How Can I Be Happier? – 10 Proven Ways
Significantly less than half a century ago little was known about what makes people genuinely happy.
Or more accurately, little was known from a scientific standpoint. There was of course plenty of anecdotal evidence.
Prior to then psychology was focussed on what made people sad and/or depressed and looking for ‘fixes’ rather than studying happy people and trying to replicate their behaviors and actions.
Fortunately, in the 1980’s the field of positive psychology spearheaded by Martin Seligman with his book ‘Learned Optimism‘ (al) and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s and his equally seminal book, ‘Flow’ set forth on its quest to find out what really makes people happy.
Since then there have been thousands of research papers published looking at happiness and wellbeing.
Millions of hours spent studying the topic and enough books published to keep you busy for the rest of your life, or lives, if you believe in reincarnation.
The net result of all this feverish endeavor is that now the knowledge on what is needed to live a happy life (severe mental disorders notwithstanding) is ‘out there’ in the public domain.
The problem is, is that most people either don’t know the information is available ,or don’t believe it applies to them.
For example, most intelligent people get that money cannot buy happiness at an intellectual level, but when offered the choice between a large amount of money and peace of mind (a massive determiner of happiness), most people will take the money.
Note: There can be some correlation between money and happiness with low levels of income and when you lift people out of abject poverty, but even then it’s not always the case.
If it were there, then there would be entire geographic regions of the planet where happiness didn’t exist, and that’s obviously not true.
How Can I Be Happier?
A Google search of the phrase ‘How Can I Be Happier?’ brings back over 70 million results so it would seem a lot of people would like to be happier, right?
So today I am going to give you 10 ways that science has proven beyond doubt can help you become a happier person – if you implement them that is.
Bear in mind that there may be one or more that just don’t gel with you, and if that is the case just move on.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and presume it’s all just bollocks dreamt up my men in white coats with clipboards and too much time on their hands.
With that in mind I am going to kick off with one way that some people think doesn’t apply to them.
Well I say ‘some people’, I have no idea how many that is, but I have certainly had at least 3 clients tell me it does nothing for them.
1. Helping Others/Giving Back
This covers a huge gamut of activities and doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go and help out at a soup kitchen as one of my clients a few years ago presumed.
I’m sure as a kid you were told that it’s better to give than receive. If you were anything like me you probably were astounded at the stupidity of the adults offering such obviously crass advice.
It was awesome to receive lots of bounty on the holidays, birthdays or any random celebratory event.
Waaaay better than handing over pocket money or allowance to others, right?
However, this is one piece of handed down advice that has been proven to be true.
Giving to others triggers the part of your brain called the nuclear accumbens which happens to be your pleasure center.
Acts of generosity releases dopamine and serotonin in a very similar way as taking certain less than legal drugs drugs does. And by the way, dopamine makes you feel awesome.
You can be very creative with this.
Maybe you actually do want to help out at a soup kitchen for homeless people? Or perhaps you want to write a check to a good cause, help a neighbor in need, give unwanted items to charitable courses, mentor others in your industry, or coach a local little league team?
I don’t care what it is, just don’t tell me there’s nothing you can do that makes you feel good because I shall laugh heartily in your face and put on my white lab coat and prod you with a pointy stick….probably.
I have done this topic to death and for a very good reason – it deserves to be done to death.
It’s the same reason that when I am training other Life Coaches I say to them, “this is the single most important skill you can learn and help your clients learn” – And that reason is, that it rewires the brain in a good way.
Reframing allows us to take control of our lives, reduce stress, gain more equanimity and become happier.
If you want to know more about a skill that I hold above all others including ‘keepie uppie’ with a soccer ball, check out What Is Reframing?
File under the ‘duh’ column. Most people know they feel better after they exercise (even if not always during it – and I include myself in the ‘I really don’t enjoy it whilst I do it’ category) for at least a few hours.
Yet as a percentage of the population a remarkably few amount of people over school age do formal exercise.
If you want more a stronger immune system, overall improved health (presuming you don’t go nuts or wok out against medical advice), some lovely beta-endorphins roaming around your blood stream and to feel happier, put the remote down and get off your arse and so something.
After you have finished reading this blog post and sent it to all your friends that is!
There isn’t a ‘double duh’ column, but of there were I’d allow you to use it now.
Meditation does pretty much everything exercise does – and yes that can include improved fitness rather remarkably – and then some.
If getting up and doing something seems like too much trouble, then sit down and do nothing. Not sure how to? Lame excuse because you can go and read Meditation For Beginners
5. Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
There’s a chapter in my first published book, ‘Don’t Ask Stupid Questions’ entitled ‘Comparison Doesn’t Deliver Contentment’. Humility notwithstanding, it doesn’t, and I was right.
