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Happiness Is Up to You: Learn How to Be Happy

Updated on August 14, 2019
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Anne has a BSc in Applied Psychology and qualifications in counselling, CBT & mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Figure 1: Happiness influences


What makes you happy?

Are you happy?

Whether the answer is “Yes” or “No”, why do you think that is?

Is it because of where you live? How much you earn? Your relationships? Your job? Or any other external circumstance?

What’s interesting is that only 10% of our happiness state is due to our external circumstance, with another 50% due to genetics [i]

Read full article for more explanations

What is it?
How do I do it?
Gratitude: 3 Good Things
Before sleeping, write down 3 positive things from the day. Anything from a good cup of coffee to that long sought after job promotion and anything in-between.
The Gratitude Letter
Write a letter to someone in your life who has had a positive influence on you and thank them. Tell them how they have helped you.
Positive Thinking
Pay more attention to the positive events throughout the day than to the negative. Acknowledge the negative and how you feel about them, then let them go and move on.
Mindfulness Meditation
Find a course locally, or try this online one:
Using our Signature Strengths
Look at the chart below or follow the link to the website and find your 3 top strengths. (Everyone has strengths) Think about how you may use them already, and how you could use them in new and different situations.
Spend time in Nature
Go to your local park, beach, canal, woods, mountain-anywhere that you’ll be in nature and notice everything you can. Use all of your senses. Do this as often as you can.
Physical Actvity
There is a difference between Physical Activity and Exercise (See below for explanation)Try to be physically active for 30 minutes a day.
Finding meaning and purpose
Think about what is important in your life (see exercise for this below if you can’t make up your mind). If you still can’t think of anything, think about doing some volunteering, taking up a new hobby or just helping people in whatever way you can in your community
Setting goals
Set yourself goals, big and small. Be realistic but challenging.
Have fun
Don’t forget to have fun. Adults need play time just as much as children do.

Summary of Happiness Tips

Types of Happiness

A man who won the jackpot in the lottery remained happy for just six months before he reverted back to the same state of happiness he had been in before the big win.

And another young man who had an accident in which he suffered permanent spinal injury also eventually reverted to the same happiness state he had been in before the accident.[ii]

The kind of happiness we associate with the highs and lows of pleasure or pain is known as Hedonic Happiness.

There is another kind of happiness:


Eudemonic Happiness (pronounced you-d-mon-ic) is long lasting and feels more like a kind of stable contentment than the highs and lows of Hedonic Happiness.

Our genetic make-up has a majority influence over this, but this does not mean we cannot change our Eudemonic happiness state.

And that is where that last 40% of influence comes in. (see figure 1)

"Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are... solely relies on what you think" This quote is from Buddha and even if you do not subscribe to or believe in the philosophies of Buddhism, the statement is still true.

Many of us think that we will be happy whenever we achieve our goals or dreams.

But it’s actually the other way around. We are more likely to achieve our goals and dreams when we are happy than when we are unhappy. This is because we are more motivated and open to new experiences when we are happy[iii]

So, how do we get happy?

As with any changes we want to make in our life, such as quitting smoking or getting fitter, it takes time and perseverance to bring about the change.

The difference is a new Happiness Regime is much more fun!

10 Top Tips for Happiness

Below are 10 exercises which anyone can do to increase their happiness level.

Try each one for a minimum of a week, then choose the ones that make you feel the best and develop them into a habit.

In a shorter time than you can imagine, they become almost second nature.

1. Happiness and Gratitude: 3 Good Things

This is the biggy, the one that most people benefit from.

The Method:

  • Every night before you go to sleep, write down 3 good things that went well in the day, and why you think they went well.

Writing them down focuses the mind rather than just thinking about them. It also helps us to go to sleep in better humor.

  • They don’t have to be huge events.

For example, perhaps the traffic was lighter than usual on your way to work, or the cup of coffee you had at your mid-morning break was particularly good, or a child said something really cute that made you laugh.

  • There are lots of small, seemingly insignificant events that happen throughout the day and sometimes we barely notice them. Of course, write down any big events too!

Writing down the events also means that we begin to pay more attention to the good things while they are happening because we know we will be looking for something to write in our journal that evening. This also improves our overall happiness level.

2. Happiness and Gratitude: The Gratitude Letter

This is obviously related to the gratitude exercise but it is more of a once-off exercise that will leave you feeling quite satisfied and happy for some time.

