3 Tips to Becoming Happier Person
Sometime this morning, during your shower or at work, you probably did a mental run-through of your day. You decided when you'd tackle various tasks and errands. Perhaps you vowed to hit the gym at lunchtime. Maybe you plotted to get out of something (apologies, PTA meeting). The one thing you forgot to plan for: happiness.
With all the books on bliss and the mood-boosting technology that does everything for us but laugh, we expect happiness to show up on our doorstep, like a pizza. But we have to make it happen.
"When you're young, other people orchestrate your enjoyment of life," notes Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, a social psychologist, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Positivity. "Your parents keep you entertained, and in college your friends make sure you're OK. But after that, the scaffolding of having a good day is taken away, and nobody is telling you how to provide that for yourself."
Also tricky: keeping the glee going when you have work to do, kids to raise, bills to pay and more work to do. Mercifully, big, costly, splashy events are not the ultimate bliss bringers. As people get older, they tend to find ordinary treats—such as a latte or a manicure—just as joy-inducing as extraordinary ones like an around-the-world cruise, found a 2014 study by researchers at Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania. With age, the authors speculate, we're more aware of how fleeting time is, so we're particularly likely to relish everyday bright spots.
What you won't find here: a step-by-step happiness guide. How draining would that be? Instead, we tapped top positive psychologists for easy ways to infuse your days with more pleasure. Consider this a pick-and-choose list; even doing just a few will help. Ready for more joy? Plan on it!
First up: Make it your goal
Although increasing happiness levels shouldn't feel like work, having a can-do mind-set really comes in handy. In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, people who were told to listen to music and attempt to feel happier had a greater boost in bliss over a two-week period than those instructed only to relax as they listened to the same upbeat tunes. It comes down to motivation: You can transform into more of a glass-half-full type.
While researchers believe that genetics are behind about 50 percent of the variation in happiness levels among you and your neighbors and that life circumstances account for maybe 10 percent, you're fully in charge of the rest. "A lot of people think you can't control happiness—you either have it or you don't—which is totally not true," stresses Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, and author of The Myths of Happiness. "It's like controlling your health. First you need to believe that you can do it before you take those first steps."
Know your own bliss
When was the last time you mulled over what truly brings you pleasure, aside from biggies like your partner and the kids? "A key to steering your own happiness is reflecting on the things that make you come alive," Fredrickson says. Perhaps it's been so long since you've done some of them that they've fallen off your radar. Make a list, if it helps. "Think back to what gave you joy in your younger years," says psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, Calif., and author of Play. Maybe you're not jamming on a guitar in your bedroom anymore, but "you can recall the carefree state," Dr. Brown says, "in which the outcome wasn't as important as what you were experiencing." You want to find what does that for you now and...
Sigh if this sounds familiar: You make a major effort to avoid future stress—say, staying up late to finish laundry so tomorrow will be a better day—only to suck your evening dry of all fun. Happiness researcher Robert Biswas-Diener, PhD, founder and managing director of the consulting firm Positive Acorn in Milwaukie, Ore., knows this treadmill effect well. He delivers a lecture regularly at Portland State University: "I give the students an hour off and tell them to do anything they want that's legal that will make them happy. Some have a hard time with it—they even do homework! What they say is, 'I'd be stressed if I didn't get that task done.' People think that working toward less stress will make them happier. That's a minor form of insanity."
In a get-stuff-done world, it's hard to avoid our efficiency instinct. The answer, then, is to focus on enjoyable stuff, along with the must-dos. "Don't fit joyful activities into your days—fit your days around them," Biswas-Diener urges. "Do you ever hear devoted church attendees say, 'Can we reschedule church because something came up?' You need to have that church mentality about whatever it is that gives you pleasure. If you say that your weeks are full, find the next blank spot in your calendar." Protect that sacred time from "nibblers" (otherwise known as your family), adds productivity consultant Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out: "Announce to everyone that it's your time to recharge your batteries." Tap a friend to make sure you use that time strictly for fun.