How to be Happier – 10 positive psychology interventions

This is the practical part of this series on happiness. It’s quite long, and not necessary to read through it all. The only essential part is “The Happiness Formula” – after that feel free to bookmark or skim, if you prefer not to read the whole thing.

This article is different to the other “how to be happier” articles I found on the internet. The other stuff seemed to be more inspirational and uplifting rather than practical. I found advice like ‘smile more’, ‘be myself’, and ‘get a cat’. This article differs because it’s not just 10 pieces of advice I made up as I went along. It’s a review of different methods that have been tested scientifically. They’re tested in the same way drugs are: measure happiness before, give the intervention, and measure happiness after.

You’re not supposed to do everything at once! This is just a resource of ideas for you to try. If you want to be thorough, you can measure your happiness with a scale, try something out for a week or two, then measure again. You can find many scales here (Authentic Happiness Inventory is probably the best one to use; the site is free but requires registration).

The Happiness Formula

What your instincts tell you about how to be happier is probably wrong. Most people try to change their happiness by changing their circumstances. The logic is, by changing their life situation to one they are happier with – more money, better house, different gender, whatever – they’ll become happier because they like the new situation more.

This idea is basically misguided, although true to an extent. The happiness you experience comes from three sources; your genetics, your life circumstances, and your intentional activities, split like this:

So the ‘happiness formula’ is this:

Happiness = Genetic Set Point + Life Circumstances + Intentional Activities

We’re stuck with our own set of genes for life, so no luck there. Our life circumstances are only slightly relevant. This includes where you live, your gender, health, money, marital status, and so on. We can change all of these, but they only take up 10% of the happiness pie. Ten percent is not insignificant, but the most logical place to take action is ‘intentional activities’ – anything you deliberately think or do. (1)

This might seem backwards, but it makes sense when you add in the concept of adaptation – many things give us a boost in happiness, but we adapt to them over time, and the happiness wears off. Circumstances are more long-standing. Intentional activities are short-term: no time to adapt.

So take marriage. Marriage is long-term, and seems to make most people happier for a few years, before they adapt to it. But expressing gratitude to each other, having those awful picnic things where you feed each other food (yuck!), talking about all the other disgustingly romantic things you did together; these things boost happiness, but as they are episodic there’s no adaptation to them. You just have to keep doing different activities.

The following are ideas all fit into the intentional activities slice of the pie.

1) Expand your Social Network

Social relationships are a bit of an exception to the above rule, because they’re something we don’t adapt to. If you have close relationships in your life, you’ve got a regular source of happiness (unless they are bad relationships, of course).

It’s possible to live alone in this world – if you could get a job with no human contact, and afford a house and food you’d be able to survive. But ten thousand years or so ago, you’d be dead without relationships. No one in your tribe would help you out and you’d have no allies if some cave-criminal decided to steal your lunch. For that reason, we have a brain system that ‘rewards’ us with happiness if we make a new friend or even just have an interesting conversation with someone.

Aha, you might say, I know a person who really likes their own company more than other people! Yes there are some people like that, but a group of mischievous researchers once took a group of introverted people, and forced them to talk and relate to people, and even they enjoyed it. (2)

If you’re on a quest for success, like getting a load of money or building a strong business, some people will tell you that’s a bad idea. Don’t put all your time into it at the expense of your friends and family, they say. It’s not what’s really important, etc.

But they are actually right. You’ll probably still want your success, but it would be useful to remember that you will adapt to success, you won’t adapt to relationships, and that wanting something and liking it are different things.

How to get more social ties into your life is a whole other series of articles. Obvious ideas are find work that involves human contact or working in a team, join clubs, learn social skills, and generally just get out more.

2) Change your Thinking

Our actions can be broken down into three things – thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Any one of these things will affect the other two. If you feel happy (emotion), you’ll tend to have happy thoughts too. If you furrow your brow and shout aggressively (behaviour), you’ll start to feel angry (emotion). And if you think that your life is terrible and there’s no way out for you, soon enough you’ll start feeling sadness and despair. Feeling sad will make you take the actions of a sad person, which will make you think more sad thoughts, and downward spirals like this can sometimes lead to depression.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy intended to break people out of downward spirals of this kind. The main method used is to intervene at the ‘thought’ stage of the spiral, by teaching people how to logically challenge the thoughts that are leading to the negative feelings and behaviours. Negative thoughts have predictable structures, which have been identified and labelled. There are specific challenges for the different types of thought, clients are trained in them, and use them whenever such thoughts occur.

