How can you be happy? It’s a question that has perplexed philosophers, theologians, psychologists and the rest of us.
Why? Often, it’s because we don’t understand what happiness actually is. Most people in our society now sincerely believe that happiness is hedonism, brief physical or mental satisfaction or pleasure. But pursuing this counterfeit happiness only compounds anxiety, emptiness, despair and financial problems.
Intractable unhappiness has caused us to turn to compulsive behaviors like substance abuse and other self-destructive indulgences.
True happiness is a state of mind that comes from a sense of well-being, contentment and inner peace. That fundamentally comes from living a life of noble purpose. In addition, here are seven practical things you can do to be happier.
1) Create Happiness Habits
Much of what we do stems from habits. Happy people and miserable people have markedly different habits. We are what we repeatedly do, so if we make happiness a conscious part of our personality, we begin to see possibilities and joy in all situations. Instead of negativity, practice kindness. Instead of being hard-hearted, be compassionate. Instead of having malice, be forgiving. Take a realistic inventory of how you’re doing.
It takes effort to establish these habits. If you find your foot coming off the gas, push down hard again. The more habitual these actions become, the more resilient you will be, and resilience is a key to cultivating a happy life.
2) Ditch Materialism
Most of us believe to some extent that more money, a better job or a bigger house would substantially make us happier. Most of us already have what we need, we just want more.
Giving up your cell phone, getting rid of satellite television, or selling the second car is an unimaginable scenario for many. The more we acquire, as surveys show, the more we lose our ability to understand that luxuries are not necessities.
In his booklet The Seven Laws of Success, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that “happiness is not material, and money is not its source.” Happiness is a state of mind, which explains why people with very little can still be very happy.
There simply is no clear linear relationship between happiness and wealth. They can often be mutually exclusive. Living beneath the poverty line reduces happiness in some ways, but studies show that excessive income doesn’t seem to buy much happiness either. Happiness comes only when you obey the principles of life that produce it.
3) Be Grateful
Many experts are now saying that gratitude is vital to happiness. People can become laser-focused on what they want, forgetting to appreciate what they have. For example, if you have good health, a roof over your head, and food in the fridge, be grateful because, for many, these things are conspicuously missing.
Life itself is also one of our greatest blessings. Other blessings are fleeting and may come and go, but the gift of life offers us the privilege and responsibility to respond with gratitude.
According to the Journal of Science and Behavior, grateful people tend to appreciate the simple pleasures in life, experiencing much less anxiety. That’s because “[g]ratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings,” according to William Arthur Ward. So flex your gratitude muscle, because contentment brings happiness!
4) Control Emotions
How many times have you witnessed someone who is moody, complaining, temperamental or rude? These are examples of immature behavior triggered by allowing our emotions, rather than considered reason, to dominate our minds.
It’s a deeply rooted, habitual reaction that starts in the relationship between what we think, how we feel and react. Negative, self-defeating and abrasive thoughts make us feel bad and we lash out.
Stunningly, many experts advocate being able to “vent” when we get angry; to let off steam. But this contradicts Proverbs 16:32: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Social psychologist Carol Tarvis, in her book Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, agrees that venting is unhelpful. She says only when we repress anger does it cause less stress.
This doesn’t advocate bottling up feelings, but rather reflecting on a bad situation, deciding on a reasonable response, and then executing in a calm and effective manner. If we do so with the intent of being more understanding and tolerant of others, then our actions are deflecting negativity, rather than absorbing it.
5) Become a Giver
The saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” isn’t just a soundbite, but a principle perpetuating good health. We can give by volunteering, spending time with others, or giving to those in need. We also give by making someone laugh or providing encouragement. The more effective our communication is, the better our ability to give help to someone.
Giving never gets old, even when done in identical ways. It still gives us relative pleasure the more we do it. So if you want happiness, spread happiness. That’s how it works.
6) Show Yourself Happy
“You become what you pretend to be,” is an old saying worth remembering. Even if you have trouble being happy, smile like you mean it, says a 2011 study by Michigan State University.
Smiling attracts people. Try it next time in a conversation and watch the positive response from the other person. Your hearty enthusiasm and congenial smile will make others say, “There goes a happy man!”
7) Trust God
The key variable to the happiness equation comes not from what you have but from doing what God reveals is right. “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Proverbs 16:3).
The previous six points help our behavior change based upon getting command of our thinking. Here, God says if we act and step up to do what He wants, He will change our thought pattern and provide us with happiness.
Trusting God allows Him to do the heavy lifting for us, and that is the surest way to bring about inner peace and banish worries, stress and fears.