A year ago if someone asked me if I was happy I would have said with an eye roll, “No why would I be happy? What’s there to be happy about right now?”. I was a Health Sciences Major, taking Organic Chemistry and Genetics simultaneously, working full-time hours at my part-time job, and my family was in the middle of making plans to move halfway across the country. The way I functioned was almost automatic, my days were scheduled down to the hour and based on what quiz or exam I had coming up and what days I was working. At the end of the week, I was so physically and mentally exhausted that sleep was my form of self-care and even then I didn’t get much of it.
Since then I’ve switched majors to Psychology, cut down my work hours, and moved literally around the corner of my old house into a bigger home. I’ve also utilized a mindfulness app to get through the day, and I write weekly what I’m grateful for. I’ve shared a tidbit of my life to clarify that I’m not setting out to preach to you about happiness because I’ve “achieved” it, achieving happiness is not possible (more on that later), but that it’s a state of being that everyone can do no matter how much or little time we have to spare. In one year I’ve managed to be happier and live a happier life.
What is Happiness? Happiness is defined as “a state of well-being and contentment” but this definition is not the all-encompassing definition of happiness, according to Postive Psychologists, happiness is “regarded as the positive emotions we have regarding the pleasurable activities we take part in through our daily lives”.
Individually everyone can be happy but around the world, negative feelings are rising. Released annually on International Day of Happiness, March 20, the 2019 World Happiness Report ranks countries based on their life satisfaction, quality of life, government, and social behavior. This year, the happiest countries were Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland ranked respectively while the United States ranked 19 with a drop in rank from last year from 18th place. The yearly report also analyzes how global happiness has changed over time, and surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) negative feelings -worry, anger, and sadness- is rising around the world, from 27% in 2010 to 2018.
Researchers chalk up this rising negativity to governments nature and quality of policies are spurring on the conflict that directly influences’ citizens peace and overall happiness. If nations are overall feeling more negative and therefore unhappier are we then a product of our environment or can we as individuals become happier and help change the tide of this trend of unhappiness?
I’ll be honest I don’t have the answer to happiness, it’s not a formula or a list you can procure to be happier. Happiness is a lifestyle, you have to consciously choose to be happier otherwise will you ever be happy? We know that happiness can lead to a healthier life and increased longevity, increased social connection and success. What can we do to change our behaviors, environment, and relationships that can steer us towards a happier life?
- Write 3 things that you’re grateful for. Write about what made your day and who or what made you happy. You don’t have to write every day, weekly is just fine. But write, it doesn’t have to be big events that happened – it can be small things that made you smile. Researchers say that writing gratitude notes to yourself not only makes you more optimistic and satisfied with life but it also decreases physical symptoms of discomfort or tension.
- Do things that make you happy even when you’re not. By doing a positive activity, it causes more positive emotions and neutralizes negative ones. It tells your brain that, you need some “me time” right now and it spurs you on to positive action instead of being in a state of negative emotion. So go to that ice cream shop you love, hang out with friends, go watch that movie you’ve been waiting to see, go paintballing, or watch Netflix if that makes you happy.
- Smile more. Smiling can lead to happiness. It sounds backward, but it does. Smiling tricks your brain into believing that you’re happy and in then it can actually lead you to feel happier. Even faking a smile can reduce stress, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure. A smile is also highly contagious when people smile at you, you feel those good vibes from them and it makes you smile as well. So smile it’s good for you and for others.
- Give Yourself A Break. There’s this new area of psychological research called self-compassion- how kindly people view themselves. It’s like the scientific phrase for the very simple idea of: love yourself. If you love yourself, you’ll be more caring not only to yourself but to others. We better understand that suffering and life struggles are normal and we should voice when we need help. When we face our own life challenges we tend to look at ourselves and our faults with a more critical eye and are harsher on ourselves than we would be to others in the same predicament. By practicing self-compassion, we can make beneficial changes towards negative emotions and increase positive emotions leading you to be happier.
Our happiness is directly connected to our mindfulness, awareness, and outlook on our own lives. While some people seem to be naturally happy and others need to work to get happier, everyone can implement certain practices in their own lives that can elevate us to being happier.