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10 key elements for a happier life (according to experts)

happy woman

Happiness is not a far-fetched idea reserved for the rich and famous.

Everyday Joe’s find happiness all the time through a dedication to themselves, their lives, and the pursuit of what this life may bring.

You might think you’ll find “money” at the top of this list, as there is a real assumption that money makes people happy.

Sure, money can certainly help you buy things and experiences to make you happy, but if you look at your life right now, where you are, what you have, you might find ways to be happier too.

It doesn’t take much for people to be happy. The first step is to let yourself pursue happiness. The second step is to try implementing these easy suggestions so that you can create a life worth being happy about!

1) Stop taking things for granted.

One of the easiest ways to become happier in your life is to stop taking what you already have for granted.

The Harvard Health Blog says that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”

“Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

A major difference between happy and unhappy people is the ability to appreciate what they have.

In fact, a white paper by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkely says that people who consciously count what they’re grateful may have better physical and mental health:

“Research suggests that gratitude may be associated with many benefits for individuals, including better physical and psychological health, increased happiness and life satisfaction, decreased materialism, and more.”

Furthermore, gratitude may also encourage pro-social behavior:

“This suggests that practicing gratitude changes the brain in a way that orients people to feel more rewarded when other people benefit, which could help explain why gratitude encourages prosocial behavior.”

Sure, you might hate your job, but at least you have a job. Taking a different outlook on your situation will help you see that you already have so much to be happy about.

2) Learn to be agile.

Happier people aren’t rigid and don’t follow a strict routine.

Getting up at 5 am to work on your novel might sound like am an ambitious goal that will make you happy, but if you are someone who prefers to sleep until 10 am, it will not.

According to Psychology Today, a key component of happy people is “psychological flexibility”.

This is “mental shifting between pleasure and pain, the ability to modify behavior to match a situation’s demands”.

This is important because you can’t control everything in life. There are always going to be situations and challenges that pop up out of nowhere.

Psychology Today says that flexible thinking gives you the flexibility to tolerate discomfort:

“The ability to tolerate the discomfort that comes from switching mindsets depending on whom we’re with and what we’re doing allows us to get optimal results in every situation.”

It’s also beneficial to learn to tolerate negative emotions and uncomfortable situations.

According to Noam Shpancer Ph.D. in Psychology Today one of the “main causes of many psychological problems could be the habit of emotional avoidance”.

Noam Shpancer Ph.D. says that avoiding a negative emotion buys you short term gain at the price of long term pain.

Here’s why:

“When you avoid the short term discomfort of a negative emotion, you resemble the person who under stress decides to drink. It “works,” and the next day, when bad feelings come, he drinks again. So far so good, in the short term. In the long run, however, that person will develop a bigger problem (addiction), in addition to the unresolved issues he had avoided by drinking.”

Noam Schpancer explains that emotional acceptance is a better strategy than avoidance for four reasons:

1) By accepting your emotions, you are “accepting the truth of your situation. This means you don’t have to spend your energy pushing the emotion away.
2) Learning to accept an emotion gives you an opportunity to learn about it, become familiar with it and get better skilled at its management.
3) Experiencing negative emotions is annoying, but not dangerous – and eventually much less of a drag than continually avoiding them.
4) Accepting a negative emotion causes it to lose its destructive power. Accepting an emotion allows it to run its course while you run yours.

(To learn techniques to accept your emotions and live more in the present moment, check out my eBook on the Art of Mindfulness here)

3) Be curious.

Fall in love with learning about yourself, the world around you, and the people in your life.

There is more information out there than you could ever possibly use, but the pursuit of knowledge is certainly one that will bring happiness in your life.

In a brilliant article in The Guardian, it argues the case that curiosity might have an intrinsic link to a happier existence.

What is curiosity?

According to Associate Professor Dr. Maria Kangas of Macquarie University’s Department of Psychology, “We think of curiosity as openness to exploring one’s environment, being broad-minded and being open to new experiences and learning opportunities”.

Curiosity may lead to more happiness for a couple of reasons.

According to Kanga, “Curious people ask questions, they read more and, in doing so, significantly broaden their horizons.”

Also, “Curious people connect with others on a far deeper level, including strangers…They ask questions, then actively listen and absorb the information instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.”

4) Remember how to play.

Let yourself be silly. Adults forget how to play, and only allow it in formalized ways.

In his book Play, psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”

In the book, he says that play is essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve and more.

Dr. Brown says that play is how we prepare for the unexpected, find new solutions and keep our optimism.

The truth is, when we engage in play and have fun, it brings joy and is helpful for improving our relationships.

So kick off your shoes and get your feet wet in the river. Get dirty. Eat ice cream. Who cares how many calories there are in it.

5) Try new things.

Give yourself permission to go out and experience the world around you. It’s huge!

There are things you have never done right in your own backyard. Try something new and watch yourself be happier.

Psychologist Rich Walker of Winston-Salem State University looked at over 500 diaries and 30,000 event memories and concluded that people who engage in a variety of different experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones.

According to Alex Lickerman M.D. in Psychology Today:

“Thrusting yourself into new situations and leaving yourself there alone, so to speak, often forces beneficial change. A spirit of constant self-challenge keeps you humble and open to new ideas that very well may be better than the ones you currently hold dear (this happens to me all the time).”

