Although the declaration of Independence bestows the “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, no one tells us how to be happy. Some people just seem to be bright rays of sunshine all the time. Others struggle to feel happy and aren’t even sure what happiness is. What do happy people do that is different? How do they live differently from unhappy people?
Happiness is defined by Meriam Webster as a state of well-being and contentment, a pleasurable or satisfying experience. Sometimes we don’t think that contentment is good enough. Rather than focusing on the positives and what you do have, unhappy people focus on what is missing. They criticize themselves for not reaching an often arbitrary standard or having as much as the person next to them. If you want to find happiness, focus on the positives. Stop criticizing and comparing.
Happy people are optimists who are aware of their own strengths and believe that they can accomplish realistic goals and will do the work to reach them. They commit to goals that support their strengths and values. They spend time working for causes that matter to them. That can range from coaching kids’ sports to volunteering in an animal shelter, from working in a school to arranging the local walking club schedule. They exercise to keep their body and mind fit.
Happy people are kind – to themselves and others. They build a good set of friends and spend time with them. Doing a random act of kindness will benefit the person doing it as much, or more, than the person receiving it. And when you are kind with your friends and family, that kindness will come back.
Happy people savor the joys in life, look forward to new experiences and hold onto fond memories. They review photo albums and reminisce about the wonderful vacations they had and the people they met. They put pictures or souvenirs on the wall as a daily reminder to stop and remember the good times. Happy people ‘stop and smell the roses’ – enjoying a sunny day or beautiful sunset. They enjoy a fun hobby or look forward to the next concert, vacation or party.
Happy people may have religious or spiritual practices that benefit them. Meditation has been shown to be beneficial for managing stress and anxiety. People who attend church, temple or synagogue can find a solid, supportive community there. They find meaning in life and a way to forgive others who have hurt them. They stop carrying resentment from old hurts.
Happiness is not any one thing. It is a collection of actions and choices, a way to look at yourself and the world in a more positive manner. If you practice happiness actions, you will find more happiness in your life.
The How of Happiness, Sonya Lubimirsky, Penguin Books, 2008
Choosing Happier, Jem Friar, Imaginal Publishing, 2017