So for example, as soon as the client thinks “I always do stupid things”, he recognises this as an over generalisation and challenges it with counter-questions like “is there a time I didn’t do a stupid thing?” His questions expose the logical flaws and weaken the negative feedback loop. There are also sometimes ‘homework’ assignments, addressing the ‘behaviour’ part of the spiral, such as exposure to gradually more anxiety producing situations.

CBT doesn’t necessarily prevent the natural occurrences of negative thoughts, but can stop them turning into huge downward spirals, and also interrupts current spirals that are already spiralling. This doesn’t mean that it will only work for people who are unhappy to start with. Everyone experiences setbacks at various times, and this is where it can be useful to have a better way of dealing with them. It’s a tool you can use to take a more optimistic outlook on something.

A good book with exercises based on CBT is Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism. Most of the other books and websites I found on CBT were focused on treating specific problems like anxiety and depression. These are good for learning the techniques and methods of CBT, which you can then apply to your thoughts in general. Of course, if you believe you suffer from a serious condition, you should seek the advice of an expert rather than try to self-medicate.

3) Meditation

There’s a mystical image surrounding meditation. When I talked with people about it, I got the impression it’s seen as, new-agey, and a bit ‘out-there’, perhaps involving people in orange robes chanting “oohhmm.” In reality, it’s just a practical exercise for training the mind, just like you train the body. There are many different types, but the one I’m talking about here is called mindfulness meditation, and this itself is taught in various ways and known by different names. Vipassana is one form you might have heard of (as practiced by celebrities such as Madonna and Rivers Cuomo).

Mindfulness meditation involves deliberately directing your attention to something, typically your breathing or an object, and not allowing any thoughts to enter your head as you do so. As soon as your mind wanders, you just become aware of it, acknowledge it, and bring your attention back to the breathing. You do this for 20 minutes a day or so, building up the time you do it for. Very simple, but not very easy.

So it’s about learning to control your awareness so that you can place it wherever you want, which will usually be wherever you are at that particular time. You know all this “be in the moment!” spiel that you seem to hear everywhere these days? That might well be good advice, but without telling you how to control your attention, it’s a bit like saying “be physically strong!” without giving a weight-lifting program. Mindfulness is one way of controlling your attention.

And it also makes you happier. In one study, participants were given an 8-week program in mindfulness meditation. After the program, EEG scans measured increased activation in the left side of the anterior cortical area of the brain, the area associated with positive emotions. Additionally, the participants were given the influenza vaccination at the end of the program, and the meditators actually had a stronger immune response to it than the control group. (3)

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are is a very good introduction to mindfulness, and you can also find a video of a speech he gave here, where he describes what mindfulness is and how to do it. (the instructions start at around 24mins). Finally, there’s a very thorough and free mindfulness resource at http://www.vipassanadhura.com/howto.htm.

Beyond this, there are also courses around the world teaching mindfulness meditation. Many of the courses are free, like the Vipassana ones, which basically involve going to a retreat for 10 days and meditating for 18 hours a day. Sounds very intense. So investigate this further if you want more instruction.

4) Positive Reminiscence

In a way, this one is the opposite of the meditation I just mentioned. In meditation, you generally move your attention away from thoughts, and certainly don’t encourage them. In positive reminiscence, you deliberately think about your various happy memories. When people were asked to spend 15 minutes a day for 4 weeks reminiscing on happy memories, they ended up happier than groups asked to think about neutral or sad memories. (4)

It’s important that you’re just reminiscing, and not analysing. In another study participants were asked to systematically analyse their happy memories – this actually caused a reduction in happiness. Any skilled meditator would probably predict this, as a big aspect of meditation is learning to think non-analytically. It seems that analytical thinking, and creating judgements around thinking, is not useful when happiness if the goal.

So as long as you’re just reminiscing, and not evaluating the past, you’ll be OK. Remember; 15 minutes a day. Don’t sit there daydreaming and wasting your time away.

