A very common personal goal is to “be happier”. But, what does that mean, and can you actually make yourself “happier”? While it’s not a simple yes or no answer, here are some tangible ways to increase overall happiness.
First and foremost, happiness is an emotion. As with any emotion you will feel happier during certain events and times of your life, as well as less happy at other times. Like all emotions, they tend to come in waves. What happiness is not, is a state of being or existence. You will not be living in a state of perpetual happiness, which is unfortunately a common belief supposedly indicating you’ve “arrived” or “made it” in life. If happiness is a “peak” in our wave and sadness being a “low”, consider what emotions you experience when you are at your baseline or when no overwhelming emotion is present. This may more closely describe contentment or peace, but something that we may overlook as not being “good enough.” Once we re-adjust our mindset that happiness is an emotion versus a perpetual state, we can start to redefine for ourselves what happiness means and looks like.
One way to do this is identify specific activities, events, projects, or people that we have in our lives that we know feel good to be around. Overall, we are more likely to experience happiness when we are engaging with things or people that bring us more joy or excitement, even if it is only for a short period of time. This can look like prioritizing time with friends and family, travel, volunteering, hobbies, etc. Identifying activities, beliefs, or concepts that you value can help you to clue in to what you can be doing to experience more heightened levels of happiness and satisfaction. Have a few things a week to look forward to, no matter how small, to help you feel happier and excited more often.
Another way to have more moments of peace and ease is to practice gratitude. Often times, especially when someone is depressed or having a difficult time, there may initially feel like there is nothing to be grateful for. However, practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be about being thankful for “big” things like a relationship, health, money. Examples of gratitude can be as simple as “my car started today”, or “someone held the door open for me”. When we can focus on small things (and if you have bigger, less obstructive barriers in your life to be grateful for, great!) we are less focused on things that may not be going so well, which can lead to more uncomfortable emotions.
Practicing gratitude also helps us to stay present. When we find ourselves looking back on the past or worrying about what is ahead, we may be missing what is happening around us right now. When we can stay present, we are more likely to appreciate the moment we are in leading to more feelings of satisfaction and contentment. Try grounding yourself in the moment by describing your environment in detail, deep breathing (or various breathing techniques), or getting outside. However, it is important to note that in the case of a depressive episode, medication or therapy may be necessary to assist you back to a baseline.