The biggest cause of stress is a lack of control and guess what comparing yourself to others removes? Yep, that’s right, control.
It’s ok to aspire to succeed and have others that you admire, but don’t compare yourself to them because you’re unique and you’re not them.
My guess is Usain Bolt could beat my by about 40 meters in a 100 meter race, but I’m confident I could kick his ass at Life Coaching and probably Words With Friends too.
Phew, I’m so glad my happiness isn’t based on my sprinting ability, or I’d be screwed.
6. Savor Your Successes
There seems to be a common belief that we should never focus on the past if we want to be happy. It’s garbage.
I do wholeheartedly agree that once you have learned your lesson from past mistakes there is zero value in dwelling on them.
However, savoring success both in the moment and afterward (presuming it’s not from a standpoint of belittling or mocking others) can have serious implications for your happiness levels.
Good ones that is. Because this simple act a handful of times per day can rapidly make you a happier person. I
f you doubt me check out Buddhist teacher and neuroscientist Rick Hansen’s latest book, Hardwiring Happiness (al)
7. Change It Up A Tad
There are only about 4 different ways I can drive to the dog park short of going via Miami and being silly, but I use them all.
My wife thinks I’m nuts taking 4 or 5 minutes longer to get there than necessary because I prefer different, more scenic routes with horses in meadows, large oak trees, gorgeous houses and frolicking badgers.
Humans are awesome at adapting to their circumstances, you and me included.
This can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing.
It’s good that we can adapt to negative circumstances and it not effect our happiness levels for more than a short period of time (humans can nearly always bounce back from the most adverse conditions including disability within about 6 months and often a lot sooner).
But it’s bad that we can become unimpressed by stunning scenery, a roof over our heads, a loving spouse, a stable bank account, food on the table and healthy kids.
Variety is the spice of life sounds like a trite sound bite lacking in substance, but it’s actually been proven to be true.
And the more we add novelty (presuming it’s pleasant novelty) the more our happiness levels rise. Check out The How Of Happiness (al) by Sonja Lyubomirsky if you have any doubts.
Note: I have never actually seen a badger frolicking on the way to the dog park, but I’m holding out hope because I’m an optimist. Speaking of which….
8. Be Optimistic
I mentioned Martin Seligman’s brilliant, life-changing (in my case anyway) book ‘Learned Optimism’ earlier as being at the forefront of the growth in the positive psychology movement.
Unfortunately, a handful of people think positive psychology means thinking positively – It doesn’t.
Positive thinking can actually be harmful when it flies in the face of reality, whereas optimistic thinking promotes happiness.
Being optimistic doesn’t mean you deny problems in your life, it just means you know you will deal with them and you believe that things can, and probably will, get better.
Just in case you were wondering – you have dealt with every single piece of adversity life has thrown at you to date so maybe being optimistic is more akin to being realistic, agreed?
9. Resist Temptation
There will be a few people reading this who think this is rich coming from me as I’m not exactly known for my ability to resist temptation – Or at least I wasn’t.
Postponing short-term pleasure for long-term gain promotes happiness levels. Think about it.
Will you feel better in the long run if you eat that 30″ pizza on your own, or go to the gym?
Get out of bed at 6am to work on building your own business, or roll over to catch another 2 hours and go into work as usual?
Or watch another episode of some dreary predictable soap, or finish your degree?
Helen (my wife) is doing her doctorate in nursing at the moment. That has meant sacrifice for both of us in terms of finances and time and I know she has had moments of doubt for both reasons.
I know I shouldn’t coach family members, but when she has any concerns whatsoever I always tell her to remind herself of how awesome she will feel in a year os so’s time when people have to call her ‘Doctor Nurse’ or whatever else it is you call a nurse with a doctorate!
10. Do Meaningful Work
This is a biggee and I just know some people reading this will be ready to say, ‘A-ha, you can’t get me on that one because my work is meaningless and pointless Brownson, so I deserve to be miserable!’
Not you of course, I know you don’t think that because you know that all work can be meaningful because you’re smart.
I’m just a waitress! – You have the opportunity to help people have a wonderful time in the restaurant you work at.
I just sell insurance! – You allow people to sleep safely knowing that whatever it is they insured is cared for.
I’m just a cashier! – You have the chance to smile, strike up a conversation and cheer up numerous people who were previously feeling down every single frickin’ day!
Oh and in case you were wondering – they were all reframes. if you don’t think your job has meaning it may just be that you aren’t looking closely enough to find it.
You don’t have to do all of these. In fact you don’t have to do any of them. But if you want to be happier they may be worth checking out.
As always, thanks a lot for reading and I hope you enjoyed the post enough to share with others.