How to Improve Your Happiness – A Beginner’s Guide

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Happiness studies is a growing field of study in the area of the human and social sciences. This article helps you to incorporate some of these findings into your everyday life and so increase your level of happiness.

Think long term

One of the biggest causes of unhappiness is the pursuit of short term happiness. This is a simple truth that is often not appreciated by people: i.e. “I do everything I can to make myself happy so why am I so miserable?” There is a always a quick route to happiness that we can take. For some this might include skipping work, eating fast food, dropping household chores and going for a drink. The problem with short term strategies is that this is just what they are: ‘short term’. They also lack the depth of true fulfillment and can additionally sabotage your long term feelings of well-being. So the first thing to come to terms with in improving your happiness is distinguishing between the short and long term. Take a look at what you do to make yourself feel good and ask yourself whether these things help or hinder your long term happiness.

Exercise and rest

One of the issues to appreciate when looking at happiness levels is how much your physical state contributes to your emotional and psychological well-being. There are physiological reasons why exercise promotes happiness, such as the release of endorphins in the brain. There is also the simple and pragmatic truth that if you are fit you are much better at handling stress. Exercise and rest are also important for getting good sleep at night; and sleep is important, not only for rejuvenating oneself but also because when we are sleep-deprived it’s all too easy to get problems out of proportion – and this can easily bring us down.

Life coaches often report that there are two types of people: those who are good at exercise and those who are good at rest. The former tend to push themselves too hard and the latter don’t push hard enough. If you can master the balance between the two then you have taken a significant step towards greater happiness.

Discover your place in the world

Human beings are social animals. It is important for us to have a sense of belonging whether this be to a community, a tribe or one’s family. Zoologists have shown that when chimpanzees – our nearest relatives – are deprived of social contact they experience depression, listlessness and a tendency to self-harm. When they are returned to their tribe these symptoms subside. Experimenters have also shown that chimps experience anxiety when there is uncertainty about exactly where they belong in the social hierarchy. The next step then in improving happiness is to pay attention to your place in the world. Do you fit in at work for instance? It may be a great job but do you have a feeling of community with your colleagues? Do you have a family or group of friends you could spend more time with? Are your relationships healthy? Is there any unfinished business between you and a member of your family?

Do what you love

This one seems like a ‘head-slapping’ obvious one but you would be surprised how many people don’t get round to doing what they really love doing. There are 8,760 hours in every year but we often don’t find the time to go fishing, get a massage or simply take a walk. We wouldn’t treat our dog like that, so why deprive ourselves? This stuff is really important because if you don’t give yourself ‘me time’ then you don’t recharge, and if you don’t recharge you don’t use your time effectively. Of course there is the issue for some of “I don’t know what I love.” The answer to that is that finding out can be a lot of fun and a bit of an adventure. Just remember to be honest with yourself and not try to do things you think you ought to love because your friends, family or colleagues do; or because you think these activities suit who you think you are – but really aren’t! Just stick to the things that bring you genuine peace and joy.

Be compassionate

The Dalai Lama once said “If you want to make other people happy, be compassionate. If you want to make yourself happy, be compassionate.” What he means is that caring for other people actually brings you happiness. The reason this works may simply be that we are social animals, hard-wired to look out for one another, and our programming is such that doing this gives us a sense of well-being. Or it may be as the Dalai Lama and other gurus would suggest is something to do with the deep spiritual meaning in loving one’s fellow human beings. Either way it has been shown in surveys of human behavior that those who score highly in caring for others also rate above average in levels of well-being. So what are you waiting for: be selfish and look out for others!

Eliminate what makes you unhappy –

In a recent research by a Cambridge University professor it was found that there are three over-riding causes of unhappiness. These are:

  • Hanging out with the wrong people It seems who we mix with bears heavily on how we feel. It’s not just kids that can hang out with a bad crowd: we can all do it. Other people’s world view can have a significant influence on our own feelings. If you mix with people who have a negative attitude about life, themselves or you, this is bound on some level to bring you down. Spending time with people because they’re cool rather than because you care about each other is a bad choice.
  • Following the wrong path in life The correlation between people reporting that their life is heading in the wrong direction and feeling depressed is very strong. Feeling you are moving towards your destiny and purpose in life is very important; even if it is at a snail’s pace. The opposite of this is to feel out of control or even worthless. The key here is that it’s not about how fast you’re moving or even whether you will arrive; it’s more about just taking the journey.
  • Moving at a self damaging pace It is a particular phenomenon of the modern age that people push themselves hard to achieve goals. The consequent harm of this can be seen in ill health, particularly high levels of stress; in a sense of inner disquiet rather than peace; and in our relationships. So our final tip in this guide to happiness is to take a serious look at the pace of your life and to ask yourself whether this may be doing you some harm. Question whether it’s worth it and if you maybe could improve your happiness by pressing on the brakes a little.

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