Guest Post by:
Maureen Griner, Counselor, LMHC, CIMI
So what would make you happy or happier? Would it be a better job? A bigger house? What if you finally lost that last 10 lbs? Or acquired the latest tech gadget?
Research tells us while these things may bring us short term happiness they don’t really impact our overall feelings of happiness or life satisfaction. For example, an increase in income only increases feelings of happiness when it brings you out of poverty and enables you to meet the basic finances of life. Earning more so that you can buy a bigger house, a fancier car and a more brag worthy vacation doesn’t really move long term happiness levels at all!
So what does science tell us we can do to feel happier and just more at peace in our lives overall?
1. Wellness Basics
Eat well, Sleep Well, and Exercise Well
How you take care of your body can have a big impact on you feel on a day to day basis. For example, did you know that numerous studies have shown that regular exercise is just as good or better than medication at treating depression and anxiety?
2. Acts of Kindness
It is easy to get stuck in our struggles and forget that others struggle too. Interesting studies have shown that focusing less on your own happiness and instead focusing on the happiness of your collective group actually makes you happier!! I know it’s a little hard to follow, but it’s pretty easy to do something nice for those around you!
On that same note, people who pay more attention to what they have versus what they don’t have, consistently report greater levels of happiness. Unfortunately, our brains have been programmed to seek out what we are lacking or where danger may lurk. Making a concerted effort to list and share the things (and more importantly the people) that make you feel blessed on a daily basis can train your brain to change its focus.
This may fall in line with the “better job” idea, but truly your purpose does not have to fall in line with what you do for a living. (Though it is obviously a happiness bonus!!) You can also find purpose in your home life, spiritual life, or even in your “hobby” life. When you have a goal that is bigger than you, it is amazing how common life struggles seem much more manageable. Trivial concerns like “do these pants make my look fat” feel so small compared to using your life to make a difference in the world!
5. Experiences over Things
Most of us like new shiny things! But buying the next new shiny gadget won’t keep your happiness levels up for long. Investing your time, energy and resources into meaningful experiences seems to have a much bigger impact on your mood. I mean when you are facing the end of your life are you going to be remembering fondly the time you bought the shiny new thing or the special times you shared with those that matter most?
Honestly, you can forget everything on the list above and just concentrate on this one. The strongest correlation research has ever found with long term happiness is the strength and quality of your close relationships. Even in the face of great hardships, things like terminal illness, financial ruin, or the loss of a loved one, those whom feel loved and supported and feel like they can still give love and support seem to be able to weather the storm. The relationships you nurture don’t have to be perfect! They just need to have an essence of closeness and caring. Perhaps said best by Helen Keller:
“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”