Many of us have someone in our life who supported us, inspired us, encouraged us or were just there for us when we needed them.

It could be a teacher, a neighbour, a friend, a parent, an aunt, an uncle etc. They may have only been in our life for a short time, for many years, or are there now, supporting, encouraging or inspiring.

The Method:

  • Sit down and if you can, hand-write a letter to the person who positively influenced your life (not an email) thanking them for what they have done for you.

We unconsciously express emotions through our hand writing and these are unconsciously picked up by the reader.

  • If you can’t write it, then type or dictate it.

But do not send an email because we all behave differently when online than in “real” life. This has been documented and researched again and again and very, very few people are exceptions.

  • Be specific. It’s not enough just to say “Thank you for everything you’ve done”.

Tell them how they have helped you and what the outcome of that has been for you.

  • Now, if that person is still alive and living within a practicable distance, go and hand the letter to them personally.

A practicable distance is measured by you, but be honest with yourself. Is a bus ride or a train ride really impracticable? Only you can answer that.

  • Tell them briefly what’s in the letter and if possible, stay while they read it.

Yes, it might feel a bit awkward at first, but you will be amazed at the effect it will have on you and on them. And it is a long lasting effect.

  • If the person is living too far away to travel to, mail them the letter and then if possible telephone them (or email in this instance) a couple of days later to ask whether they received it.
  • If the person is no longer living, go to their grave, again if practicable, and read it aloud.
  • If you can’t go to their grave for whatever reason, look at a photograph, or hold the person in your thoughts while you read it aloud.

3. Happiness and Positive Thinking

The Gratitude exercise will already have you thinking differently about your life because you are looking for the positive rather than focusing on the negative. Now we can take this a step further:

Imagine for a moment that you are in a restaurant and have chosen what you would like to eat from the menu. But when the waiter comes to take your order, he tells you that your choice is off that day. You’re disappointed, but you go back to the menu and choose something different.

Now, there are two ways you can go from here:

You can lament the fact that you cannot have your first choice and constantly complain and unfavorably compare your second choice throughout the entire meal.

Or, you can acknowledge that you’re disappointed, and then look at what’s positive about the second choice. After all, if you chose it, there must be something that attracted you to it.

Which do you think will make for a more pleasant experience for you and for anyone else with you?

The choice is yours.

This is just one simple example of how you can use positive thinking throughout your day.

The Method:

  • Begin by noticing and appreciating small things, even micro-moments such as that first sip of tea or coffee in the morning or that first moment in the shower as the hot water cascades over your body.

Then you can build on them slowly until you begin to notice that there are actually more positive than negative moments in your life.

  • It’s important to be real about this. To acknowledge when you’re feeling disappointed, sad, angry or whatever, and respect those feelings.

But by constantly going over the reasons for those emotions in our mind, we continually feed them and it becomes a negative cycle.

  • You may not be able to control your initial reaction to things, but you can change your thoughts about them:

Instead of thinking in “Should” or “Should not” remember that your thoughts and attitude control your emotions.

  • Looking back and going over and over the past is not helpful.

Acknowledge what happened, acknowledge how you feel about it and then make a conscious effort to let it go and move on.

With practice we can apply positive thinking to any situation, and I mean any.

In fact people who can consciously generate positive emotions with positive thoughts have been shown to recover faster and have less lasting effects from traumatic events [iv]

  • Acknowledging and respecting the emotions is an important step, and one that will obviously take longer with more serious situations, such as the break-up of an important relationship or bereavement.
  • Allow yourself whatever time you need, not how long others think it should be, and when you are ready, begin to find the positives in your life again as above.

You can read more about positive thinking here

4. Happiness and Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness has become a buzz-word these days and often offered by corporate and large companies to their staff to help keep them calm and focused.

But mindfulness meditation has become popular because it works. It has its roots firmly in Buddhism although you do not need to have Buddhist beliefs, or indeed any spiritual belief, in order to practice mindfulness.

After only 8 weeks of regular mindfulness meditation, we literally re-wire our brains to be more calm, more focused and even less clinically depressed [v].

Mindfulness Meditation has also been shown to improve our immune system[vi].

What is Mindfulness?

