How to be happy

happy people hugging

How to learn to be happy

Being happy with your life is a good thing. That may be an obvious statement. It doesn’t tell us how to be happy. Many people assume that they can’t choose to be happy, but research suggests we can do that. I don’t mean by psyching yourself up. I don’t mean jumping around and chanting positive phrases. I mean we can learn to be happy, just like we can learn any other new skill set.

Sometimes, of course, it’s right not to be happy. If your marriage breaks up or someone close to you dies, it’s right to be sad and allow time to grieve. If you have an accident or serious illness, being happy may be the last thing on your mind. I’m not talking about occasions like that. I’m talking about the rest of your life, when there isn’t a good reason for you not to be happy.

So, what makes us happy? The field of positive psychology has started to produce significant answers to this important question. Researchers (Dr. Nansook Park, Dr. Christopher Peterson and Dr. Martin Seligman) carried out a study with more than 4000 participants. This revealed that five significant factors are closely and consistently related to life satisfaction:

  • gratitude
  • optimism
  • zest
  • curiosity
  • the ability to love and be loved

Look at this list again. It doesn’t include being beautiful, having lots of money or going on expensive holidays. It confirms what many of us in our hearts know. The pursuit of stuff and status does not make us happy.

These five factors are within our control. We can decide to be more grateful.Look around and find all the things that you can feel grateful for. Think of three things you are grateful for each night before you go to sleep. Resolve to be more aware of the things in your life that are a bounty for you.

Think of things that make you feel optimistic I know there’s cause for pessimism and concern, but there is also much to be optimistic about. It’s easy to focus on the negative and to get angry about what’s happening politically or environmentally. If you are angry about these things, take action. Do what you can to change the situation. Also focus on other things that make you feel optimistic. For me this is the growth of organisations like Global Witness and Transaparency International. These two charities are seeking to expose corruption by the powerful.

Find some zest in your life. I’m not suggesting through drink or drugs. Find something you can commit to. Something that you care passionately about. Something that gets your juices flowing.

And it doesn’t matter how old you are. Watch  my interview with Glynis Francis, who seized opportunities in her forties and started a new business in her sixties:

Curiosity? I’m curious to know what you’re curious about! Think of something that you would like to understand better, and surf the web, listen to a podcast or read a book. You could talk to someone who knows about the subject.

Finally, think of people you love, and take a moment to tell them how much you care. We don’t do this often enough. Make time for them too. Show your love with small gifts, thoughtful words. Give those you love your full attention, when you are with them. Put the phone down and talk!

Put these activities into your life on a regular basis and find a greater level of life satisfaction and happiness.

Check out my short video on happiness: