Who doesn’t want to be happy? With much of your happiness in your control (40% says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD), you are more empowered than you think to make legitimate changes to your emotional health. Some of the skills you can learn to do involve brain training where the more you practice certain habits, the more automatic they will become. Because there is no “one-size-fits-all” formula for happiness, try what feels right and doable for you.
Not as happy as you’d like to be? Consider the following:
Are you social?
Being connected to others allows for emotional resourcing and support. We are wired to connect and seek security in important relationships starting from infancy and throughout our lives. Research shows that, “social environment may contribute to rates of cellular aging, particularly in late life.” So it appears as though being social can literally slow down your biological age.
Consider putting effort into developing and maintaining important relationships (family, friends, intimate partnerships). Even if you consider yourself more introverted, you can still benefit from these types of interactions. Humans are born wired to connect with each other rather than be isolated.
If you haven’t spoken to a good friend in a long time, send them a text. Carve out one-on-one time with a family member. If your marriage has been struggling, prioritize working on it.
Do you feel good about yourself?
Questions about your inherent value often come from unresolved earlier wounds around challenging relational experiences. How you feel about yourself can impact your other relationships, especially the more intimate ones where there is more emotionally at stake.
If you generally believe you are a good person with value, you have a more solid foundation in which developing happiness can be cultivated. But if your history is painful or you have family of origin wounds, do some personal work. Consider getting help unpacking painful experiences creating obstacles to a more secure sense of self via therapy or other supportive tools.
Are you able to manage your emotions?
The ability to stay emotionally regulated allows for more appropriate reactions to situations and less internal distress. Those who struggle with emotional reactivity can have a strong negativity bias and carry shame about themselves, both potential blocks to happiness.
Consider educating yourself about resilience (how to more effectively bounce back) which can improve your emotional regulation skills.
Do you meditate?
Stress can be another obstacle for happiness. To combat future worry (anxiety), it’s useful to learn to be in the moment, to drop into “the now” when needed. Meditation via focused breath work can help keep the stress hormone cortisol at bay.
Consider learning how to meditate (in whatever form you choose). Even other brief mindfulness practices like stopping to notice things around you for a moment can encourage a similar benefit.
People with positive outlooks are not only happier but healthier. A Harvard study showed that a positive outlook on life can actually protect against heart disease.
Consider spending more time with optimistic people. If your glass tends to be “half empty,” acting as if it’s full can be a good way to start. Spending time with positive people can also help because of the emotional contagion effect.
If you have as strong negativity bias and it’s difficult to stay positive, this might be another good reason to peek into your past to understand why this is and make changes.
Do you take in the good?
Strongly connected with developing optimism is noticing when the good when it’s in front of you. But it doesn’t end there. Let the experience sink into your awareness for at least 30 seconds so it can register in your implicit memory. According to Linda Graham, MFT, “When we intentionally take in the good we are building resources in our neural circuitry to act as a buffer against stress…”
Consider seeking out positive experiences in which to savor. This can be a beautiful tree you’ve never noticed in your neighborhood, a pleasant interaction with someone in a grocery line or being grateful for a favor that was done for you.
Do you live authentically?
Authenticity is often linked to a sense of well-being and is an important aspect of emotional health. It’s so much easier for your inner world to be in alignment with your outward presentation. In fact, living inauthentically can cause stress in the amount of work required to keep up a social mask. There’s a freedom in the ability to be yourself.
Consider learning how to be more honest with yourself and in how you show up in the world. If there is a disconnect between your inner and outer worlds or you’re unclear of what authenticity even means for you, seek to understand this better via therapy or other helping modality.
Robert Emmons, PhD has done extensive research on the power of gratitude to feel more alert, sleep better, deflect from stress, worry, regret, hostility and resentment. Being grateful can also improve self-worth and help you experience more positive emotions.
Consider starting a gratitude practice. One way to do that is keeping a daily gratitude journal, noting three things a day, no matter how seemingly mundane.
In your quest for more happiness, pick a few of the above that resonate and try them out. Then over time add a few more into the mix. Sometimes creating new habits can be a challenge but if you stick with it, the payoff can be well worth it. If happiness has been elusive for you, therapy is a good tool to help you understand the underpinnings of why and support you in making changes. If you aren’t quite ready for therapy, I offer a guide to do some self-exploration, Family of Origin: Untangle Your Unhealthy Roots.
It’s important to monitor your expectations around how often you “should” be happy. Nobody “should” be happy all the time and denying some of the other more difficult human emotions like sadness, anger and worry will not serve you well in the long run. Though those feelings can be uncomfortable, they are part of the human experience.
Sweeping them under the rug will inevitably backfire.
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