Happiness: The Truth About What Makes Us Happy
*Happiness Side Note: Chemical Imbalance
Just a quick word before we begin about chemical imbalance. I am very aware that some people may have a chemical imbalance in their brain which restricts their dopamine, serotonin levels etc. (the happy chemicals). If this is the case for you, you must make sure to seek help from a medical professional who will determine what the best course of action is in your situation. However, even when you have addressed the chemical imbalance, you will still need to put in some work to feel better. You will still need to choose to want to be happy. This article is for everyone.
Happiness is one of the most studied topics in the world, yet for many of us it remains an elusive concept. One of the reasons it can be so hard to truly wrap our heads around it is because it is unique to each person. This means that there can be no universal, ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for achieving happiness. Instead, there is a happiness spectrum – a giant rainbow of predictors that we look to when chasing our own happiness.
Some folks see happiness as characterised by smiles, optimism, and a positive attitude. For many more, it involves the addition of things that make our lives better: piles of money, a humongous house, a sports car. Happiness too can mean the absence of things: financial worries and debt, the health concerns of others, and the monotonous day-to-day things we don’t want to do or worry about, but need to (like doing the dishes, or paying the bills).
The happiness spectrum is boundless. There are people who enjoy sitting in traffic. Some enjoy biking in the rain. At times, I just love it when my phone has no signal and I am completely alone. Other times I want nothing more than the feeling of being in a crowd of 1,000 people crammed into a bunker rave.
The Problem with Happiness
The reason that happiness is so hard to pin down is because it is an individual experience. Happiness is subjective and fleeting, changing from moment to moment, and across time. There is no secret recipe, or universal way to find true happiness. No 6 week programme. No magic pill.
So, we search for the solution to our own happiness in others; seeking answers, not taking into account their journey. We falsely see things that signify happiness, and assume that if we had that too, we would be happy. Maybe if I had abs like her, I’d be happy. If I had a Ferrari like him, surely I’d be happier. That family have jet skis and a beautiful sailboat in their dock. We see their smiling faces in pictures on Instagram and think, just look at how happy they are!
But do you actually know if they’re happy?
No. You take what you see, and assume. We are all guilty of such assumptions. This is because our brains are built to make sense of the outside world, but their sense-making systems are often flawed. When we see others smiling and laughing, we take a snapshot of that moment in time, and give it to our brains to make sense of. The brain looks at the evidence and says ay-ay, sure looks like happiness to me, cap’n!, when in truth we haven’t got the whole story.
Have you ever met someone that is just always smiling and loves everything? So much so that it makes you wonder if they even have any other kind of emotion? When I ask others about this they always say, “Well, some people are just born happier than others, aren’t they?”. Sadly, this warped view of happiness can be extremely detrimental.
It reality, happiness is not merely a personality trait or innate characteristic. While some people are biologically wired to be more bubbly and positive, it does not mean that they are hardwired to be happy. Neither are you destined to be unhappy just because you were born with a different disposition.
Happiness is actually something that can be created and grown through practice and effort. It comes when it is actively sought, and committed to. Like anything, happiness requires nurturing, active engagement, and cultivating in order to grow. The most important thing to remember is this: Happiness is a skill that can be learned.
More than anything, happiness is a personal responsibility. While most of us are not choosing to be unhappy, happiness is still a choice. As painful as this is to say and hear, you are the reason that you are unhappy, because you are not seeking things that make you better. Luckily, you are also the key to unlocking your happiness, and when it comes to it, a little effort truly goes a long way.
No, you should not always be happy
Before we get to the juicy bits of how you can develop your happiness skills, let’s get one thing straight. Life can be shit, and messed up things happen. Sometimes, they just keep happening and it’s hard to see the positivity in anything.
These are not times when you should force yourself to be happy. That’s unhealthy. In fact, when you’re being rained down on in the battle trenches, it’s the very last thing that you should do. Sometimes, you just have to be sad and let it out.
However, we must not let negativity consume us. We must embrace it, deal with it, and overcome it. It’s OK not to be happy, once you do not use it as an excuse to wallow in negativity for longer than you know you should.
In order to find our happiness, we need to stop looking to others, and honestly ask ourselves what it is that will make us happy. What makes me happy to the core is learning about psychology and people, and sharing it with others. I enjoy stories of people overcoming struggles and empowering themselves. Being outside for at least an hour everyday also makes me happy. Loud bass and hardstyle music makes me feel good.
What makes you happy could be anything! My Mom loves to crochet. A former colleague loves ballet. My uncle loves hanging out with his pet chickens. You just have to find out what it is for you. If you don’t know, then why aren’t you trying to find out? Just keep trying things until something clicks. If you already know, then what’s holding you back?