5) Pursuing Goals

Some scientists believe that happiness is a system built into our brains to help us reach goals. When we progress to our goals, we become happier, when we’re lagging behind, we get less happy, even anxious. That’s partly why humans like challenges. Well, most of us do; some prefer to simply sit down, eat and watch Prison Break. But for the rest of us, making progress towards a goal will bring happiness along with it.

A study in the early 1990s found that the more committed to a goal you are, and the more attainable it seems, the happier you are when you reach it. Another in 2002 found that if you train people in how to set and reach goals, they experience more positive emotions, vitality, and wellbeing. So it seems that if you are committed and strategic about it, your goals will work better for you – probably because you have more chance of reaching them! (5)(6)

But remember what I said earlier about adaptation – the happiness from a goal being reached won’t necessarily last, so setting one like earning more money is a lot like running on a treadmill – you’ll break a sweat but you’re not going to get anyway. You’re like the donkey trying to reach the carrot.

There are resources to help you set and follow goals all over the net and in self-help books, so I won’t go into it here.

6) Writing

When I say ‘writing’ I’m referring specifically to things like journals and diaries. Although writing in the ‘Dear Diary’ sense is stereotyped as ‘for girls’, historically it’s been popular with both genders. You can buy the The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin from Amazon very cheap. I did. It’s quite good, he was a very industrious and motivated chap, which I suppose you’d need to be if you wanted to help found a country.

There are two types of writing you can do. I’ll call these disclosive writing, which refers to writing about negative or distressing events, and positive writing, which is writing about positive things you want to happen.

Disclosive Writing

A massive amount of research has been done on this – a review in 2005 analysed 146 experiments, and found it to be effective (7). Essentially, you write about negative or traumatic events, and the structured nature of written language causes you to create a narrative out of the event. When systematically structured like this, the event is more easily processed by your mind, and you get a better sense of understanding and closure. The more ‘insight’ words (eg, understand, realise) and ‘causal’ words (eg, because, reason) that end up in the narrative, the stronger the effect is. This shows that the benefits come when writing is used to help make sense of bad events.

The book Writing to Heal has exercises on how to do this. It’s written by James Pennebaker, one of the major researchers in the area.

Positive Writing

With positive writing, you don’t write about happy memories. Breaking down a negative event can help remove negative feelings, but as we’ve already seen, you don’t want to be analysing or evaluating positive events – in your head or on paper. Why would you? If you want the feeling that they create, you can elicit that by reminiscing – there’s no need to structure a narrative around it.

Instead, with positive writing you write about what is termed your ‘best possible self’. This is quite a self-helpey exercise, but there is research behind it. You imagine yourself as you’d like to be, on paper. It’s as simple as that, just write out in detail what your future is like after you’ve met all your life goals realised all your dreams, and so on. I’m not sure why this works, maybe it helps you to stay optimistic, or maybe it has a similar function as creating a goal, giving you something to aim for. Whatever the mechanism is, it does seem to work.(8)

7) Expressing Gratitude

Gratitude, if you didn’t know, is a sense of thankfulness and appreciation aimed towards something specific. It’s a positive emotion in itself, so it’s not too much of a surprise that feeling grateful more often will be good for your happiness; but there’s more to it than that.

Gratitude can be used as a coping strategy, to reframe a negative experience in a positive way. You broke your leg, but you’re grateful you didn’t break both. When directed at experiences in the past, it serves to help savour them.

Remember, we adapt to many events that make us happy, and they lose their magic after a time. If you get a new car, it makes you happy for a while because you can compare ‘new car’ with ‘old car’. A year down the line, you’re comparing ‘new car’ with ‘new car’ – you’re used to it. With gratitude, you are countering the effects of adaptation to an extent, by manually overriding what is being compared.

A popular gratitude exercise is called ‘three good things’. It’s simple; every night you write down three good things that happened to you that day, and why they happened. In one study, happiness gradually and consistently increased over six months of doing this (9). In another ten-week trial, participants ended up happier, in better physical health, and strangely, were spending more time exercising. (10)

This is a simple exercise, and doesn’t take up much time, so it’s certainly worth a try. But be aware that the results are modest initially, and it takes some months for the effects to build up.

