they had without all the “stuff”. How is one to know which goals will garner personal happiness and which won’t?
Another quick look at the list of factors that promote happiness shows that many things contribute to personal happiness; finding a balanced lifestyle so that you can include social support, personal development, physical health and meaningful pursuits in addition to career success and financial security (features that more often steal the focus) is much more likely to bring happiness than a lifestyle where only one or two of these facets receives the lion’s share of energy and resources, to the exclusion of other important lifestyle factors.
As you set your goals, remember all of the areas of life that are important to you. Map out a detailed description of how you would like your whole life to look. Use a pie chart to represent your life, and put the goals for different areas of your life into the different ‘pieces’. Or, set goals and develop healthy habits for a different area of your life each month. For ideas, see this article on optimum changes for personal happiness, or this article on healthy habits for a balanced lifestyle. And don’t forget the importance of knowing how to say no to too many activities in your life!
Work Toward Your Goals The Smart Way
Whether setting goals as New Year’s Resolutions, or as part of a quest for an improved life, many people sabotage themselves from the beginning by expecting too much and setting themselves up to fail. For example, many people expect themselves to immediate change their habits out of sheer willpower; any slip-ups are experienced as ‘failures’, and too often contribute to an abandonment of the goal and feelings of defeat.
If you’re trying to make positive changes in your life, it’s important to set yourself up to succeed:
- First, set small, attainable goals. Work your way into a new habit with baby steps, and you’ll feel more successful every step of the way, and be less likely to give up.
- Next, reward your progress; for each small goal you reach, allow yourself to feel pride, and perhaps give yourself a small reward.
- Don’t forget to enlist social support! Tell the supportive people in your life what you’re attempting to acheive, and tell them of your successes. This will give you added strength, and will make it less appealing to give up (and have to explain yourself to those close to you)!