Do you ever stop and think about what makes you happy? If you never have, how about you take a few moments now to write down five things that make you happy. The five things that make me happy are connecting to people, being active, practicing mindfulness as much as I can, learning, and giving back to the community. A few years ago, I read the World Happiness Study where they actually mention these five factors as ones that make people feel happier.
During one of my sessions recently with a college student, she asked two very important questions: Will I be happy if I am skinny? Will I be happy if I find a guy and have a secure relationship? For years, Jennifer believed that those two things were the answers to her happiness and she abused herself and starved herself and was involved in unhealthy relationships. We ended up having a conversation about these two important questions, and Jennifer realized that these two questions are linked and had caused her to create the illusion of having the perfect life only when those two goals were achieved.
I asked Jennifer what currently makes her happy, and she said that challenging herself and stopping herself from having thoughts that are negative and disruptive make her happy.
According to research, there are three main factors that govern how happy someone is: their genetics, their current situation, and how they spend their time. There isn't much to do about one's genetics and life circumstances, but you do have control over how you spend your time and who you choose to spend your time with. So here are some actionable ways you can contribute to your own happiness.
#1 Be In The Moment
Instead of obsessing about attaining happiness all the time or striving for some idea of happiness in the future, choose to be in the moment. If for example, you find yourself waking up in the morning and feeling sad, instead of obsessing over it, one thing that you can do that will give you a sense of gratitude and satisfaction is write down three things that make you feel happy or that you are grateful for at that very moment.
#2 Practice Active Listening
This one piggybacks off of being in the moment. One way you can be in the moment is to practice active listening. Sometimes we are so busy thinking about our own emotions and our own problems that we aren’t really listening when we are with the people we love. Listening to others and really engaging with them often leads to happier feelings. It’s also a healthy part of any relationship and healthy relationships help with happiness.
#3 Redirect Negative Thoughts
What we tell ourselves affects how we feel. So, if you learn to acknowledge your negative thoughts and consider an alternative way of thinking that is less negative, that simple redirection of thoughts can lead to an immediately happier state. For example, traveling and meeting new people make me feel very happy. However, if I get caught up in a cycle of negative thoughts where I start telling myself that traveling is expensive and I cannot afford to go anywhere or if I tell myself that traveling is only for people who are affluent and I will never be able to go all the places I want, this negative thinking will lead me to feel frustrated and sad. If I redirect my thoughts and tell myself the following: “I love traveling and meeting new people and while right now I don't have the financial means to do that, I will work hard and start to save money to go toward traveling to a destination of my choice.” This type of self-talk will make me feel less negative, which will allow me to achieve my goal more effectively and feel better and happier.
#4 Connect with People
I understand that this doesn't come naturally to all people, but connecting with others in a real authentic way leads to happiness. Can you think about people who you have connected with in the past year? Who are these people? Were you able to establish a genuine connection with them and learn as much as you can about them? Relationships can be challenging but if you make a choice to meet new people who can make you feel good and positive, you're more likely to achieve your goal of feeling happier.
#5 Prioritize Time Over Money
People are often so busy thinking about surviving and making money and figuring out how to make more money so that they can have a better quality of life, that they forget to think about how exactly they are spending their time. So many of my clients feel a lot of anxiety and stress when they have nothing to do and when they have too much time on their hands. This makes a lot of sense because most of us are constantly busy doing things and striving to be as productive as we can. However, if you think about your time as the most valuable thing that you have, which you cannot get back, then you might ask yourself questions such as, Who do I want to spend time with? Is what I'm about to do worthy of my precious time and energy? Do I want to learn something new? Do I want to help someone in need? Do I want to meet new people? There are so many other questions that we can ask ourselves along these lines and then actually answer them truthfully to understand what it is that we do with our time that actually makes us feel fulfilled and happy. Research suggests that people who prioritize time over money report being happier. This doesn't mean that money makes no impact, but it is a way to reframe our priorities.
Finding happiness is something we all want, and it is not out of reach no matter what you have told yourself in the past. These are five simple tips that can lead you toward happiness, but as always, if you are feeling in over your head, we are always here to help. So don’t hesitate to reach out.