It is generally accepted that happy people are more productive, more creative and better problem-solvers than their unhappy peers. Happiness also makes us more positive and healthy and less stressed. While some people prioritise fame and fortune, for many, the greatest desire in life is to be happy – that elusive, sometimes ethereal sense of pure joy and lasting contentment. But is long-lasting happiness attainable? Or is it just a matter of chance and good fortune that some naturally start the day with a spring in their step, ready and willing to face the world with a smile?
Since prehistoric times, our brains have been genetically predisposed to help us stay safe and to survive, so it’s hard-wired in us to worry about where the next threat will come from rather than to simply enjoy the moment.
But are there steps we can take to increase our odds of a happy-ever-after life? The answer is, absolutely. Here are some secrets to help you maintain a sense of prolonged happiness.
The average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day, and for most people, 85 per cent of these are negative. Swapping positive thoughts for negative ones helps you to retrain the brain in the quest for happiness. While it’s not always easy, consciously making an effort to think positively cultivates a more optimistic and productive mind. Try simple exercises such as pausing for a moment throughout your day to think of things that bring you joy – a flower, your pet, sunlight dancing on water. Start the day with a positive affirmation, either thinking it to yourself or saying it aloud, such as ‘Today is a good day’, making sure to express it in the present tense.
Live in the moment
We tend to spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what has happened in the past or worrying about what will happen in the future. Making an effort to remain in the present moment, trying not to let the mind wander too far, even when doing a mundane task such as washing dishes or grocery shopping, can bring about a sense of calm and appreciation for life’s experiences.
Meditation and mindfulness provide a way of engaging with the present and focusing attention on what is happening in the now moment. Using breathing and mindfulness techniques brings greater self-awareness and acceptance of whatever is happening in a kind, non-judgemental way. It can greatly facilitate the reduction of stress and anxiety, giving us a sense of calm in a frenetic world.
Recently, gratitude journals have become a hugely popular concept; you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Well, it turns out that fostering a sense of gratitude helps us to appreciate the good things in life. Feeling grateful for life’s blessings rather than focusing on its burdens increases our appreciation for all that we have. There is a strong association between higher levels of gratitude and mental well-being.
Whether it’s being grateful for your family, friendships, good health or opportunities in life, recognising these positives and writing them down daily is a healthy way to stave off anxious thoughts and melancholy and bolster our sense of happiness.
Listen to music
There are few people who don’t experience some kind of emotion, predominantly happiness, when they hear music making this one of the most accessible secrets to happiness. Whether it’s an uplifting pop song that makes you want to dance or classical music that transports you to another world, the result is the same – positive, relaxing and mood-enhancing. This is because listening to music triggers the release of dopamine, a naturally produced neurochemical that’s associated with pleasure and happiness.
They say that charity begins at home, but in reality, generosity can be practised wherever there is need. Giving to others is beneficial for the giver as well as the recipient. This might involve voluntary work with a charitable organisation or even spending a little on your loved ones. Boosting the happiness of others creates a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. Those who have a generosity of spirit tend to live healthier, happier lives, most likely due to the feel-good factor that emanates from acts of altruism.
There are many other activities that can bring us joy and satisfaction in life and they’re often simple things that we can all do, like taking regular exercise, maintaining meaningful relationships, even simply smiling. Now that’s something to be cheerful about.