Happiness Requires Practice
Feeling happier is the result of daily efforts to create a fulfilling life.
"Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have."
You probably want to feel happier. To wake up each morning with a smile on your face, thoughts of gratitude on your mind, and a lightness in your step. It sounds blissful. Believe me, I want that too. But, achieving happiness is not an actual place or trait—it’s a daily practice that leads you to experience positive feelings about yourself and the world around you.
The topic of happiness has received considerable attention in the last few decades through the work of scholars in the field of positive psychology. Spearheaded by psychologists like Martin Seligman and Ed Deiner, researchers are exploring what leads us to experience greater happiness and wellbeing over the course of our lives.
Emerging data suggest that "being happy" is actually much harder than it sounds. For starters, happiness is an emotion—like anger, fear, and sadness. It’s a positive, pleasurable feeling that comes in and out of your experience over time. In other words, happiness is not a trait that describes something fundamental about who you are—it’s a state of being in a given moment. As such, it’s not reasonable to expect to feel happy all the time! In addition, what makes you happy is highly personal. Your happiness in any given moment will be affected by a host of things, like what you enjoy doing, who you're with, how your body feels, your mood, and what you value about life.
Given that happiness is an emotional state, it’s better to strive to be fulfilled and satisfied with your life than to be "happy". For the better you feel about your life in general, the more likely you are to experience feelings of happiness throughout your day.
The great news is that there are many things you can do to increase your general satisfaction with life, which will lead to more moments of happiness. It requires a daily practice of monitoring your own mind because how satisfied you feel is much more about how you perceive your life than it is about any objective reality. Here are some skills that you can start practicing today.
1. Be Grateful.
The more you can see the goodness that is already in your life, the more positively you will feel about yourself and the world around you. Make a deliberate effort to appreciate the things that you already have in your life that you love.
2. Change Your Thinking.
It’s easy to focus on what isn’t going well in your life and become preoccupied with it. Shift your thoughts and attitudes to focus on what you love about your life and what you can change about what isn’t going well. Make an effort to stop thinking about what you don’t like, don’t have, and can’t change.
3. Cultivate Positive Relationships.
We all need people to feel a sense of belonging and meaningful connection. The more you connect with others who you like, love, admire, enjoy, and feel close to, the better you will feel.
4. Find Meaning.
You have core beliefs about what matters to you——the fundamental things that give your life meaning and purpose. The more you know your core values and make choices that reflect those values, the more satisfying your life will feel.
The naked truth is this: While I'm a huge proponent of creating a meaningful life based on honest self-awareness and choice, focusing on happiness as if it is a trait fuels a mistaken assumption that you are capable of being happy 100% of the time. Experiencing happiness requires building a life that brings greater life fulfillment and satisfaction.
To do that, be grateful. Think accurately and focus on what you already love about your life. Cultivate connecting relationships. And find greater meaning and purpose. The better you feel about your life in general, the more likely you are to experience feelings of happiness throughout your day.
Cortney Warren, Ph.D., ABPP is a board-certified clinical psychologist and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Nevada School of Medicine.