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Are you happy?
It’s kind of a jarring question at first. Because if you are happy then does it mean you are never not happy? Or if there is somewhere you can put yourself to always be happy, how do you get yourself there?
The Search for Happiness is a popular pursuit for many people. Due to varying challenges in each of our personal lives we find that making a conscientious effort to be happy is a task in itself. Read further to learn about where happiness is, and how to get yourself to true happiness.
This article contains:
- Where is Happiness? A Look at the Search for Happiness
- Is There Some Secret Recipe/Formula to Finding Happiness?
- Can Happiness be Taught and Improved?
- What Makes a Person Happy?
- How Do We Measure Happiness?
- Will Setting Goals Help Achieve a Sense of Happiness?
- How to Become a Happier Person
- What to do to Get Better mentally?
- 4 Key Tips for Finding More happiness
- 4 Habits that Create True Happiness in Life
- The Guide to Happiness
- 5 Simple Ways to Increase Personal Happiness
- How to Build Happiness After Loss
- Other Recommended Practices that will Boost Well-Being
- A Take Home Message
Where is Happiness? A Look at the Search for Happiness
Many have asked where is happiness? Is there a place in our lives that we will be the happiest? Or is there a secret formula to finding happiness?
Before we can find happiness…we should probably define it first.
What is Happiness?
Happiness is a feature of the mind that ascends from positive mental attitudes, which, among others, incorporate the intention to not harm or hurt others, the want to provide help to our peers, and to be happy with life as it is (Tashi, 2004).
Robert Holden (2008), defines happiness as a ‘way of being’:
“Happiness is who you are minus your neuroses. In other words, happiness is your original state minus the belief that happiness has to be bought, or minus the fear that happiness is somewhere else. Inner happiness is a release from foolish external conditioning and a return to divine saneness.”
The search for happiness has been conducted and repeated forever by pretty much everyone. So what does the search include? The search probably involves some frustration and disappointment, because the search can be unfulfilling, because you never find happiness.
Robert Holden, PhD coined a term “destination addiction”, that basically means you are so concerned with getting to a place of happiness, you never really are happy, rather you are forever on the hunt or search for happiness because nothing is quite good enough to bring you happiness.
First, understand, “addiction” is not in the medical/diagnostic-sense, “destination addiction” is about getting to a point that will make you happier and not enjoying where you are at now. Albert Camus, a French philosopher, author, and journalist, tried to warn people that were going to search for happiness,
“you will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of,” (Mihalcea and Liu, 2006).
So, Where is Happiness?
Researchers have set out to find happiness and what they found is that happiness isn’t anywhere specifically, it really is in how you live your life.
No matter how much money you make or where you live, if you can find happiness in what you do, then that is happiness, whether it is – raising your children, or in the work that you do, you can fill your life with what makes you happy.
Is There Some Secret Recipe/Formula to Finding Happiness?
It all depends on your perspective.
“There’s reason to believe that the quest for happiness might be a recipe for misery” (Grant, 2015).
What do you hold most dear? What are your core values that you uphold? Honor? Respect? Love? Now what can immediately make you happy? The sight of a cherished family member? Or a ride on a roller coaster? Or what about the complete opposite like quietly rocking away on rocking chair while watching the sunset? We each have many things that can make us happy.
Furthermore, what may make you happy may not make me happy. And that is something important to note that for there to be a secret recipe or formula it would need to be tested over and over again, and validated, right? There is no secret recipe or formula for finding happiness.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to find your own happiness.
Be creative in anything. Creativity can inspire and focus one’s mind and energy into something that the person loves doing. That creativity translates to mindfulness, which translates to being in the moment, and for us that creates happiness. We are not dividing our time among multiple tasks, just focused on one (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Csikszentmihalyi also makes an important clarification that people do not find happiness or their “flow” by doing something specifically but more so it’s “how” they do anything, can make all the difference.
You may have heard the phrase enjoy what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life, turns out that is very true (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Can Happiness be Taught and Improved?
Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, started teaching classes on the science of positive psychology, and in his courses he would assign real-life assignments. In his article, “Can Happiness be taught?” he describes that he would assign his students these real-life assignments based on positive psychology science, for example they would be assigned to make gratitude visits, or do something that would otherwise be boring, be something that you can show off your strength in, or give someone their time.
Seligman also points to how encouraging optimism can lead to reduced depression, and encourages “productivity, physical health, and immune activity” (Seligman, 2004). Seligman proposes that using a skill called “disputing unrealistic catastrophic thoughts” (Seligman, 2004). Gratitude is another skill that when practiced can teach someone how to be happy.