6) Serve others.

There is a Chinese saying that goes:

“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

For years, some of the greatest thinkers have suggested that happiness is found in helping others.

Research is also suggesting that this is the case. A summary of existing data on altruism and its relation to physical and mental health had this to say in its conclusion:

“The essential conclusion of this article is that a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally kind and compassionate in their charitable helping activities—as long as they are not overwhelmed, and here world view may come into play.”

We often look inward for our own happiness meters, but often serving the needs of other people is enough to make us feel happy in an outward way.

If you turn your attention to helping someone else, a friend or family member perhaps, then you take the burden of happiness away from yourself and try to make someone else’s life better.

In turn, you get to feel pleasure from helping them and they get to feel happier from your help. It’s a win-win.

Yet, more and more people are focusing on how to make themselves happy without regard for how they can help bring happiness into the lives of others; missing the opportunity to indirectly make themselves happy.

[To dive deep into self-help techniques you can use to improve yourself, check out my no-nonsense guide to using eastern philosophy for a mindful and peaceful life here].

7) Experience life.

If you want to be happy, you need to get out there and see what the world has to offer. You aren’t going to find happiness sitting on your couch binge-watching television.

It might bring you momentary enjoyment, but it doesn’t add to your happiness factor.

And if you are on a mission to find things that make you happy, that requires getting up and getting out.

Experience, regardless of age, makes people happy.

Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been researching the effect of experience on happiness for two decades. Gilovich says

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Young people often feel stifled in life because of a lack of funds and society’s expectations that they need to struggle before they can relax.

Society has it all wrong. Live your life right now. Stop waiting for later.

Say you are happy.

It might seem trite, but it helps a lot to just walk around believing you are already happy.

You deserve all that you want in this life, but you need to believe it. Nobody is going to make you happy.

No object, thing, experience, advice, or purchase will make you happy. You can make yourself happy if you believe it.

According to Jeffrey Berstein Ph.D. in Psychology Today, trying to find happiness outside yourself is misguided as “happiness based on achievements does not last long.”

Look for things in your life to be grateful about and you’ll find that happiness comes easier and easier with time. It is a process.

You won’t just wake up happy, although you could. We think our emotions are controlled by external sources, but it’s our thoughts that control how we feel.

If you want to be happy, really happy, stop waiting for things to make you happy and be grateful right now.

According to Unstuck, one of the easiest ways to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal.

Every morning you could write down a few things that you’re grateful for in your life. Get in the routine and you’ll be more appreciative by the day.

8) Work on your relationships

There’s a reason why human beings are drawn to one another: we belong together.

Whether you find a close friend to confide in or you have found the love of your life, having someone to love beyond yourself is an ingredient in the happiness recipe.

Having a few close relationships has been shown to make us happier while we’re young, and has been shown to improve quality of life and help us live longer.

So, how many friends?

About 5 close relationships, according to the book Finding Flow:

“National surveys find that when someone claims to have 5 or more friends with whom they can discuss important problems, they are 60 percent more likely to say that they are ‘very happy’.”

Giving of yourself to someone else is not only rewarding for them, but also for you.

If you let yourself be loved, that simple change can make a big difference in how you show up in the world and how you see your value. That can improve your happiness ten-fold.

9) Don’t try so hard.

An interesting thing happens sometimes when we focus our energy on a particular goal: we push it away.

The same can be said of trying to be happier.

When we fall back or lose our footing, it’s a great example of how we think we aren’t capable and not worthy of being happy, so we basically make our worst-case scenario come true!

But if you stop focusing on the need to be happy all the time and allow yourself to live life as it comes, you’ll prevent the sabotaging ways that many people employ when they feel happiness getting closer.

Susanna Newsonen MAPP explains why in Psychology Today:

“The chase is making people anxious. It’s making people overwhelmed. It’s making people feel pressure that they have to be happy, all the time. This is a big problem, but luckily it’s a solvable one.”

She says that happiness is not about being happy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s about having the full human experience, including positive and negative emotions.

10) Get your heart pumping.

Want to feel happier? Get out and go for a run or head to the gym for some exercise. Get your heart pumping and feel the endorphins rushing through your body. They’ll make you happy!

The Harvard Health Blog says that aerobic exercise is key for your head, just as it is for your heart:

“Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It’s a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. If athletes and patients can derive psychological benefits from exercise, so can you.”

According to Harvard Health, exercise works because it reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.

It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood elevators.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a drag and can, in fact, make you feel like a million bucks when the cards are stacked against you.

So get out and do more with that body of yours besides sitting on the couch waiting for your ship to come in. You deserve to be happy. Let yourself be happy!

(If you’re looking for a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).

Do you want to live a more mindful life?

The daily application of mindfulness can dramatically improve your health and wellbeing, and lead to greater success in all areas of your life.

Hack Spirit's eBook, The Art of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Living in the Moment, is the perfect introduction to mindfulness. You’ll learn what “mindfulness” really is, and uncover a set of simple yet powerful techniques to bring mindfulness into your everyday life.

Check out our most popular eBook here.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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