8 ) The Gratitude Letter

If you scanned this page to look at the headers, you’d probably find some to your liking, and others you didn’t like the look of. The gratitude letter is one that is seriously not to my own liking! Maybe it’s a side effect of being British, but the thought of doing this makes me cringe greatly. However, it does actually work, and some people really like it, so if it sounds good to you then go for it. Here’s how to do it:

You think of a person who really helped you out, that you never properly thanked. You write a letter to them, expressing your gratitude for all the lovely things they did for you. But you don’t post this letter off. Oh no. That would be too easy. What you actually do is go visit them in person, and read it out aloud to them. Then what happens, apparently, is you both get all emotional, and you might even both cry. But after this, your happiness gets a very large spike, which lasts a few weeks as you bask in the afterglow of appreciation. Then it gradually wears off, and you go back to normal. (8)

9) Discover and Use Your Strengths

People always tell you to ‘stick to your strengths’, and it’s actually pretty good advice. The more you work your strengths into your daily routine, the happier you get happier. I know because I did an experiment on this for my dissertation. But how do you know what your strengths are? In 2004, after a huge amount of research, a tome by the name of Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification was published. This volume classifies 24 character strengths, some of which you use a lot, while others you use very little.

There’s a test you can take at authentichappiness.com, which will place the 24 strengths in rank order for you, so you’ll find which are your real strengths and which are more like weaknesses. It does take around 45 minutes though. After the test you’ll get some details on your top five strengths, which they call your signature strengths. Research has shown that if you deliberately make use of these strengths on a daily basis, you get happier. And it seems that the longer you do it for, the happier you get, although no research has been done past the 6 month mark. (8)

The idea is to integrate the signature strengths into your daily lives. Find hobbies and interests that use them, rethink how you go about your work to use them more, and so on. There are some other ideas here (Click the strengths vs weaknesses link – it’s a Word document, scroll down to the appendix).

10) Random Acts of Kindness

Kindness, generosity, nurturance, altruism, or whatever you want to call it, is the cornerstone of most religious and ethical systems. For some reason, performing acts of kindness makes the giver as well as the receiver happier. Maybe it increases the sense of interdependence in the community, which is good for everyone. Maybe it’s because of the reciprocity principle – if you receive something, you are motivated to give back. This is why restaurants give you the mint instead of leaving it in a bowl – it makes people tip more!

Again though, it works, whatever the reasons. College students who were asked to perform five acts of kindness, one a week for six weeks were significantly happier at the end of it. In another study, people were either asked to perform the same act of kindness, or varied acts of kindness for ten weeks. Interestingly the group performing the same act did not see an increase in happiness. Maybe it was the effect of adaptation, maybe just boredom; who knows? But it seems you must be a bit creative about your kindness for it to work for yourself. (10) (11)

Two Final Thoughts…

Mileage May Vary

Well done if you’ve made it this far. There’s a lot to choose from, and now you might be wondering, what will work for me? In the experiments that these techniques were based on, there will undoubtedly be people for whom it didn’t work, and psychologists haven’t figured out yet which interventions are best for which people. Personally, I don’t like the idea of the gratitude letter, and writing about my best possible self. But other people will love them and benefit from them – there’s proof of this. Then again, maybe I would randomly find I love positive writing. Who knows? The point is, some trial and error may be required.

Also, remember to give these techniques at least a full week, preferably a few, before you evaluate how good they are. And give them a fair try – you need to do them regularly and habitually for them to work in the longer-term. If you just want a bit of short-term happiness, go get a massage or something.

Be Realistic

The biggest block to happiness is not in the external world, but in our own psychology. The systems of happiness, pleasure and desire that we all possess are not there for our enjoyment; they are there to help the organism known as ‘the human’ function effectively. The body does not care if you are happy. If it can trick you into pursuing things that you think will make you happy, but actually are just helping you survive, then it will.

If you become as materialistic as possible and do nothing but work and sleep, you’ll get pretty rich. With money comes security, you can buy a big house, good food, and enjoy high status. You can even get a gold digging wife or husband, and have some kids. Your body doesn’t care if you are unhappy all your life, as long as you survive and reproduce.

That’s why you have to be a bit smarter when it comes to happiness. You have to know the system to work it. The above methods are the result of work people have done to that end. If any of them look appealing to you and you want to give them a try, by all means do it. It will probably work. Let me know how you get on; comment or email me.