  • It is learning to pay more attention to the present moment than to the past or the future.
  • It’s acknowledging that what is, is.
  • It’s paying attention to the sensations in your body
  • It’s paying attention to the emotions you’re feeling.
  • It’s planning for the future and learning from the past, in the present moment,
  • It’s also much more than all that, but I don’t have the room to write it all in this Hub, so instead I recommend that you can my other Hubs on mindfulness here, here and here.

The Method:

Rather than read a transcript of a mindfulness meditation, I have included a guided mindfulness meditation for you beside this paragraph.

Guided Mindfulness Meditation

This is a clever book that teaches us about Mindfulness through the eyes of the Dalai Lama's cat

5. Happiness and our Signature Strengths

Quite often, when we’re in self-improvement mode, we focus on our weakness, or at least what we perceive to be our weaknesses and work on those.

But that is a little like focusing on the negative. Instead it has been found to be much more effective to focus on our strengths and to find as many situations as possible to use them [vii]

Psychologists have divided personality strengths into categories and sub-categories: See Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Character Strengths


Everyone possesses these qualities to a greater or lesser degree, including “spirituality”:

Whether you are an atheist or a devout believer, whenever you are moved by kindness, beauty, empathy or any emotion not directly connected with yourself, you are expressing your essential being, psyche, or “spiritual intelligence”.[viii]

When we use our strongest character strengths we are performing and feeling at our best. And others often recognise these strengths even before we do.

The Method:

Determine your 3 Signature Strengths

There are three ways to do this. You can choose any, or all three.

1. Read and consider each one and come to a conclusion for yourself

2. Ask someone who knows you really well to read each one and tell you.

3. Follow this link to the website of Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, the psychologists who have done extensive research into this and take the free survey. This takes about 20 minutes but it does give you the most accurate answer.

You will get a list of every character strength, (because we do possess them all to some extent) in order of priority, so pick your top 3.

Note: You will get the list and a short description of each. If you want more information you are requested to pay (around $10) and all money goes towards further research. The short list is enough for this exercise so it is up to you.

Now, what do you do with this knowledge?

  • Think about how and in what situations you use your strengths.
  • Now have a think about other situations where you don’t use your strengths but where they could be of use.

For example, imagine that your top 3 strengths are Bravery, Sociability and Kindness.

  • Imagine you love bungee jumping and other extreme sports (Bravery) and you’re a member of several clubs involved in these activities(Sociability). You like to take new members under your wing and give them hints and tips whenever you can (Kindness).
  • Now think about how you might apply these same strengths to your work: Perhaps you could be the one to suggest to the bosses the changes that everyone is crying out for but are too afraid to ask.
  • Could you be the one to set up a lunch club? (Where once a week everyone brings in one food each and you all share)
  • Do you help and encourage the newest members of staff even when it’s not your job?

These are just simple examples of an imaginary person, but I’m sure you can come up with something that is specific to you.

Seligman and Peterson found that when people used their character strengths in different and new situations every day for a week, the benefits of feeling happier and less depressed lasted for up to six months [ix]

Practice using you character strengths in new situations for at least one week and see how it makes you feel.

6. Happiness and Spending Time in Nature

This one is kind of intuitive for most people, but it’s nice to know that the scientists agree [x].

When the marketing people want to convey a sense of peace and tranquillity they often use the sound of birds singing or gently rolling waves. And it can instantly transport us to a sunny day in the countryside or seaside.

But it doesn’t have to be a sunny day to enjoy being outdoors in nature.

The Method

  • If you don’t live near the countryside or seaside, find your nearest park. There’s bound to be one somewhere.
  • Dress comfortably for the weather and take a walk if you’re able. If you’re not able bodied, perhaps someone will assist you.
  • If you have sight, look around you. Notice any trees, flowers, the water, the birds, any animals. In fact notice everything you can.
  • Breathe in the air. Feel it enter your nostrils and notice how it smells and tastes.
  • If you have hearing, listen to the sounds.
  • Touch things; feel the texture of the leaves and flowers, the sand or stones, the temperature of the water, be as curious as a child.
  • If it’s practical, find somewhere to sit and just be for a while. If possible, watch the waves roll in or the interaction of the birds and animals around you.

Spending Time In Nature
Spending Time In Nature | Source

7. Happiness and Physical Activity

We’ve known for a long time that along with other health benefits, physical activity releases endorphins, the “happy hormones”.

