Sometimes it’s difficult for us to feel happy, be it because of the unrealistic standards of beauty and perfection we impose on ourselves, or the negativity we surround ourselves with. It could also be due to the fear of failure embedded deep within our subconscious, or our inability to form friendships and meaningful communities as we grow older. There are several unhelpful habits or tendencies we ingrain that can make us miserable and unhappy. Thankfully, researchers maintain that it’s possible to intervene and cultivate happiness through will and a proper framework. By following the 10 keys to happiness, you could maximize your potential for a lifetime full of joy and contentment.
Happiness means different things to different people. The interesting news, however, is that our happiness is not set in stone. In her ground-breaking book The How of Happiness, researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky points out that while 50 per cent of our happiness is predetermined by our genetic makeup and personality traits, and 10 per cent of our personal happiness is determined by our circumstances and life experiences, about 40 per cent of our happiness can be chosen willfully by us, and depends largely on our daily actions.
This goes to prove that while we cannot change our genes or predict the future, a significant portion of our happiness can be controlled by us. Unfortunately, our pursuit of happiness – as a society and on an individual level – can become very misguided.
Indeed, technological advancements and the pursuit of materialism propagated by media messages may advocate happiness based on our material choices. Psychologist Barry Schwartz addresses this erroneous pursuit of happiness in his book The Paradox of Choice, wherein he points out that the plethora of choices we have available today due to surge in consumerism can do more harm than good, even resulting in conditions like anxiety and depression.
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”, articulates the Dalai Lama, who is also the patron of the charity Action for Happiness. While everyone’s idea of happiness may be different, Action for Happiness has identified 10 ‘keys’ to happiness, or practices that can consistently lead to a more fulfilling and happier life.
While the first five keys to happiness described here refer to our interactions with the outside world (Great), the latter five keys to happiness describe the traits that originate within us and are determined by our attitude towards life (Dream).
There is an overwhelming amount of research that deems exercise a vital key to happiness and well-being. A Yale study conducted on over 1.2 million Americans concludes that exercise is more important for our mental health than money. You need not run a marathon to be healthy and happy – opt for an activity of your preference that suits your health goals and lifestyle. Indulge in mindful running, unplug from technology with periodic forest bathing, or simply swap escalator commutes with stairs.
Keeping fit is one of the main keys to happiness shutterstock/Lordn
Eating right can contribute towards better health and happiness too. A balanced diet consisting of whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit, lean poultry and healthy fats can help you achieve your health goals faster. Opt for foods which promote gut health instead of processed or junk food options for improved mood, better metabolism and to keep disease at bay.
“We’re happiest when we focus on the present moment, and the least happy when the mind is wandering”, reveals researcher Matt Killingsworth. Mindfulness refers to being in a state of awareness and taking notice of the present intentionally and with complete acceptance. Studies show that practising mindfulness can help manage stress levels, in addition to activating the areas of our brains related to feeling good.
Mindfulness can be developed using simple measures – start by paying attention to your feelings and thoughts as frequently throughout the day as possible. Meditation, mindful minute practices, and gratitude journaling can help in expanding awareness as well.
Research by Journal of Happiness Studies revealed that people who work on learning a new skill or honing an existing skill tend to experience greater happiness consistently. Interestingly, learning something new can be stressful and lower your happiness levels momentarily. However, the joy of acquiring or mastering a new skill can fulfill your need for autonomy or being self-directed, thus rewarding you with long-term happiness.
“There is an overwhelming amount of research that deems exercise a vital key to happiness and well-being. A Yale study concluded that exercise is more important for our mental health than money.”
Indeed, it’s important to find a suitable skill to master, or the right challenge to undertake that’ll allow you to push beyond your comfort zone yet enable you to find your flow state. Researchers also found that skills chosen by you offer better results in terms of improved self-esteem and a heightened sense of connection or ‘oneness’ with others.
Random acts of kindness are not just beneficial for others – in fact, caring for others’ happiness activates the areas linked to trust, enjoyment and social connection in our brains as well. An experiment involving seven-day kindness activities concluded that kindness is a vital key to happiness, whether extended to people who are close to you, complete strangers or even yourself. Doing things for others can help alleviate social anxiety, improve your mood and prevent illness, thus enabling you to lead a healthy, meaningful life.
