Happiness, oh you coy minx…
Are you searching for, “how to be happier?” Happiness can be like a strong-willed cat. Despite your best efforts to control and corral it, it seems to show up when it wants to and then jump out a window when you’re not looking. However, happiness can be cultivated. As a therapist and Online Therapist, I work with individuals who are searching for how to be happier – and I mean earnestly searching and at a loss as to how to find it. We already know that some people just seem happier than others, but why? Is it really just a roll of the genetic dice as to whether you’re going to seethe and fret your whole life? Or is there something you can do to rig the happiness game in your favor?
Because this is such an important question (the most important, some may argue), in recent years eager social scientists have been sniffing around happy folks, spying on their daily habits, and taking lots of notes. Because of their efforts, we now have new insight into how to be happier based on how happy people think, feel, and behave.
It turns out that genuinely happy people have some traits and attitudes that set them apart. The good news is that you can become a happier person by adopting the same strategies.
If it works for them, it will work for you.
How to Be Happier
1) Happy People Have a Broad Definition of Happiness
If the only time that you feel happy is when you are having a “peak experience” — sitting on top of a mountain, having mind-blowing sex, or laughing until it hurts with a crowd of friends — you are not going to feel happy very often. Furthermore, if you look to these kinds of outrageously joyful times as what being happy looks like in your life, you will be more likely to view your everyday experiences as, “Meh.”
Consistently happy people are highly attuned to the subtle joys of life, and they appreciate them. When the feeling of relaxing after a hard day’s work, strolling through a farmer’s market on a sunny day, or holding a child’s hand becomes as much of a magical moment as dancing on a speaker, opportunities for joy are available for you during pretty much every waking moment.
2) Happy People Are OK With Being Sad
Happy people, paradoxically, tend to be much more comfortable with negative emotions than people who describe themselves as less happy. This tolerance for distress makes happy people emotionally resilient (a term that refers to the ability to soothe and comfort yourself during times of stress).
While unhappy people tend to be upset with themselves for being unhappy — thus perpetuating their unhappiness — happy people take a gentle, nurturing attitude towards their feelings when they’re having low moments. This ability to “lean in” to sad times helps them pass through pain more quickly.
Also, happy people who have compassion for themselves are more likely to turn to others in times of pain, because they are less ashamed of their feelings. Connections during times of pain are powerfully healing. We can bear the pain of anything if we can cry about it in the arms of someone who loves us.
This positive attitude towards dark emotions helps happy people bounce back from disappointment and use their support system during hard times.
3) Happy People Know How to Be Happy Means Focusing On the Big Picture
Have you ever thrown a party, had a house full of happy people, great food, laughter and connection, and spent the whole time obsessing about the details that you hadn’t had time or foresight to take care of before people show up? As beaming people tell you what a great party it is, you simply cannot unhook your mind from the fact that there aren’t quite enough forks, and that the quiche is cold. (If I seem to have intimate knowledge of this experience, it’s because I’m a recovering “party perfectionist” myself.)
Here’s the thing, when you’re wondering “how to be happier,” happy people tend to gloss over annoying or unpleasant details and focus on the success of the whole. They emotionally glide right over the chipped fingernail polish, spotty bathroom mirror, and over-cooked vegetables of life and instead choose to take pleasure in a gathering of friends.
The fact is that in any situation there are many things to focus on that are all simultaneously true: you have ten happy friends hanging out in your living room, in plain sight of the gross stain that you couldn’t scrub out of the carpet and two people you invited didn’t show up. What you focus on will determine your experience.
Try doing what a happy person would do: look into the eyes of the person in front of you and focus on appreciating the moment by being mindfully present. Everything else is irrelevant.
4) Happy People Prioritize Relationships
One of the most important lessons in how to be happier is that happy people make their connections a priority. At this point, fleets of social scientists have come trotting back from their happy people expeditions like early European explorers emerging from the dark Rainforests of the Amazon, to breathlessly announce that happy people have friends.
But happy people are not simply enjoying the satisfaction of being blessed with popularity. Happy people make their relationships with others a priority over most other things. Happy people tend to care more about spending quality time with their spouses, children, extended families, and social circles than they do about their career, their stuff, and their activities.
This shift away from hedonism and materialism, and into relationships and spending time with others may be the most important distinction between the genuinely happy and the generally dissatisfied.
And you know this if you’ve tried it for any length of time: when you put your career or financial obligations on the altar ahead of the needs, rights, and feelings of the people most important to you it simply doesn’t work — not for long anyway. If you’re feeling discouraged about your life, shifting your focus away from your work and into appreciating the hearts and minds of other people is one of the most powerful ways to reconnect with joy – and you’ll often find that’s how to be happier.
This simple recipe — appreciating little things, being okay with being sad, not sweating the small stuff, and putting people first — will bring you authentic happiness. Try it out for yourself, and let me know how it goes!
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.