Are you tired of feeling like life is wearing you down? Do you look at other people and wonder why they seem so well-adjusted and content with their surroundings?
We all want to be happy, but so many of us focus on the wrong methods to attempt to boost our happiness. And when we focus on the wrong methods, we tend to feel frustrated, resentful, and even angry by our efforts!
Happiness isn’t random, and it isn’t some mystical destination. Likewise, some people aren’t just “lucky” and naturally experience happiness at all times. After all, we all experience life’s ups and downs - we all experience a wide range of human emotions.
But choosing happiness - and learning what factors influence your happiness - can help you improve your mental health.
Understanding The Set Point of Happiness
Research in positive psychology suggests the notion of set-point happiness. This theory postulates that we all have a homeostasis determining our normal mood and temperament. This baseline establishes the average amount of happiness we experience on a given day.
Overly exciting events (weddings, vacations, getting a promotion) can increase our happiness, and overly negative events (death, conflicts with a spouse, financial stress) can decrease it. However, these fluctuations tend to be temporary. Our minds and bodies return us to homeostasis relatively quickly.
However, many of us sabotage our happiness by obsessing on the extreme ends of the spectrum. We believe that those overly exciting events will keep us extremely happy and fulfilled for a long time. Our consumerist society taps into this fallacy. If you buy a new car, you’ll be happy! If you purchase this new skin product, you’ll feel beautiful (and, therefore, happy!). It's the unmet expectation of happiness that tends to make us feel disappointed and sad.
Making things worse, we also tend to fear, dwell, and obsess over the potential of negative events happening. All that doom and gloom does a number on our feelings of happiness. The good news is, while our moods are affected by adversity, we humans are resilient. Our moods tend to bounce back faster than we think they will.
Hacking Your Set Point of Happiness
You may question if it’s worth even trying to fix your happiness level if it’s already allegedly set in stone. However, research shows that your genetics may account for only about 40% of your set point, other factors can help influence the rest.
Have you ever noticed how wonderful it feels to help someone in need? Or how you feel better after donating money to charity? It’s not random. Spending time giving your time to others is one of the best ways to increase your long-term satisfaction and happiness.
While the science on this phenomenon isn’t exact, some theories suggest that, by creating more value for ourselves for other people, the more purpose we feel. Having a sense of purpose makes us feel fulfilled, which can make us feel happier overall.
Cherishing Your Relationships
Our social connections are just as essential for us as any other daily medicine we take. People who report enjoyable relationships with friends and family are physically healthier and live longer than those who feel less connected.
Just remember that this is a quality vs. quantity game. When it comes to your social group, it’s better to have a few really close-knit companions than a dozen acquaintances you barely know.
Challenging Negative Thoughts
How many self-deprecating or critical thoughts do you experience on a given day? If you are like most people, your mind races with negativity all day long.
Learning how to identify, challenge, and reframe these thoughts can help you feel more balanced and confident - both of which can help boost your happiness. Practice by asking yourself, how is this thought helping me? What is a better way to look at this situation?
Gratitude keeps us present. Even when the day becomes turbulent, the art of practicing gratitude reminds us of all the positivity we have in our lives. Aim to identify and also write down what you appreciate each day. Gratitude is an exercise; the more you practice cultivating the habit, the more second-nature it will become.
Research shows that spending time outdoors can do profound wonders for your health and happiness. Even spending just 20 minutes of being in nature is enough to boost your well-being and reduce your stress levels. Consider taking your next job at the local park or eating dinner with your family out on the backyard patio.
Being Realistic With Choosing Happiness
Choosing happiness isn’t synonymous with being happy all the time. In fact, having the expectation that you should be happy all the time will be the very thing that guarantees you won't. Life throws us many curveballs, and we’re not wired to feel happy when difficult events occur. Instead look at those curveballs as part of life, and handle them when they come.
Healthy people honor their emotional states. They trust that challenging emotions like sadness, anger, or guilt will arise and also pass. The more you can accept your feelings, the more you start to accept yourself and your surroundings - which naturally makes you happier!
If you’re struggling with a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, it can feel impossible to harness joy. Moreover, common issues like low self-esteem, difficult relationships, or a history of trauma can also make happiness feel like an impossible or far-fetched goal.
Therapy can help you with the roadblocks impacting your happiness. We can work together to process these barriers and create new systems for deeper life fulfillment.