But it has actually been shown to bring about a marked improvement in depression symptoms and in some cases, to be even more effective than anti-depressants. So you get all the benefits without the side effects [xi].

According to the American Heart Association, physical activity is defined as "any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure beyond resting expenditure."

So things like walking, climbing stairs, doing housework and gardening are all examples of physical activity.

Exercise, on the other hand, is defined as "planned physical activity with the purpose of getting fit or other physical benefit."

So you don’t need to go the gym or take up running in order to increase your physical activity.

Just plan to go for a walk in the park more often, or vacuum your house and get the added advantage of extra clean floors!

  • Mild to Moderate physical activity is something you can do while carrying on a conversation.
  • Rigorous physical activity is when you need don’t have the breath to talk.

However, whether you find it mild, moderate or rigorous depends on how fit you are to begin with.

The Method

  • Just thirty minutes a day of rigorous physical activity does lessen depressive symptoms [xii]
  • But it doesn't even have to be for 30 continuous minutes. You can break it down to three by 10 minute sessions if you want and the benefit is the same [xiii]
  • So check first with your doctor that it is safe for you to engage in rigorous physical activity.
  • If you are given the go-ahead choose any physical activity that you are capable of and enjoy, or for those of you who don’t like any physical activity, choose the one you dislike the least.
  • Set your goal for the week: If you haven’t been very active up to this, begin gently, with perhaps just 2 or 3 minutes and work your way up to the ten minutes over the weeks.
  • Write down your goal.
  • Keep a record of how often you engaged in the physical activity and for how long.
  • At the end of the week, compare your goal with the amount you actually exercised and see how they compare.

If you didn't reach your goal, don’t worry or berate yourself (See Positive Thinking above). Just plan how you will do more next time.

It’s important not to get anxious or worried if you cannot exercise some days for whatever reason. Take a laid back and easy attitude with this. You can only try your best and getting anxious is simply defeating the purpose.

Happiness and Physical Activity
Happiness and Physical Activity | Source

8. Happiness and Meaning and Purpose

Having meaning and purpose in our life contributes hugely to our happiness[xiv]. In fact, in some circumstances it can even save your life:

Concentration Camp Survivor, Viktor Frankl found that the people who survived the horrors of the camps were the ones who felt they had a reason to carry on.

For him, it was his life’s work, which as it happened, was research into meaning in life. He began this work before he ever became a prisoner, but from observation of his fellow prisoners and from personal experience, he realized that those who had something to live for were most motivated to carry on against all the odds.

His book, Man's Search for Meaning, was written some time after his release, and is sometimes difficult reading, but overall it is uplifting and enlightening. In it, he explains in detail the benefits of having meaning in our life.

Thankfully, most of us will not have to endure such horrors. But meaning and purpose can play a big role in our happiness.

So what is important to you?

Many people have so much to think about and do every day that they are not even sure anymore which are important and which they could happily live without.

I have always found the following method helpful in sorting this out in my mind:

The Method

  • Imagine you are stranded all alone on a desert island. You have food, water and shelter but nothing else.
  • You realize you will not be going home, ever.
  • Take a moment to really feel it with all of your senses.
  • Now, think about who or what you will miss the most.
  • Write it down. If there is more than one, put them in order of priority.
  • Now think about the things you always meant to do but never did.
  • Again write them down in order of priority.
  • Spend some time thinking about what you've written.
  • This is what is most important in your life. This is where you find your meaning.
  • If you’re still thinking along the lines of “Are you kidding? That desert island sounds like bliss to me” than perhaps you need to find something in your life to give you meaning and purpose.
  • Think along the lines of a new hobby, volunteering for some charity work, or maybe challenge yourself to learn a new skill or do some travelling.
  • Another popular way of sorting out what you want from life is to imagine yourself in 5 years time.
  • Imagine that you have all the resources you need, and write a letter from yourself in 5 years time, detailing where you are and what you are doing.

This can be very powerful in helping you to realize your goals.

9. Happiness and Setting Goals & Intention Setting

This ties into meaning and purpose but is useful in almost any situation.

Achieving goals gives us huge satisfaction, but sometimes the stress involved in achieving the goal outweighs the benefit.

So when you are doing this as an exercise, keep your goals challenging enough to be satisfying, but realistic enough to be achievable.

For example, suppose you have to deal with someone every day with whom you have difficulty keeping your equanimity.

  • The first goal here is to achieve at least one interaction with this person without getting irritated or annoyed.
  • Setting the goal of spending the day with them and remaining calm is more than likely doomed to failure, so keep it simple at first.

The Method:

Using the above situation as an example:

  • In the morning, before you leave the bathroom, look in the mirror and say to yourself our loud (or whisper if anyone might be listening):

“Today, I set my intention to stay calm with (say their name) at least once.”

  • Keep the statement positive rather than negative.

For example, to say “I will not get angry” is focusing on the anger. So think about what you will do if you are not going to get are going to stay calm.

Our subconscious reacts to our thoughts, so when you are thinking about staying calm, you are more likely to do so. But if you are thinking about getting angry, then that is what you are more likely to do.

  • Continue with your day as usual. Do not try really hard to stay calm, but just be aware of the intention.
  • It’s important not to get angry with yourself if or when you don’t manage your goal. Just remember you can try again the next time.
  • When you do achieve your goal, try for staying calm on two occasions, then perhaps go for an hour, and so on.

This is just one example of a goal you might try.

Another example may be around your finances:

“Today I set my intention to remain positive around the subject of money”

Or around finding a job:

“Today I set my intention to search for a job that suits me”

Or around your diet:

“Today I set my intention to eat healthily.”

  • Whatever the goal or intention, don’t get too hung up on achieving it. Just set the intention and let it go. By simply remembering it spontaneously throughout the day, you are re-setting that intention.
  • In the evening, think back over the day and reflect on any situations where you acted differently than you might have before you set the intention. Sometimes we are so busy living the day we miss these moments.

But having said all this...

10. Happiness and Fun

Many of us are so busy living life and achieving goals that we forget to have fun.

We all know how important playtime is for children, but it is equally important for adults. It boosts our creativity, enhances our immune system and increases our productivity [xv].

What’s more, a good laugh will increase your oxygen intake. This in turn will enhance the functioning of your heart, lungs and muscles.

And not only that: Laughter also stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain which result in reduction of pain and of course, puts you in a good mood [xvi]

The Method:

  • Make a list of fun things you like to do, or would like to try.
  • Write them into your diary, or whatever way you have of making sure they are in your schedule.
  • Treat them as you would any important appointment.
  • Notice how much pleasure you are having while engaging in the activities. Use all of your senses and savor the moment.
  • Develop your sense of fun by finding other opportunities throughout the day.

Learn to take life less seriously. No one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they’d spent more time at the office, and remember, none of us are getting out of here alive!

Happiness is up to you

These are just some of the methods we can use to achieve greater contentment and happiness in our life.

Others are Practising Generosity, achieving Self Actualization, Practising Worry Control, Learning to Manage Your Time, Listening to your own intuition about what's right for you rather than blindly following others, and probably many more I haven't thought of yet.

Anything that reduces stress, helps you to connect with others and creates an environment of appreciation and gratitude will always increase happiness.

It may take a little effort at the start, but it soon becomes a habit, and one that you won't want to get rid of once you have it!


[i] Diener, E. and R.E. Lucas: 1999, Personality and subjective well-being, inD. Kahneman, E. Diener and N. Schwartz (eds), Well-being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (Russell Sage, New York), pp. 213_229

[ii] Brickman, P., D. Coates and R. Janoff-Bulman: 1978, _Lottery winners andaccident victims: Is happiness relative?, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36, pp. 917_927.

[iii] Hassanzadeh, R. & Mahdinejad, G. (2012). Relationship between Happiness and Achievement Motivation: A Case of University Students. Journal of Elementary Education (23), 1 .53-65

[iv] Tugade, M.M., & Fredrickson, B.L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 320-333.




[viii] Amram Y., & Dryer C. (2007). The development and preliminary validation of the Integrated Spiritual Intelligence Scale (ISIS). Institute of Transpersonal Psychology Working Paper.CA: Palo Alto.

[ix] Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.

[x] Ryan, R., Weinstein, N.,Bernstein, J., Warren Brown, K., Mistretta, M, & Gagné, M. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology 30 (2) 159-168




[xiv] Park,N.,Park, M.& Peterson, C. (2010) When is the search for meaning related to Life Satisfaction? Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being 2 (1) 1-13

[xv] 2. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45.

[xvi] Proc. R. Soc. B 22 March 2012 vol. 279 no. 1731 1161-1167


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