Revealed on International Day of Happiness: The 10 keys to being happy
Feeling happy is one of those fabulous things that happens most days for some people, but less so for others. And when we do feel happy, it’s not always obvious why. Finding out what makes us happy and repeating it is the key to sustained contentment. So here’s a guide to what are the 10 keys to happier living are to celebrate International Day of Happiness on 20 March and to hopefully make life a bit easier.
Giving – Do kind things for others
If you want to feel good, doing good is a great place to start.
Helping others and being kind not only contributes to the happiness of others, it can also help us to feel happier ourselves! Studies have shown that when we do kind things it literally gives our brain a boost, activating its ‘reward centre’ and that feels good. It can take our minds off our own worries too.
Giving and kindness also help us feel connected to others which is important for our wellbeing and it contributes to building stronger communities and a happier society for everyone.
Relating – Connect with people
Feeling connected to other people is at the heart of happiness – theirs and ours.
Whether these connections are with our partners, families, friends, work colleagues, neighbours or others in our communities, they can all contribute to happiness and resilience. So taking action to build, maintain and strengthen our relationships is important.
Having close relationships with family or friends provides love, meaning, support and can increase our feelings of self-worth. Our broader social networks, like those in our local community or at school or work, can contribute to a sense of belonging. Indeed studies show people with strong relationships are happier, healthier and may even live longer. Having a network of social connections or high levels of social support even appears to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we get older. There’s lots we can do to build and maintain our relationships and feel more connected to our community.
Exercising – Take care of your body
Taking care of your body is good for your mind. They’re connected!
There are lots of ways we can look after ourselves physically – exercising, moving more during the day, getting enough rest, eating nourishing food, staying hydrated and getting out into daylight. These all directly impact how well we feel and function. They can be instant mood boosters as well as being good for our mental and physical health longer term.
An extensive body of scientific research is showing the many benefits of exercise for our psychological health and happiness. Exercise and being physically active can help us manage, treat and even prevent depression and anxiety. It can boost our confidence, help us manage stress, and help us sleep and think better too – improving how well our brain functions. It’s not all about running marathons – there are simple things we can all do to be more active each day. Walk, run, dance, swim, cycle, yoga…the list is almost endless and it all can make a difference to how we feel!
Awareness – Live life mindfully
Ever felt there must be more to life? Well good news – there can be – as long as we learn to be more mindful and aware.
Being mindful can be a firm foundation for wellbeing. Studies show the practice of mindfulness can reduce stress levels, help us manage our emotions and reactions, tune in better to how we and others are feeling and cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. This helps us make wiser choices, can boost our relationships and mean we feel happier and calmer. It can have benefits in school and in the workplace too.
Individually, we vary in our natural levels of mindfulness, but everyone can learn to be more mindful and there are lots of ways we can incorporate it into our daily lives. It’s simple but takes practice. Think of it as training for your brain!
Trying Out – Keep learning new things
Fuel for fun, fulfilment, confidence and creativity!
Being open to new experiences and learning fuels our wellbeing, boosts our confidence and our creativity and can be fulfilling – whatever our age. Learning is not just for school but for life – in fact, evidence shows that continuing to learn, even later in life, can help us feel good and function well. It doesn’t mean gaining more qualifications. There are lots of ways to get involved in informal learning of topics or skills we’re curious or passionate about, whether that’s in-person in our community, at work or online. It could be learning more about an area we’re already interested in, honing our skills through a hobby or exploring something completely new. There is always something new we can try or learn!
Direction – Have goals to look forward to
How we feel and think about the future and how we work towards it can make a difference for our happiness in the present.
Having a sense of direction, optimism and hope can all contribute to feeling happier.
An optimistic or hopeful outlook means we are more likely to experience positive emotions, feel more confident, have higher satisfaction with life, have better physical health and are less likely to be depressed. We are also more likely to take care of ourselves physically and persist with medical treatments. Of course, we need to be realistic, but hope and optimism both contribute to our resilience too, helping us cope with tough times, approach relationship issues constructively, take a more active, solution-focused approach to deal with problems and be more likely to reach out for support from others.
Finding and working towards meaningful goals is a way of connecting the present to our future and research is showing how it can boost our happiness and wellbeing too.
Although our personality or circumstances might orientate us towards seeing the future more positively or more negatively, science shows there are future-focused practical actions we can take that can contribute to how happy we feel now.
Resilience – Find ways to bounce back
Everyone has ups and downs – difficulties are part of life for us all. Science shows we can learn skills, actions and habits of thinking that boost our natural resilience.
