Some people seem to go through life with a constant smile on their face.
It’s almost as though they were born with a naturally cheerful disposition.
For sure, genetics do play a part in your temperament. But the rest is down to us.
This is something I learned the hard way.
Growing up I was pretty negative and pessimistic — and it made me miserable.
Slowly I learned to find my joy.
And at the risk of sounding like a total cliche, it wasn’t something I found externally. It was something I discovered within.
It was the slow and steady habits that I practiced and cultivated over many years that turned me into a far more optimistic, hopeful and joyful person.
It’s a mix of mindset shifts and practical tools that are scientifically shown to improve well-being.
I’d like to share with you in this article some of those happiness hacks. I hope they help bring more joy into your life too.
1) Happy people aren’t forever chasing happiness
When I was 15, depressed and with a bleak outlook on life, I was sent to see a psychologist to try to get to the bottom of why I was feeling so low.
One of the most powerful things she said to me was this:
“Happiness is an extreme emotion. Contentment is what you should aim for”.
That’s the thing about our pursuit of happiness I guess. It’s a lot to live up to.
Real life isn’t perfect. It’s a blend of the good and the bad, the joy and the sadness.
If we expect ourselves to feel eternally happy, that can easily turn into toxic positivity.
At the very least it’s going to end up with a lot of disappointment.
Instead, isn’t it easier and more realistic to try to find the extraordinary within the ordinary?
Rather than put pressure on ourselves to be joyous, why can’t we just appreciate the average?
If this isn’t sounding very inspiring, bear with me.
Because as author and coach Michael Neill explains in his book ‘Super Coach’, this reframe might be the understated secret to happiness:
“I remember saying goodbye to my friend and colleague Steve Chandler once when he said to me ‘Have an average day!’ A bit taken aback, I asked him what he meant. After all, isn’t the idea to have ‘great’ days, or even exceptional ones?”
Neill then goes on to explain that a constant striving to be exceptional can end up leaving us:
“feeling like failures for not being ‘enough’—’good enough’, ‘special enough’, ‘rich enough’ or ‘even happy enough’.”
My point is that happiness as an emotion tends to be fleeting in nature — and that’s ok.
The more we grasp at it, the more elusive it can feel.
You find a more stable form of joy in life when you focus instead on seeking contentment.
This helps you feel happier with what you already have, rather than feeling like it’s never enough.
2) Happy people consistently take responsibility for improving their own life
One thing is for sure, if you want to find your joy, it’s down to you.
That certainly doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t lean on others along the way.
No man is an island. Community and connection are really important. We don’t have to go it alone.
But at the same time, your life isn’t going to improve whilst you sit around and wait for someone else to come along and save you.
If the answer to finding your own joy lives inside you, you’re the only one who has access to it.
In my case, I knew that my mindset needed a makeover.
I realized that I had to shift the framework I was using in order to see the world differently. And that was going to be down to me.
So I started doing the things that have been shown to help you have a more positive and healthy outlook on life.
- Questioning negative beliefs
- Mindful movement (like yoga, Pilates, tai chi, qigong)
- Cultivating gratitude for everything you have
- Striving for a growth mindset
Time and time again in my pursuit of joy I’ve encountered the exact same reality:
The buck stops with you.
Of course, things happen to us that are not our fault and that we have zero control over. I’m not trying to diminish the impact that can have.
But rather than blaming other things—people, events, life in general — the happiest people are busy looking towards themselves.
They know that is where the solutions will be found. They trust that they have the answers for building a better life.
They know the only way to see results is by putting in the work rather than waiting to win the life lottery.
3) Happy people pay attention to what is right in front of them
So if we’ve already established that happiness is always going to be fleeting, how can you continue to cultivate it?
As I’ve already alluded to, rather than always seeking more, it’s about slowing down and noticing what is already right under your nose.
Joyful people have tapped into the wonders to be found in the everyday miracles.
It might be enjoying a morning coffee in bed.
It could be taking a walk in nature.
Or it might be savoring some well-needed peace and quiet once the kids are in bed.
Mindfulness is what helps us to focus our attention on the so-called average things in life.
And when you do, you realize that maybe they’re not so average after all.
That in fact, just as much joy is to be found in the little moments, as long as you pay attention.
Because the truth is that you are the one creating that joy anyway —whether it’s the joy you feel about getting a promotion or the joy you feel being given a nice cup of tea.
The emotions of gratitude, contentment, and peace of mind are always created from within.
4) Happy people don’t neglect the basics
If I don’t get enough sleep, the chances of me being a joyful delight to be around the next day are significantly lower.
In fact, I’ll admit it — I’m a real pain in the ass.
At the end of the day, there is no getting away from the basics of biology.
The better you take care of your body, the better you’re going to feel emotionally, not just physically.
I’m certainly not going to pretend I’m a Saint and my body is a temple.
But you’ve probably noticed that when you eat better, move your body and get plenty of rest — you feel happier.
It’s something backed up by research.
Studies have found that getting enough shut-eye improves your brain performance, mood, and health.
Scientists also say people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional well-being, and lower rates of mental illness.
And what about diet?
Well, a nutrient-rich diet reduces your risk of mood swings.
Research has even shown that cutting out processed foods and eating mainly whole foods can help improve depression and anxiety.
According to Harvard Medical School, at least part of your joy might well live in your gut:
“Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.”
5) Happy people cultivate self-love
How can you be happy when you live with someone who is constantly criticizing and telling you you’re not good enough?
And there is no getting away from that person when it’s your own inner critic.
For many years the thing that kept me away from my joy was that I didn’t really like myself.
No matter what wonderful things happen to you in life, you cannot find your joy without self-love.
Learning to accept yourself for who you are is the biggest gift you can give yourself.
It’s ok to strive to be better, but we need to have self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-respect as we do it.
And that can be difficult.
Perfectionism, negative self-talk, guilt, and self-blame — there are lots of things that can stand in the way of us showing ourselves the love we deserve.
The happiest people in life have cracked this whole self-love thing.
They strive to:
- Prioritize their own wellbeing
- Be kind to themselves
- Stay true to themselves
- Create healthy boundaries
- Practice forgiveness and non-judgment toward themselves
As soon as I created the firm foundations of self-love in my life, I found it easier to tap into my own source of joy.
6) Happy people don’t make it all about them
Sometimes I know I’m guilty of self-indulgence.
Perhaps rather ironically, my pursuit of self-improvement means I get fixated on looking inwards.
I need to remind myself that a really big part of life (and finding fulfillment) is more to do with other people.
I haven’t met one person who isn’t looking for purpose. We seem to have an internal drive to seek meaning and motivation.
Research has shown that one of the quickest ways to achieve that is through being of service.
Rather than constantly thinking about ourselves, we feel good when we focus on others.
“Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.”