Human beings are social animals, and hence it’s hardly surprising when researchers found that forming meaningful connections and embracing community is one of the core values we associate with happiness. Indeed, the importance of a community as a key to happiness cannot be underestimated. In addition to the safety and support, we also derive the much-needed sense of togetherness and belonging when we find others who have the same values and interests as us.
Meaningful friendships are essential for joy shutterstock/santypan
Scientists agree that interacting with strangers, thus bolstering our ‘weak social ties’ also impacts our well-being positively. Take some time to connect with those who serve you coffee, your cab driver, or a friendly face you encounter during your daily strolls. Gestures like passing a casual compliment, wishing someone a good day, chatting with an elderly neighbor over a cuppa can make a world of difference to someone who’s been feeling down or struggling with loneliness.
Self-acceptance forms an important cornerstone for our mental health and well-being, yet it’s a routine that we tend to practice the least, as revealed in a survey conducted by Action For Happiness. While acceptance was rated as the strongest predictor of life satisfaction and happiness amidst all the other traits and habits, only 5% of the respondents admitted to being kind to themselves and believed that they were perfect the way they were.
RELATED: 12 ways to practise self-acceptance
Practising acceptance as a habit can be difficult at first, but it’s possible to be good to yourself by shifting your perspective. Indeed, embracing imperfections as your unique traits and acknowledging your strengths –however insignificant they seem – can be a crucial key to happiness.
Happiness doesn’t happen spontaneously – it requires planning and action towards pursuing things that matter to us. Goal setting is an important key to happiness, since it forms the outline for the life you envision for yourself. It’s important to set goals to look forward to – not only can proactive goal setting ensure fulfilment of your life ambitions and vision, following an actionable plan and achieving timebound targets using SMART goal setting can boost self-confidence and eliminate stress and anxiety.
All of us may have faced hardships, loss and trauma along our way, and since our brains are wired for negativity bias, we tend to remember the adverse events in our lives as compared to the positive experiences. However, by changing our perspective and looking at hardships as stepping stones towards personal growth and success, we can learn to take back power every time we feel defeated by life. Indeed, building resilience can boost positive thinking, strengthen connections, and improve stress management skills.
“The importance of a community as a key to happiness cannot be underestimated. In addition to the safety and support, we also derive the much-needed sense of togetherness and belonging.”
In fact, researcher Dr Ann Masten describes resilience as ‘ordinary magic’ derived from everyday situations and resources, that helps us adapt better during hardships. There is surmounting scientific evidence that developing resilience as a life skill and finding ways to bounce back from adversities can contribute immensely to our well-being and happiness.
“Just as water lilies retract when sunlight fades, so do our minds when positivity fades”, states researcher Barbara Fredrickson in her book Positivity. Indeed, research suggests that experiencing ‘upward spirals of positive emotions’ like gratitude, joy, interest etc. more often allows us to counteract the downward spirals of negative emotions like stress, jealousy etc. Gratitude journaling, smiling more often, finding ways to incorporate awe into your life are some easy ways to boost positivity.
Learning a new skill can be fulfilling shutterstock/Syda Productions
Feeling connected to something larger than ourselves or possessing a sense of purpose in life is linked with greater life satisfaction, improved self-esteem, lasting relationships, and a more optimistic attitude. Leading a meaningful life could seem like a complicated process, but you can begin by prioritizing activities that bring you joy and a strong sense of purpose, like volunteering, networking for a cause, or trying to make a difference in others’ lives.
The key to happiness here is to understand where your calling lies and set out to follow your bliss. ‘Life Crafting’, or the process of reflecting on your strengths and interests, and aligning them with your vision, passion and desires, can be used as the framework for setting goals conducive to the meaningful life you wish to lead.
“It is work to be happy”, says psychologist Barry Schwartz. Indeed, there’s more to happiness than feeling good about pleasurable things, but the good news is that it can be cultivated by consistently encouraging the 10 keys to happiness or happy habits listed above into our lives.
Instead of trying to implement all the keys to happiness at once, try reflecting on what each individual key means for you, and devise ways to implement them using simple action plan, to be able to lead a rewarding and happier life.
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Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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