We all experience small daily frustrations and everyday stresses and at times, bigger upsets, failures, unexpected change and challenges. Many of us will also experience traumatic events at some point in our lives such as the loss of someone we love, the sudden loss of our job, an accident or serious illness. Being resilient doesn’t mean we will never feel pain, upset, hurt, sadness, fear or anger when we experience difficult times. It means in the moment or over time we can find ways to cope constructively, accept what has happened, adapt and eventually move forward.
Research shows that resilience isn’t a rare quality found in a few, extraordinary people. Dr Ann Masten, a leading expert in resilience, describes it as ‘ordinary magic’ comprising many factors, internal and external, including our everyday capabilities, relationships and resources. It’s not a static characteristic – it varies for all of us. We can each be naturally resilient in some situations or times in our lives and not others.
Importantly many studies from psychology, neuroscience, medicine and other fields show that we can learn skills, practices and habits of thinking that can help to boost and build our resilience. So although life may have unexpected twists and turns, we can develop our skillset and nurture our internal and external resources to help us respond flexibly, effectively deal with challenges, recover more quickly and even learn as a result. This can lower our risk of depression and anxiety and even enable us to age successfully. What’s more the same skills can help us manage the fear of taking on new opportunities and so help us develop and grow in other ways too.
Emotions – Look for what’s good
The positive power of pleasant emotions. They don’t just feel good; they bring positive benefits.
Emotions are more than feelings. They include momentary physiological changes which influence our actions and add up. Whilst unpleasant emotions like fear evolved to help us survive by avoiding danger, for example, by triggering a ‘fight, flight or freeze response, it wasn’t until relatively recently that the power of pleasant emotional experiences was also recognised.
Scientist Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues found that fleeting momentary experiences of pleasant emotions broaden our perceptual fields, causing us to literally see more; to be more open and trusting of others; recognise people from other cultures better; see more options; be more open to ideas; more likely to adapt, and be better at creative problem-solving. Little by little, these moments add up, over time building our psychological and social resources and our resilience for more challenging times too.
Acceptance – Be comfortable with who you are
No one is perfect, yet we often expect ourselves to be! When we learn to accept ourselves we are likely to be happier and better at learning and growing!
How we feel about ourselves can have a big influence on how happy and resilient we are. Accepting that, like all human beings, we have strengths and imperfections, we’ll make mistakes and sometimes fail is an important component of psychological wellbeing. It doesn’t mean we won’t feel bad when we mess up, but we don’t dwell on it as much or beat ourselves up about it. This means we are more able to learn and grow and move on. We are also less likely to feel ashamed and withdraw from others, and it can boost our relationships and compassion towards others.
The good news is research shows we can learn how to accept ourselves more. Developing the skills of self-compassion, a better understanding our strengths, how to use these more, and ways to work with or around our weaknesses can all positively impact our happiness.
This may be even more important now than ever before. Social media makes it very easy to compare how we feel inside about ourselves to how we perceive other people and their lives from the outside. Yet most of us only post the best images of ourselves online. We may even feel we have to edit or filter our photos to make us look how we think we should rather than how we actually are. We seek others’ “likes” to validate the images we’ve posted and feel bad about ourselves if we don’t get enough of these. This can affect us at any age but can be especially damaging when we’re young.
Being more able to know and accept our whole self, to be real rather than trying to be perfect, is a firmer foundation for a happier life at any age.
Meaning – Be part of something bigger
Meaning matters for a fulfilling and happy life. We all matter and can make a difference to something bigger, beyond ourselves.
When we ask people what happiness means to them, their initial thoughts usually describe pleasures – things that in the moment bring joy or other fleeting, positive feeling emotions. However, soon their thoughts turn to a different type of happiness. Friends, family, pets, work, volunteering, learning, hobbies, creative pursuits like making music or art, nature, faith – examples of things that give life meaning. Working on and towards these things doesn’t always feel pleasurable at the time but enables longer-term satisfaction and fulfilment.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, described a form of happiness that he argued was more important than pleasure alone – ‘activities of the soul that are in accord with virtue’, in other words, help us strive towards the best within us. He called this Eudaimonia. Meaning in life is integral to this and alongside pleasure, is incorporated into modern-day psychological theories and models of happiness, wellbeing and flourishing.
Psychologists certainly agree that meaning matters for happiness and there are actions that can help us find or create it. In fact, all the other Keys to Happier Living can contribute to finding and creating meaning in your life.
This article is taken from the Action for Happiness website and you can find tips for how to implement the 10 keys to happiness here.