There has been considerable research that has helped psychologists to identify specific factors that can help people lead happier lives. This same research has also identified some common mistakes that people make when they pursue things they think will make them happy, but don’t.
The following is a list curated from leading psychologists and counselors of the “Top Ten Tips for Happiness”, we hope these suggestions will help you find more happiness in your own life.
1. Make working on having good social relationships a TOP priority.
Most people find it easy to understand that they must work hard at their jobs, but they don’t always realize that this kind of thinking should apply every bit as much to their relationships.
Having good relationships is incredibly important for happiness. Virtually every psychologist who studies happiness has found very powerful effects of social relationships on happiness. Strong social relationships – in marriage (or other romantic relationships), friendship, family relationships – all positively affect physical and mental health, happiness, and mood. People often prioritize making more money at the expense of neglecting their relationships. This is a common mistake – and a big one.
2. Focus on attaining a sense of accomplishment and meaning in your life and maintain it on a continual basis.
It is essential that you find a sense of accomplishment and meaning in your life. This can be through your work, but it doesn’t have to be. As quoted in a recent New York Times article: “What’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of “earned success” – the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.”
This sense of meaning could very well be from your job. If you view your career as a “calling,” you are fortunate. But it is important to acquire this sense of meaningful accomplishment from somewhere in your life, and on a regular basis.
3. Take Risks.
The word for “risk” in Chinese is made up of two words, “danger” and “opportunity.” Simple, elegant, brilliant composition. There is usually no opportunity without accompanying danger. The danger may be economic, or it may be purely psychological. To try to do something different, and better, invites the danger of failing, and this may feel like a humiliation.
It is the same with making changes in yourself via psychotherapy. To try to break self-defeating patterns can be uncomfortable, as one ventures out into the unfamiliar and the unknown. The safest position is lying on the floor. You can’t get hurt that way. The only problem with that is, well…you are lying on the floor. You’re not going anywhere. Go somewhere. Take a risk.
4. Diversify your sources of self-esteem.
Many people make the mistake of investing too much of their sense of self-worth in one particular thing (“I am worthwhile because I am great athlete,” “I am worthwhile because I make a lot of money,” “I am an expert on fine wines”, etc.). This invites psychological disaster, because things can change, and your self-esteem can come tumbling down like a house of cards. Realize you are complex, with many different strengths (and weaknesses). Recognize your various individual strengths, develop them, and use them.
But even more important is to internalize your self-esteem as much as possible. In other words, be wary of tying your self-esteem too much to an externally-based factor (money, a fancy car, etc.) because you can lose it (i.e., you may be laid off from a high-paying job). But an internalized sense of self-esteem – qualities you like about yourself, such as your personality and character traits – is something that no one can take away from you, except yourself.
5. Work on Goals, not Circumstances.
Happiness is a process, and not just a set of good circumstances. This may sound basic, but how often do we think we would be happy if ”I only had that, or this, in my life? If a person hopes to win a certain award, working for the award had better be enjoyable, because the award itself will produce only a short burst of happiness. In contrast, activities and striving for our goals is a lifetime endeavor.
Focus and find fulfillment in working on your personal goals, not in the attainment of any one particular thing.
6. Develop a wiser relationship with money than most Americans have.
Research on the relationship between money and happiness is substantial and clear. More money yields significantly more happiness only when one is struggling to pay bills and is saddled with major money worries. Once a person attains enough money to not have to greatly struggle anymore, more money yields almost no greater happiness compared to relationships, personal meaning, and many other parts of life.
People think that doubling or tripling their income will bring great benefit to their levels of happiness. They are wrong. All that happens is that people adapt to their new income and soon find themselves wanting more and more. There is even a name for this phenomenon, the “hedonic treadmill.”
Love, satisfaction from work, and meaning yield much longer lasting gains in happiness.
7. Become curious about yourself.
Introspection is often neglected or even looked down upon in our culture (“naval gazing”). While self-absorption is not a good thing, curiosity about oneself certainly is. If we can identify our self-defeating patterns, and our motivations for getting into these self-defeating patterns, we can navigate our life onto a better course.
