Sometimes I think that everyone’s goals in life—from getting their degree or getting a good job to running a marathon to learning how to paint—all boil down to one thing: people want to be happy.
Being happy can feel hard, though. We’re busy, we’re stressed, we don’t have time to worry about how we’re feeling when we’re worried about how to just run our lives. But did you know that research is showing that you can learn to be happy?
Psychologists are discovering learning that what really determines happiness is your thoughts, behaviors, and actions, and those can all be changed, no matter how busy you are or how stressed you feel. In fact, just choosing to make the effort to be a happier person is the first step on the path toward becoming a person who is more satisfied and much happier with her life.
The sooner you start, the closer you get more quickly. Taking conscious steps to make your life happier may sound a little hippie new age, but it’s actually science, and it really does work.
Start with the basics. Before anything you have to decide that you choose happiness—that you want to be a positive person. It means maintaining a steady watch for negative thoughts and rejecting them, and taking steps every day to improve your life in some measurable way. It means being careful of the little things that are so important but which we forget too easily—like making sure you get plenty of sleep, not letting yourself get too hungry, getting exercise and sunshine and fresh air whenever possible.
Cultivate optimism. Make a habit of finding the positive side of things. I don’t mean pretend that sometimes things are difficult and things go wrong, but try to make an effort to not let negative situations completely overshadow the positive things in your life.
You need to work on recognizing and challenging thoughts you have about being inadequate or helpless—you need to remember that the things that are right about you far outnumber the things you think are wrong.
Express gratitude. Gratitude is that sense of thankfulness, of appreciation for the things in your life. Too often we don’t recognize the truly wonderful things, opportunities, situations and people in our life until some tragedy occurs.
One of the most important ways to increase your happiness is to make a commitment to practice gratitude, every day. To take a moment to choose one thing in your life to reflect on and be grateful for.
Engage in meaningful activities. Every time you make a goal, you’re making a choice to be happy. A goal gives you a real sense of purpose and of meaning, and every step you take toward that goal improves your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. The goal can be as large as finishing school, or it can be as small as planting a garden or running a 5K. Choose a goal that is meaningful to you, and try to spend time every day working toward it. When you find a goal you love, you may find it opens up a larger world of possibilities—you may find you love gardening or running or you want to be a nurse. You could find your larger purpose in life.
Cultivate your relationships. Studies show, over and over, that relationships are the most important grounding force in our lives, providing meaning, connection, and purpose. Surround yourself with people you love, people who love you in return. Be kind and loving and provide support to the people in your life, from your family to your friends to your neighbors, and you will receive the same in return, in abundance. And that is the best kind of happiness there is.
Don’t postpone joy. Every single day is an opportunity for happiness. You may think you’re too busy to enjoy something—a cup of coffee on the deck or a phone call with a friend, but don’t postpone it. Make the good things in life one of your priorities alongside all your responsibilities. Take a long, quiet moment to focus on the beautiful and positive things in your life, right at that moment, and you’ll find yourself happier right at that moment, and happier overall as well.
Sara Nelson is the Social Media Guru for Independence University, overseeing the university’s profiles on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and more. She is also a student in the Master in Business Administration (MBA) program, and enjoys spending time with her family, listening to good music, and eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
Photo credit: metin.gul