Over 2700 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle said that the purpose of human existence is to achieve happiness. Flash forward to 1776, when the United States of America proclaims in the Declaration of Independence that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right.
So what is happiness?
Happiness is the ultimate currency… the definitive measure on one’s quality of life. All we really have in our life are moments, and it is the sum quality of those moments on which a good or not-so-good life is determined.
The wealthy will be the first to tell you that money will not make you happy. As a matter of fact, it has been proven that once a person’s basic needs are met, there is almost no correlation between income and overall joy.
A quick read through the news reveals a litany of famous and powerful people who are miserable. So no, happiness is not power, fame or fortune. It’s about experiencing positive emotions, doing things you love, finding meaning in your life, as well as being around people who make you feel alive. At the heart of it, isn’t that what we all really want?
If you believe in the importance of being happy, then everything you do in life should be focused on reaching that end goal. In our research, we concluded that most self-improvement efforts fail or come up short at making us happier. This is reflected in the alarming statistics on anxiety, depression, suicide and violence. In a world of greater and greater knowledge and opportunity, the human condition is in decline.
So how do we turn the tides?
While the problem is complex and multifaceted, a part of the answer is very simple. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania performed a study that assessed the impact of the many approaches to improving one’s life. The study identified three things you can do that work and will make you happier the moment you start. As a matter of fact, these are the only consistently, successful approaches to improving your quality of life.
Here are 3 ways you can be happier NOW:
1 – Practice Gratefulness
You’ve heard it said that energy flows where attention goes. In other words, the things we focus on are the things that expand in our lives. Set your mind on the good things in your life, and you will get more of the positives in return. Focus on the negatives, and you will likely find yourself on a downward spiral.
Studies show that simply writing in a gratitude journal for a few minutes each day has an impact on mood consistent with the leading, prescribed anti-depressants. Research also shows that this practice can add 7 years of life–better than regular exercise or the cessation of smoking. So practice gratitude by writing it down or saying it out loud. Take time to recognize all of life’s little gifts that happen during the normal course of your day. You’ll be grateful that you did!
2 – Serve Others
Have you ever noticed how the nicest people seem to be the happiest? It’s intuitive that the more we give others, the more we are likely to get in return. The hidden benefit of serving is the immediate infusion of greater happiness and meaning into your life.
In our work with at-risk youth, one of the most empowering things we do is involve them in serving others. For many, it is the first time they realize they have the capacity to help another human being. Studies show that people who serve others live longer, experience greater joy, suffer less and live a much healthier life.
This does not mean that you have to start a charity (although you certainly can!). It simply means incorporate serving others more into you life. Even when you are a late for an appointment, let someone out in front of you in traffic. Giving a friend a compliment or opening a door for someone are great ways to raise their mood and yours. And the easiest of all… make eye contact and smile. Take a moment to disengage from your electronic device and re-engage with humankind. You never know when that simple gesture will change the course of someone’s day. Not only do you experience the positive benefit by these acts of service, but you also make the world a better place in the process.
3 – Be More Thoughtful
Whenever I am asked advice from individuals who are suffering, my first recommendation is for them to meditate or pray–whichever they prefer. For those suffering or experiencing anxiety or depression, mediating or praying will start the healing process.
Taking those recommendations a step further, develop in yourself the ability to be thoughtful or mindful. Being present prevents you from regretting the past or worrying about the future. It also allows you to pull more of the wonderful richness of life out of the moments you have.
Other practices to bring you into the moment include listening to or playing music, gardening, participating in a sport, or reading. Take time to discover what works to keep you in the present.
The past is history, and the future has not happened. All you have is this moment so use it to find greater happiness.
There is an ancient saying that “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” Much of the sorrow we experience in life is the product of our thinking or mindsets. An effective anecdote to sadness or disengagement is purposeful action that gently moves us forward in a positive direction. Practicing gratitude, serving others, and developing mindfulness are the simplest and quickest actions you can take to experience an immediate boost in happiness… and perhaps, the most profound long-term.