Beyond the happiness hype: proven strategies for getting a grounded sense of happiness into your busy life
Happiness and positive psychology is an area of personal-development that has become hugely popular, with more and more books, guides, coaches and courses helping people find their true happiness. With the volume of information available out there it can be an overwhelming experience when you start delving into the material.
There is a very real risk that you can be left with a sense that there are these ‘key things’ that everyone must do or be, in order to be happy, and if you are not succeeding at these, then it is yet an other thing you haven’t got mastered, and that you therefore are not really happy. The other issue that I am hearing from people is that they feel it can be artificial, fake and unrealistic; the perceived expectation that you could and should be happy all the time irrespective of what is really happening around you.
This does not need to be the case. Read on to discover some straightforward tips to help you get more happy days than not happy days, whilst juggling the rest of your life and accepting the bumps that happen along the way.
What the research tells us about happiness
The research is vast and varied in its findings. It is beyond the scope of this article to effectively summarise them all. However, it is clear that there is not one simple, straightforward answer for all human beings to achieve their optimal levels of happiness and well-being. There are a lot of complex factors that need to be considered.
Theories of happiness have been divided into 3 main categories, which in itself shows how the complexity of the issue:
- Needs/Goal Satisfaction (satisfying your needs or reducing tensions through achieving goals)
- Process / Activity Theories (particular life activities results in happiness)
- Genetic / Personality predisposition (happiness is stable and a result of genetics / personality traits)
Whilst this article is not going to detail all the research, it does highlight a number of interesting findings to be considered.
Setting the context
Income in some contexts (income rising above the poverty line) can affect a persons subjective experience of their well-being and happiness, yet in other contexts (more affluent individuals) it can have much less of an impact (Diener, Diener & Diener, 1995).
Cultural values and meanings have an impact on the effect that different strategies can have on individuals. For example, gratitude is well documented as an effective strategy to improve well-being in UK and US; however, in South Korea it has been reported as resulting in decreases in well-being (Layous, Choi & Lyubomirsky, 2013).
A term known as ‘hedonic adaptation’ postulates that people have a tendency to return back to their original base level of happiness after a positive event, for example, starting a romantic relationship or getting married (Bao & Lyubomirsky, 2013). Therefore, a strategy that purely aims to have more positive events in your life will not be effective in combating unhappiness in the long-term. Something I’m sure you can relate to – whether it be the temporary uplifting effects of a new job offer, a new relationship, achieving a personal challenge etc.
It is time to stop chasing the ever, elusive bucket of happiness at the end of the rainbow.
It can be easy to find yourself constantly striving to be happier, to do more, to be more, to have a live full of WOW moments, believing that the secret to your happy life lies just round the next corner, through the next door. The problem with this, is that you run the very real risk, of burning-out and missing the things that are happening for you right now. I am sure you have had conversations with friends, and seen articles and heard people talking about the negative influence social media can have on your sense of well-being; if you are constantly being bombarded by people appearing to have their stuff together more than you, with perfect family days out, the Pinterest inspired living rooms etc.
It can be only too easy, to be led to a place where you believe you need to make huge, monumental changes to your circumstances, which can be daunting.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. There isn’t a magic answer at the end of the rainbow. The key is to find ways to help keep yourself focused, grounded and in a place where you can appreciate the beauty of the ordinary.
Strategies that can help you have more happy days than unhappy days
Below are some of my preferred strategies that have been shown to be effective in improving people’s subjective experience of happiness and well-being. It is not an exhaustive list. Nor is it a list that you need to complete in it’s entirety. When taken into the context of your life, your needs and your aspirations, some of these can help you to recognise and experience more of the good stuff. Experiment. Have fun. Make them work for you.
- Gratitude. Taking some regular time to appreciate the things in your life that you are grateful for. These do not need to be big WOW moments. Often the most meaningful ones are the everyday things.
- Connection. Humans are social animals. Feeling like we have meaningful connections with other humans, is a strong predictor of well-being. A great thing to do with family and loved ones is to reminisce about the good times. When you carry out acts that make other people happy, this in turn also increases your levels of happiness. Happiness can be contagious.
- Self-reflection. Too often you can focus on what remains undone, what you could have done better. Making space to regularly reflect on the things you have been doing well and the things you are proud of, can boost your confidence and happiness.
- Choice. When times are challenging you can find yourself feeling like you have no choices. It is important to remember that there are usually options, they just aren’t always obvious, and sometimes you may need help to see them. When you feel you have choices, you will feel happier.
- Mindfulness. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
- Purpose. Having a clear sense about who you are, what you represent and how you want to be living your life, allows you to live in a meaningful way.
- Play. When you become an adult, the amount of time you spend ‘playing’ can be become almost non-existent. Taking time to do something that is not passive (watching TV, being on social media) but requires you to be active, and it’s only purpose is to have fun, is a great boost to happiness levels. This will be different for everyone. For me it includes, making up silly stories with my family, us all playing on our scooters, paddling in the sea.
Next time you find yourself questioning whether you are really happy, step back, reflect and remember that it is all a subjective experience and one person’s happiness is not the same as the next person’s.
Live your life, on your terms.
If something works for you, fits into your life and makes you feel better, keep doing it.
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