Yes, but it depends. It depends on the level of motivation, mental and physical health status, your spirituality, and your environment (Tashi, 2004). Happiness can be improved by changing your behavior and thought process. If you spend more time being active, and less time spent in sedentary and habitual behavior you will feel happier (Tashi, 2004). A great example is exercise, when you exercise your body is creating dopamine.
Dopamine, also known as the “feel-good hormone,” is actually a neurotransmitter in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for your attention span, and motivation. If someone is lacking in dopamine they may appear to be fatigued, indifferent, have trouble sleeping, display moodiness, or crave sugar (BrainHealth MD).
Other ways you can boost your dopamine, and in effect your happiness will be improved, are to:
- Eat foods that are rich in tyrosine (think almonds, bananas, beans, fish, eggs, avocado).
- Treat yourself by either going to get a massage or learning and practice meditation.
- Sleep until you are rested. There are some small instructions with sleep: make sure you give yourself enough time to get comfortable and relaxed, and enough time to sleep, and of course enough time to get up and ready for your day.
- Listen to (and maybe dance?) to your favorite songs. You’ll get your heart pumping with good cardiovascular exercise, and it just feels good to hear your favorite type of music.
- Exercising is incredibly beneficial because it increases your dopamine. It can be exercise at any level from taking a walk to running, or swimming to lifting some weight. Anything that gets your heart pumping, is sure to release dopamine.
Once your dopamine is increased you will see an increase in your happiness because you will feel better.
You can also improve your happiness by mindfully doing anything and everything you enjoy. Practicing mindfulness is traditionally something that is meant for meditation or a meditative practice like yoga, but researchers and practitioners are finding that there are many ways you can be mindful and how there are many benefits for your physical health, diet and nutrition, and mental health.
What Makes a Person Happy?
Throughout history, we’ve had scholars, philosophers, and scientists hypothesize and determine what makes a person happy. According to Buddhists and scientists alike here are some key things you can do to be happy:
- Be mindful: Think mindfully, practice mindfulness in everything you do. Well, as much as it is possible. Of course there are those times where we have to do more than one thing at a time, because we have time restraints/commitments and so many things were passionate about or just plain have to do. But when you can eat mindfully, take a mindful walk, even if its just for 5-10 minutes, take a walk and notice your breath, and the details of your surrounding. Take a break from your to-do lists and your inner conversations that you have with yourself.
- Don’t make comparisons. I’m sure you’ve seen the quote: “Don’t compare someone’s ending or middle to your beginning”. No matter what phase you are in, there’s different phases, don’t compare yourself to another, because there is no comparison.
- Work for your purpose not for money. If you are constantly chasing money it makes it a lot less meaningful. Materialism and money will not bring us refuge. Work towards meaningful goals, make each step of your progress mean something more than just material or financial progress (Diner and Biswas-Diener, 2009). And if you can’t name or describe your purpose or passion, find one.
- Buddha taught that there is an importance in understanding what a healthy spiritual friendship is, and that is “the whole of the spiritual life.” Meaning the whole point and purpose of living a spiritual life is to live in harmony with one another. For example, “generosity, kind words, beneficial help, and consistency in the face of events” are the things that hold people together (Pursey, 2017). There is also the idea of having a divine relationship with someone or really anything place of work, family and friends that you interact with, the divine relationship dictates that we should not be attached to them in a way that makes us feel like we should control or change how they act really we should just be accepting them for who they are and the phase of life they are in.
How Do We Measure Happiness?
Positive Psychology measures happiness by using Subjective Well-Being. Subjective Well-Being is your experience of affective reactions and cognitive decisions. There are two commonly accepted measures for measuring SWB and happiness; these are the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS). Both of these measures are self-report questionnaires (Mulder, 2018).
The PANAS questionnaire created by David Watson, Lee Anna Clark, and Auke Tellegen (Mulder, 2018). PANAS was developed in a way to make it simple to understand how you feel during certain time periods. PANAS “lists different feelings and emotions on which you can link a score to, based on how you are feeling. First select a timespan before filing in the scores (Mulder, 2018). The different time options include (Mulder, 2018):
- Moment (how you feel right now);
- Today (how you feel today);
- Past few days (how you felt past few days);
- Week (how you felt during the past week);
- Past Few weeks (how you felt during the past few weeks); and
- Year (how you felt during the past year), and general (how you generally feel).
