Despite what many self-help gurus want you to believe, the answer to having the most happiness in your life isn’t to be all smiles and thinking positively. Rather, the answer to your own individual happiness is more complicated than ever.
It is to the point that people have dedicated their careers to studying, learning, and telling us what truly makes us happy in our lives. Of course, happiness and what makes us happy are all up to our own personal interpretation. But even though we have different definitions of it, there are still several common threads and general things that we can agree on.
You see this theme in an article from TIME magazine, where they brought in 18 leading happiness experts to survey their daily habits and professional insights into what can make us individually happy. This was the sum total of their daily habits and general insights.
Happiness Is Subjective & Variable
To start, as I’ve mentioned above, happiness is subjective, however, there are things that we generally agree with that make us happy.
A sense of control.
Autonomy over our lives
Having a purpose or meaning in our lives
Connecting with other people.
What these things tell experts is that happiness is something that we can measure (like Gross National Happiness), strengthen, and teach people about. The self-help industry has been all too eager to push the teaching aspect, but like so many other things, a lot of information gets twisted in translation.
Because most of the self-help industry thinks happiness is good and negativity is all bad, many individuals in this industry disregard some of the nuances of happiness. For one, it’s impossible for us to be positive all of the time. There are several external variables that are beyond our control, and those impact our mood.
While some in the self-help industry believe happiness is a choice, these variables suggest we don’t have full control over our happiness. Part of our happiness is our choice, but part of it is innate, according to these experts.
You Can Buy Happiness?
Even in the case of that familiar saying, “You can’t buy happiness,” there was a bit of a divide among these individuals. Some agreed with the statement, but others believed in happiness along the lines of:
“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy many things that contribute mightily.”
Good examples are travelling to a different country, moving, buying gifts for others, and donating to charity.
Regardless, there are still people who argue that tactics like meditation, showing compassion, gratitude, and altruism are ways to increase happiness. Those people aren’t wrong either, but it’s clear there are other options out there.
It again shows the nuances of what drives us to be happy and what makes us happy. Some people really care about donating to a noble cause. Others might be more cynical about it and want to be more virtuous by meditating or journaling.
To Be Happy Is To Not Deny Negativity
Another part of happiness that I’ve been encouraging in many of my articles is to acknowledge negative emotions and to process them. These experts agree with that idea, as this group agrees it’s an important step to being happy.
This is the biggest disparity between these experts and many individuals in the self-help industry, and it does make sense. Many don’t delve too deeply into the details and spread an effective but misleading piece of information.
Aside from that, our human nature supports the notion that positive is good and negative is bad. After all, whenever we experience something bad, our brain jumps in to protect us from those emotions.
Part of that can stem from how we grew up, as our parents helped us dodge resentment, fear, anger, or sadness as they had when they were kids. That cycle continues to persist as people never come to terms with their own emotions and have no one to help them talk them out. As a result, we focus on the positive while attempting to ignore the difficulties and harshness in our lives.
One of the largest gateways to happiness that these experts know is being able to accept and handle difficult feelings.
So What Daily Habits Actually Work?
With these insights in mind, you can piece together a few general habits that will make the biggest leaps in your life. Controlling your emotions is the most important, as that can help you respond better to events and actions that are beyond your control.
Other than that, delving into the general advice that self-help gurus offer isn’t that bad of an idea. Things like gratitude journaling, regular journaling, and meditating are decent options.
But as for the experts that were surveyed, there were common happiness habits that they had. Adopting these into your own life can also prove to be very effective.
- Spending time outside of the house, and with friends. Some did this at least once per week, others gathered socially three to four times per week. Social connection is a big one as social relationships are the building blocks of happiness.
- Having a creative hobby. Art, music, cooking, reading, singing, dancing. Doing this five to six times per week is the target for this.
- Getting enough sleep. At least seven hours a night.
- Exercising. Three to six times per week. Playing sports also counts for this.
- Being in nature. Self-help gurus are right about being in nature is a good thing. The experts agree and say three times a week is a good idea.
- Coping strategies. Having a healthy habit to vent emotions is a good thing. Though these look differently for everyone. Some of these experts delve into breathing exercises, listening to upbeat music, journaling, reading poetry, or watching stand-up comedy. Others will want social or physical connection — someone to talk to, to cry into their shoulder or get a hug.
- Stick with things that make you happy. Chances are high we already have a few things that make us happy. Relying on the things you know work already for you is not a bad strategy.
- Continue to be curious and gentle. During times when you’re processing difficult emotions, learning about them is key. Being curious about them and being gentle with yourself is one great way to do this.
- Remembering you’re not alone. Even though we’re all unique individuals, someone else has been in your position before. Maybe not in the exact same way, but generally we’ve all faced specific problems. We’ve all had to deal with loss in the family for example, and knowing that can mean we can better cope with everything.
Happiness is an elusive part of our lives, and even with this wealth of information, I can imagine that there is still more to uncover about it. Even those who have spent so much of their lives delving into happiness science can see that and continue to pursue it. And there is no doubt that the pursuit will keep going.
At the very least, we do have a clearer and distinct picture of what it means to be happy.
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