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How to Be Happy in Life: 6 Steps to a Happier Life

Updated on June 3, 2017

The World's Happiest Countries

The World's happiest countries are:

1. Switzerland
2. Iceland
3. Denmark
4. Norway

(Source: BBC. Results may vary from year to year)

These are all highly productive nations with high income and happiness levels and a great culture of work/life balance.

We can all learn from their habits: from pursuing a hobby (ie, leaving work on time) to enjoying green spaces where available.

Happier People Are Healthier

Low self-esteem, depression, stress are all negative emotions that are the polar opposite of happiness and contentment. When we are stressed we tend to eat more, particularly comfort and junk food, indulge in impulse-buying in the hope to get a temporary boost, and over-indulge in stimulants like coffee or relaxants like alcohol.

Cutting down on junk food and junk thoughts can work wonders for your mood.

According to Harvard studies, unless you had some traumatic early years, being a happy child brings dividends in terms of better health, resulting in a lower likelihood to develop heart disease and degenerative diseases like diabetes. In adult years chronic anxiety, anger and resentment can have negative effects on heart function.

Bury that hatchet and move on – you're likely to feel happier.

Money Can Buy Happiness (Sometimes)

Happiness is an elusive feeling. The moment you think “I am happy”, you may start doubting you are happy, or feel you will “jinx it” if you say you are happy out loud. Most likely, you don't even realise that you are happy, and a negative experience may make you believe you are unhappy.

Contrary to popular wisdom, not having money is not a key to happiness. When you worry on a constant basis about debts and creditors knock on your door threatening to repossess your house, you are probably not thinking happy thoughts.

Forbes confirmed that money can buy you happiness quoting a study from the University of Michigan that showed higher earners are more contented with their lives.

Happiness levels level out once the basic necessities are covered (salaries up to $25,000, but this varies from country to country), so no amount of additional income would make a considerable change on happiness. If you think about it, the more you earn the more tax and insurance you need to pay, so it takes the fun out of the equation, right?

Having enough disposable income means you can get access to support networks (coaches, counsellors, advisors) who can improve your quality of life.

In another study by the University of Michigan showed that there are some merits in “pick-me-up” shopping, particularly in browsing. The thought of shopping can sometimes be as valuable as the act of shopping, so even people on a tight budget could dream about their purchases without clicking on the “buy now” button.

The positive feelings associated with this behaviour were a sense of control and a sense of gratification.

Even if you don't have the cash to splash you can still experience the feeling of having more disposable income with some virtual retail experiences. Browse for products online but don't click on the checkout button, or do some window shopping in a mall without buying anything.

Make Your Own Happiness


Make Your Own Entertainment

Whether it's baking or repairing motorcycles, a hands-on hobby or other activity can generate a sense of happiness and fulfilment.

From historical re-enactments in a field to playing charades at home, it's all about capturing the sense of fun to grab some precious moments of happiness (you didn't hear it from me, but what about role-playing in the bedroom?).

And do you know what else does making your own entertainment mean? It also means watching less television. Studies say that unhappy people watch too much television, while happy people spend more time socialising or pursuing hobbies like reading.

Be Still, or at least Slow Down

Have you ever been completely still during the day? Stillness has been found to be a great contributor to happiness and a sense of contentment with life. In his talk about stillness, travel writer Pico Iyer explains that sitting still for a few minutes a day allows you to become more attentive and appreciative of what goes on around you (video).

Feeling appreciative and thankful allows you to make sense of your life, the good and bad, and gives you room to breathe. In our always-on, hyperconnected society, switching off our devices for a few minutes a day and looking at the world around us is a luxury. If you can, go for a walk at lunchtime in a green space, then sit for 5 minutes without looking at your phone or thinking about your to do list. If you can, meditate, to help you recharge and step away from stresses and worries to gain a sense of perspective.

Does keeping still feel like too much hard work? Try slowing down: in this talk about slowness, Carl Honoré argues against our current culture of seeking speed and excitement and finding shortcuts to save time (he mentions “speed yoga” as a case in point). He explains that when illness or burnout strike they signal it is time to change – in other words, they are the “wake up call” we need to reassess our lives.

He praises the Slow Food Movement and the Slow Towns Movement as examples of allowing ourselves to enjoy life and what it has to offer. From smelling a ripe fruit at a local farmers' market to walking in a pedestrianised area in an urban environment, these slow moments have emerged to meet our need to use all our senses and detach ourselves from the fast pace of life.

Pets Know How to Play

"Everything I know about happiness, I learned it from watching cats play" Paola Bassanese
"Everything I know about happiness, I learned it from watching cats play" Paola Bassanese | Source

Be Less Serious

We associate being serious to being more intelligent, loyal, trustworthy and committed. However, it is comedians who display high levels of intelligence, as they appear to have developed healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the absurdity of life. In studies it was found that comedians score highly in intelligence tests.

Humour is a quality similar to resilience that allows you to keep a distance from your current situation and see the bigger picture.

Can't think of a way to be less serious? Try pet therapy: looking at the playfulness of a puppy dog or a kitten will likely teach you something. Unless you have pet allergies, keeping a pet has been found to help lower stress levels (and even help deal with depression). Plus, pets don't answer back!

Start Caring a bit More, but not too much

While volunteering and caring for others is often quoted as being a great asset for increasing happiness, caring too much can have negative consequences.

Let's look at the benefits of volunteering: studies by Carnegie Mellon University confirmed that a few hours of volunteering can help lower stress levels and ease feelings of loneliness and depression.

Those who work in the caring professions and people who have caring responsibilities for a family member tend to have high stress levels and experience burnout.

When we care too much we lose ourselves in the process: we neglect our health, sleep and basic needs. It is useful to remember those safety presentations you need to sit through while on a plane: in case of emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself first, so that you can help others. This doesn't mean that you need to be selfish, but simply that you need to be fit and healthy first before you can do anything for others.

A Community Care Survey found that 80% of carers said their stress levels had a negative effect on their work performance, and 97% said they were feeling stressed. Insufficient access to counselling services was quoted as a reason for feeling overwhelmed.

Also related to not caring too much is the concept of not being too concerned about what other people think. Whatever you say or you do may be interpreted as either good or bad by other people according to circumstances and opinions, so if you care too much about opinions you end up not doing anything.

Taking action is actually the most empowering thing to do, and so is making mistakes, which is life's way of helping us learn and grow. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, and see yourself getting happier.

Are You Happier Now?

We can all find ways to create new, happier habits. Knowledge is power, so having the tools to improve our personal situation can give us a sense of control and stability.

We all need different approaches and attitude to make our lives happier; maybe most of the points discussed above are not applicable to your present situation, but if you found at least one of the suggestions useful please rate and comment on this article.

How Happy Are You?

How happy do you feel right now?

See results

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