Then for the rating of each feeling or emotion there is a 5 point Likert scale of
- 1 = very slightly or not at all;
- 2 = a little;
- 3 = moderately;
- 4 = quite a bit; and
- 5 = extremely.
For positive affect scores – you add the scores for certain items, and the scores can range from 10-50, the higher the score the higher the positive affect. Negative affect scores are for certain emotions/feelings, and for those the higher the score the higher level of negative affect felt (Mulder, 2018).
Use this PANAS questionnaire template to fill in the PANAS Scale. The PANAS scale lists different feelings and emotions on which you can link a score to, based on how you are feeling.
First select a time span before filling in the scores.
At the bottom you can find scoring instructions. The fields in this PANAS template are editable. You can also print this template to create hand-outs.
For more information, visit here.
There are different time instructions possible when using the PANAS Scale. Mark the option that you are applying for this test:
- Moment (you feel this way right now)
- Today (you have felt this way today)
- Past few days (you have felt this way during the past few days)
- Week (you have felt this way during the past week)
- Past few weeks (you have felt this way during the past few weeks)
- Year (you have felt this way during the past year)
- General (you generally feel this way)
Scale & Scorecard
|Very slightly or not at all||A little||Moderately||Quite a bit||Extremely|
Positive Affect Score
Add the scores on items 1, 3, 5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17 & 19. Scores can range between 10 – 50. Higher scores represent higher levels of positive affect. Mean scores: momentary = 29.7 and weekly = 33.3.
Negative Affect Score
Add the scores on items 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15, 18 & 20. Scores can range between 10 – 50. Higher scores represent higher levels of negative affect. Mean scores: momentary = 14.8 and weekly = 17.4.
The Satisfaction with Life Scale
The scale was created by Ed Diener, Robert A. Emmons, Randy J. Larsen, and Sharon Griffen in 1985 and published in the Journal of Personality Assessment. SWLS is a “5-item instrument designed to measure global cognitive judgments of satisfaction with one’s life. The scale usually requires only about one minute of a respondent’s time,” (Diener et al., 1985).
Below are five statements that you may agree or disagree with. Using the 1 – 7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.
- 7 – Strongly agree
- 6 – Agree
- 5 – Slightly agree
- 4 – Neither agree nor disagree
- 3 – Slightly disagree
- 2 – Disagree
- 1 – Strongly disagree
____ In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
____ The conditions of my life are excellent.
____ I am satisfied with my life.
____ So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
____ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
- 31 – 35 Extremely satisfied
- 26 – 30 Satisfied
- 21 – 25 Slightly satisfied
- 20 Neutral
- 15 – 19 Slightly dissatisfied
- 10 – 14 Dissatisfied
- 5 – 9 Extremely dissatisfied (Diener et al., 1985).
The Subjective Happiness Scale
A third scale that takes a more customized and unique approach is the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) created by Sonja Lyubormirsky and Heidi Lepper (1999) allows the respondent to score their happiness against their unique ideal happiness. The SHS is different from the other questionnaires in that it is made and formatted to be unique to each respondent that uses it.
For each of the following statements and/or questions, please circle the point on the scale that you feel is most appropriate in describing you.
- In general, I consider myself:
Not a very happy person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 A very happy person
- Compared with most of my peers, I consider myself:
Less happy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 More happy
- Some people are generally very happy. They enjoy life regardless of what is going on, getting the most out of everything. To what extent does this characterization describe you?
Not at all 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 A great deal
- Some people are generally not very happy. Although they are not depressed, they never seem as happy as they might be. To what extent does this characterization describe you?
Not at all 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 A great deal
Will Setting Goals Help Achieve a Sense of Happiness?
Goals can help set your intentions on actionable items that you can work towards to achieve success and happiness. In the process of obtaining each of these goals you can be in the zone and fully focus. Finding focus and being mindful with each of these items you set as your goal can bring you great peace and a greater purpose. Learning about goal setting and it’s benefits makes perfect sense, but when applying these attitudes to your own life – you can get lost within the journey of getting to your goals, but a key pointer is to remind yourself of your goal everyday.
On the contrary, you may find the most joy in the work of getting to your goals. But if you do find yourself getting lost or even feeling overwhelmed, make a timeline for yourself, figure out a way you can measure your progress, it could be linearly like by Month 7 of this goal journey I should have accomplished A, B, and C of Goal X (Society of Consumer Research).
Goal setting can lead to finding your flow, which can lead to happiness.
“Flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. It is easy to enter flow in games such as chess, tennis, or poker, because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Through his research conducted on Flow, across the globe, Csikszentmihalyi (1990) and team have found that,
“flow generally occurs when a person is doing his or her favorite activity—gardening, listening to music, bowling, cooking a good meal. It also occurs when driving, talking to friends, and surprisingly often at work. Very rarely do people report flow in passive leisure activities, such as watching television or relaxing.”
How to Become a Happier Person
Use these strategies, to become a happier person:
- Be with people that make you feel joyful. Best way to tell is that they put a smile across your face. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Always honor your values. The more you take a stand on your values the stronger you will feel. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Accept the good, the bad, and the annoying. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Always picture your goals. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- What makes you happy is what you should do. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Have a purpose. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Follow your heart. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Be flexible, not rigid. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Notice the beauty in everything. (Goldsmith, 2012)
- Be in the moment, and go with the flow.
Finding flow is something that has long been determined as something that would make any task easier.
Why is that, you think?
For example, if you have a task that you can be completely immersed in, and can’t let any nagging or preoccupation with thought cloud your focus and thought – wouldn’t that be blissful.
Csikszentmihalyi uses an example of skiing, but it could be anything – dancing, practicing yoga, creative writing, or working extensively on a project budget. He also uses examples like talking to a good friend, where the conversation just “flows” or when you are playing with a baby.
“The metaphor of flow is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives. Athletes refer to it as “being in the zone,” religious mystics as being in “ecstasy,” artists and musicians as “aesthetic rapture”(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Csikszentmihalyi argues that the “full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, (is what makes) for excellence in life” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
“Happy people build their inner world. Unhappy people blame their outer world.” -Buddha
What To Do to Get Better Mentally?
- Do everything with sincere concentration – Write down your to-do. Plan out your schedule. Give time for everything that needs to be done and you want to be done. For example, make time to pay bills online, and make time to go to your favorite band play on Saturday. However don’t pay your bills while at the concert.
- Be mindful – Be mindful when you pray, eat, shower, walk, are doing anything.
- Use a journal – Track what you are grateful for. Track your progress and achievements as you go (Mental Health America, 2019).
- Start your day with a cup of coffee – Coffee is linked to lower rates of depression. If you can’t drink coffee because of the caffeine, try green tea (Mental Health America, 2019).
- Set up a getaway – It could be camping with friends or a trip to the tropics. The act of planning a vacation and having something to look forward to can boost your overall happiness (Mental Health America, 2019).
- Do something your good at to build self-confidence, and then tackle a tougher task (Mental Health America, 2019).
4 Key Tips for Finding More Happiness
- Be with others.
Spend more time with others. If you can think of a typical week for you, how much time would you say you spend alone vs. with others? Then ask yourself, how much time would you like to spend with others? Is there a large discrepancy? Now ask yourself what would you like to do with your time? Now list out in a typical week what do you do with your time? Is there a large discrepancy? Now figure out a way to make those discrepancies not as large!
Exercise is so important for our physical health but also our mental health. Our mental health is largely dependent on our physical health (Shuch et al., 2018). Those that exercise are happier and have fewer experiences of depression and anxiety (Shuch et al., 2018).
Make sure you get enough sleep. Whatever time you need to wake up the next day, count back the adequate amount of time or hours you need to feel rested in the morning plus how many hours it takes for you to get ready plus your commute time + time to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast.
- Create the life you want.
Every choice you make defines a part of your journey. Make those choices very carefully (Maude)
4 Habits that Create True Happiness in Life
1. Do everything mindfully
Mindfulness is the state in which whatever you are doing you are doing it with thoughtfulness, appreciation, and patience. You are not multi-tasking or thinking of other things. You are paying attention to every detail to what you are doing, and savoring it. Many things that you do everyday can be done mindfully:
- Meditation or prayer
- Observe your breath
- Scan and acknowledge the parts of your body
2. Hold onto the good and let go of the bad.
Our thoughts are what consume are minds day in and day out. Always with us, and often times it can seem as though we are not the driver, especially when those thoughts have a negative taste to them. Like when the thoughts are focused in anger, frustration, depression, or anxiety, we can find ourselves transfixed on those thoughts. We should all routinely practice letting go of these thoughts and not giving them a voice or air to breathe. Instead only talk about the good things.
If we had a bad day at work and in traffic, don’t give those frustrations any time to take over your voice because if you do they will get bigger and bigger, and those minute moments that were bad will then become the day that was bad. Now of course take this with a grain of salt, as this does not pertain to those serious and traumatic experiences we are all destined to experience (Maude, 2019).
3. Count your blessings.
Be grateful. When you wake up in the morning, once the grogginess has worn off. Think of 5 things you are grateful for. These things can be people, places you have been to and experienced, places you hope to go to, the project at work you enjoyed working on.
4. Every day, look at your goals.
Write down your goals. Plan them out. Now on a separate sheet of paper, write them down very discretely and to the point. Now pin that somewhere, to the background in your phone, to the desktop on your computer, to your refrigerator. Somewhere – that you will see everyday, so you don’t lose sight on your goals.
The Guide to Happiness
Find your flow. Find it in as many things as you can. Do things with full concentration and ease. Which is harder than it sounds. But if you can work at something and be fully engrossed in it then you can find flow, and experience happiness, or “being in the zone” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997)
Be grateful. It’s a great way to practice mindfulness and living in the moment. Buddha said that gratitude, among other qualities, was the “highest protection,” meaning that it inoculates us against unhappiness. It is by being grateful and appreciative that we begin to focus on the blessings in our lives, which makes us more positive and happy. Robert Emmons a researcher, has studied gratitude, and studied how people can be happier, he has found that keeping gratitude journals to log what we are grateful for when we were children, today, and what we look forward to provides us with so much happiness.
5 Simple Ways to Increase Personal Happiness
- Take a walk. Everyday find time to walk, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Walk with no destination in mind, but just the idea of noticing things around you.
- Reach out to those special to you. Send a quick text or call someone to chat and check on how they are doing.
- Write thank you cards. The thank you cards do not have to be for a special occasion or present you received. The best thank you cards are the ones that are out of the blue for those that you cherish. It is something really special to share how you are grateful for someone.
- Spend time outdoors. With our busy schedules, and varying weather and allergies, it can be hard to spend time outdoors. But with everything taken into consideration, try to find time to spend outdoors, and notice nature and it’s beauty. There is so much of it.
- Give as much as you can. You’ll find gift giving to those close to you or to those not as close to you like a charitable gift, feels really good.
How to Build Happiness After Loss
- Allow yourself time to grieve your loss. Accepting a loss take a long time, and it’s different for everyone. You will feel every bit of it too. So take your time because you can’t rush through it. You can only walk through it, slowly and steadily.
- Define your goals. Whether the goals deal with your career, family, exercise and health – define your goals and write down what you think are the steps to get you to accomplish those goals.
- Plan out your goals. Make a timeline, and live accordingly. Try to figure out for each of your goals how long it will take you to accomplish each of them, and what are the necessary steps needed to succeed.
- Get outside. No matter where you live, get outside every single day. Smell the air, look up in the sky – look for the sun, look for clouds, rain, wind, birds, anything.
- Take a walk and notice the world around you. Literally – take in the world and let the world take you in for a bit. Dealing with loss can make you feel so lonely. But when you go outside you are less in your head and more in the presence of everything that is greater than you. If anything it gives your mind a break.
- Be creative. When you have the energy, be creative. It could be as simple as doodling on a piece of a paper or extensive as painting or playing an instrument and writing a song. Try to let your brain and imagination have some down time and exercise. As humans, we have this beautiful gift of creativity and you would be surprised how giving creativity can be to you.
- Travel. Of course we each have our own constraints when it comes to where we can travel o. But however far it is, go there and experience something new. Get out of your home and be immersed in something completely new. Be a spectator and visitor.
- Spend time with those that mean the most to you. Looking back at the time that you experienced after your loss – you will think of the people that were there with you. Those special people that held your hand, or just sat with you and didn’t expect a conversation or an explanation. Spend time with those people, because they practiced selflessness and love to you.
Other Recommended Practices that will Boost Well-Being
Live the best and healthiest you can, but be easy on yourself. Striving for happiness can be a lonely marathon, and you can end up being so concerned with your own happiness that you turn off others (Mauss et al., 2012).
Don’t let your happiness define you, you define your happiness. Happiness can be whatever brings you joy and ease your mind from all that can consume it. You define your happiness.
A Take Home Message
If you are searching for happiness, you are not alone, most of us, especially those in North America, have set that as our ultimate goal (Diener, 2000; Myers, 2000).
It makes sense though, because all of the happiness research and evidence shows that people who are happy usually have more friends, more success in their work and career, and live longer and healthier than people not as happy (Fredrickson, 1998; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).
But a key thing to remember is that while you are on your search – do not forget about how the other gifts of life, friendship and family, gratitude, and of course love.
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