Similarly, if you know that something makes you unhappy, take action to minimise it. For example, being outside for at least one hour per day makes me happy. In contrast, being inside all day makes me unhappy. So I make sure to prioritise getting out and about everyday, not just because it makes me happy, but because it makes me unhappy if I don’t.
How to Find Happiness
Feeling inspired, but still not sure where to start? Below you will find a list of 8 things that helped me on my journey to prioritising and finding my happiness. Try them out, and be patient with yourself. Make small steps everyday, and you’ll never look back. Good luck!
1. Pick a challenge and complete it
It could be some new dance steps, finishing that book you had on your shelf, or learning to run your first 1 kilometre. The rules are simple, choose one thing and finish it before you move on to the next thing. Choose a goal you can achieve, and increase the difficulty only after you have already reached the initial goal. If you really hate something despite giving it your best shot, don’t be disheartened, at least you tried it. In order to figure out what you enjoy, it helps to know what you don’t.
2. Audit your peer group
Although true happiness comes from within, sometimes it can be very difficult to do this if you are in a toxic, negative environment. When you have negative people around you, it’s going to be very difficult to be your happiest self. Choose to spend time with people who are kind, smart and driven. They don’t have to want the same things as you do, but they do need to be authentic people that do what they love. This will make it so much easier for you to do the same. Look around you. If you’re the happiest person in the room, you need to get a new group. Besides, freeing yourself from negative people who suppress the real you, will allow you to grow and blossom into the happy person that you truly are.
3. Practice gratitude & honesty
Even if horrible things have happened to you, think about all the goodness that does exist in your world. Be faithful, and kind. Have integrity, don’t lie. This keeps life simple and avoids unnecessary drama. Being grateful removes so many worries, and allows you to focus on happiness. Besides, it is scientifically proven to make you happier. The best way to start practicing gratitude is to keep a journal. Commit to writing down 1-5 things that you are thankful for everyday for at least 3 weeks. Before you know it, you will be doing this automatically in your head without even having to write it down. Nice!
4. Understand that we are wired to think negatively
I did my undergraduate dissertation on this psychological phenomenon because when I first read about it in class, I was astounded that I had never heard of it before. There’s this thing called the ‘negativity bias’ which is a super powerful cognitive error. Basically, it means that we are more primed to focus on negative things than positive things. For our brain, negativity carries significantly more weight. There is a way to get around this though, and that is reminding yourself that your brain has this error, and learning to consciously second-guess your brain about how you’re truly feeling. When it comes to the brain, don’t trust everything that you think.
5. Take care of yourself
This one is simple but oh so important. Self-care is a significant contributor to feeling worthy of happiness. Make sure to place some importance on taking care of yourself physically, and it will translate into feeling better emotionally too. I’m talking about the usual suspects here – regular exercise, dental hygiene, skin care, even a fresh haircut. Self care is not selfish or inconsiderate; it actually makes you more effective and energetic. This will not only benefit you, but everyone around you, so make sure to find the time. And remember, self care is most important when you least want to do it so be disciplined and ensure to build a self care routine so you don’t go off track.
6. Focus on the happiness of others instead
Happiness often stems from meaning and purpose. Doing something valuable for others is a great way to bring this into your life. Try volunteering, or helping out a neighbour. Helping others results in a phenomenon called ‘helper’s high’, releasing endorphins which, in turn, improves your mood and boosts self-esteem. Not only that, but you’ll also build some valuable connections with other great people. Win-win!
7. Slow Down
Often, we are so caught up in the tizzy of everyday life that it can be hard to appreciate it. Every now and then, take some time out to relax. Slow down. Take fifteen minutes to sit in the garden and watch the world go by. Be conscious and marvel at the wonder of the world. Of being alive. Use the time to observe what really matters to you. This can be hard to do at first, but it just comes down to practice.
8. Try to Smile
When all else fails, just smile. Science tells us that the act of smiling tricks our brains into thinking we’re happy. So, even though you might not feel like it, try to smile. 😄
- Happiness is a challenge, and we must choose to find it ourselves. You must become the creator of your own happiness. It will not be found externally, it can only come from within.
- Indeed, life is complicated but we do not need to be complicated in how we live it. Changing your perception of the way you live your life is a skill, and to get good at a skill, you must practice everyday.
- You don’t have to have an extraordinary life, but you can choose to live your life in an extraordinary way. Take a few minutes to think of something you love that challenges you, and put some energy into it. Repeat, and watch the happiness grow.
- Do not wait until your deathbed to realise that happiness can be created. When it comes down to it, there will be very few things that needed to be so serious in your life. Prioritise happiness.
Do you have some happiness tips that worked for you? Please let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to share this with someone who may need it. 👇