Knowledge is power, and self-knowledge yields the most important power of all. By becoming curious about ourselves, and honing our ability to examine ourselves productively, we can greatly facilitate our well-being in terms of our ability to work and to love.
8. Keep anxiety and depression at bay.
Related to #7, although distinct from it, is the importance of minimizing the disruptive and wasteful presence of unnecessary anxiety and depressive feelings. Healthy worry and sadness is one thing, and can be enormously useful. Obsessive, repetitive worries and paralyzing anxiety can block our ability to move forward and attain our personal goals, whether in our careers or in our relationships.
Recognizing, addressing, and removing these obstacles, whether by oneself or with a psychologist, is necessary if we are to more fully enjoy our lives.
9. Make a conscious effort to avoid the trap of “Reference Anxiety.”
“Reference Anxiety” is one of the greatest threats to the happiness and emotional well-being of all Americans, and indeed all humanity. Despite this, most people fail to make an on-going conscious effort to recognize and minimize its painful effects. Strive to push anxiety back and refuse to let it run your life.
Reference anxiety is the process by which people compare what they have, materialistically, with their peers. It is a more scientific term for what has been called for a long time “Keeping up with the Joneses.”
If you have a four bedroom house, but everyone else in your neighborhood has a five bedroom house, you feel unhappy. However, if you have a three bedroom house (actually one less bedroom), you will tend to feel happier if you live in a neighborhood where your neighbors have two bedroom houses, because you have more, relatively speaking (vs. in an absolute sense of actual number of bedrooms).
It isn’t that you are actually uncomfortable with the number of bedrooms (or any materialistic possessions, for that matter). It’s that you feel you are not doing as well and have less – and perhaps feel you are less as a person – because your peers have more.
What people don’t realize is that there is often a hidden cost to having the bigger house or expensive car (not always, but often). From my own practice, consider the case of a patient who worked very long hours in a corporate job which he disliked intensely. He had a two-hour commute to work (long commutes have been found to be associated with decreased happiness), hated his time at the office, and had very little free time in his life. But he felt that unless he had a big, fancy house, he would not see himself as a “winner.” He could not be happy with himself knowing that others, to which he compared himself, had more. Despite all of his hard work, he did not fully realize that in terms of happiness, he would always have less than other people.
By the way, this patient eventually dropped out of psychotherapy. Why, you ask? Because he had “no time for therapy.” He had to work long hours, you see. Reference Anxiety was ruining his life, and he couldn’t get off the merry go-round.
10. Be Afraid. But do things anyway.
Throughout the day in my work, I listen to people tell me how they would like things in their life to be different, but they are terrified of all the dangers associated with making significant changes. It is often not enough to tell ourselves that we should change, or to have someone else tell us that. We usually know that already. What we often lack is courage.
For example, you may be afraid to pursue a personal goal because you may try and fail. If you fail, you may experience it as a confirmation that you are “a failure.” This is one reason why many people don’t make changes, even when they know they should. They can hide behind the fact that since they didn’t try, they can’t conclude they have confirmation that they failed and, hence, that they aren’t “good enough.”
Similarly, the fear of rejection can be paralyzing, and it prevents people from trying to make any changes. The fear of the unfamiliar and the unknown can keep people in unhealthy and counterproductive patterns. But staying in the familiar, even if counterproductive, provides you with a map of how to live (“the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”). It is safe, even if it is unhealthy and is a map to nowhere. It is not anxiety-producing. To step out into the unfamiliar, sometimes with the possibility of rejection or failure, or a thousand other unknown dangers, is scary. One can often feel anxious.
The tip here is not to say “I won’t be scared.” Of course you may be scared. The point here is to be afraid and do it anyway. In order to do that, you must tap into your courage. It has been said that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid and doing things anyway.
You may be able to make sufficient changes by yourself. Sometimes, however, people need another person, often a trained professional, who understands their anxieties and fears, but who also is invested in helping them attain their personal goals. Talk toa licensed professional if you want help tapping into your courage. They can “encourage” you, and help you make the changes you need to make in order to become a happier person.
We hope you found this helpful. Have a happy day!