But remember one thing; true and complete happiness is impossible to achieve. It’s not in the nature of happiness for it to be fully obtainable, nor is it possible for happiness to evolve so that it is fully obtainable. So don’t make happiness too big of a deal. It’s only one part of life. You’re not supposed to be happy all the time. There are other things in your life that you need to do, that require other emotional and mental states.

Besides, if you focus on it too much, you’re not likely to get it. It’s often more effective to find engagement elsewhere, and let it come to you.

Don’t think that you need some incredible life to be happy. Don’t think you need some spectacular level of happiness to be normal. We can use science to break happiness down into little pieces, and do experiments to see how to increase it, but experiments can’t tell you how happy you should be. Each individual person has to answer that themselves, and every answer will be different.

Of course, if you don’t answer that question yourself, an answer will be provided for you. We’re inherent comparers, us humans. We’re always looking out for what other people have got. In a world with things like the internet, television and magazines, we’re constantly exposed to the most attractive, most talented, most charismatic of about 6 billion people: which can sometimes make us want too much.

I found here, an interesting quote:

“The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentement”

It doesn’t say who said it, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind.

References

In the first comment…

61 Comments

  • Warren Davies says:

    References:

    (1) Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.
    (2) Fleeson, W., Malanos, A. B., & Achille, N. M. (2002). An intraindividual process approach to the relationship between extraversion and positive affect: Is acting extraverted as ‘good’ as being extraverted? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(6), 1409-1422.
    (3) Davidson et al. (2003). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570.
    (4) Bryant, F. B., Smart, C., & King, S. P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6(30), 227-260.
    (5) Brunstein, J.C. (1993). Personal goals and Subjective Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 65(5), 1061-1070.
    (6) Sheldon, K. M., Kasser, T., Smith, K., & Share, T. (2002). Personal goals and psychological growth: Testing an intervention to enhance goal attainment and personality integration. Journal of Personality, 70(1), 5-31.
    (7)Frattaroli, J. (2005). Experimental disclosure and its moderators: A meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 132, 823-865.
    (8) Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L., & Dickerhoof, R. (2006). The costs and benefits of writing, talking and thinking about life’s triumphs and defeats. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(4), 692-708.
    (9)Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
    (10)Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C., & Yelverton, J. (2003). Pursuing sustained happiness through random acts of kindness and counting one’s blessings: Tests of two six-week interventions. Unpublished data, Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside.
    (11) Tkach, C. (2005). Unlocking the treasury of human kindness: Enduring improvements in mood, happiness, and self-evaluations. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Riverside.

    • dki says:

      I agree with this advice – to an extent. But really, it’s only talking about steps toward trying to become happy. You don’t really need to do any “steps” to become happy. Just take a leap of faith, really. I expand upon that idea here: http://j.mp/RQrYNa

      • Warren Davies says:

        Dorian,

        I appreciate your comment and point of view, but respectfully, I disagree. I think happiness doesn’t come from one sentence. I’ve read a lot of self-help stuff and I find the “epiphany” type advice, where you make some paradigm-shifting realisation which is supposed to change your emotional life — to be shallow and short-lived. It seems logical, and makes sense when you read it, but it’s missing the “how.” For example, “stop worrying,” “stop feeling guilty,” ignores the massive amount of research that’s gone into various forms of psychotherapy and psychological interventions, to only achieve incremental benefits.

        It takes time and effort to change your habitual ways of thinking and responding to the world. Mental habits are well-reinforced neural pathways, grooves we fall into easily because we’ve walked that path so often. It takes time to go of the beaten path and lay a new track. Sometimes we’ll falter and fall back to the old path, and that’s OK. We just get back to the new one. Eventually, foilage starts to grow over the old path, maybe not completely, and maybe it will always be a temptation to us, but it gradually becomes less and less enticing. This process takes weeks, months or maybe years depending on your starting point and the point you want to reach.

        Sounds simple — it isn’t. But it’s worth it.

        • Naadine says:

          Dorian, I agree with Warren, it sounds like you have two steps:
          Step one: have faith = be happy,
          Step 2 repeat step one until it either works/something else comes along.

    • Lisa Wocken says:

      Great article and fantastic reference list! You mention the pursuit of goals leading to happiness and after having attended the International Positive Psychology Association’s First World Congress, I now understand that there are actually better ways to set goals when it comes to happiness – check out my 4 min video on the topic:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mg5YPShf9g&feature=plcp&list=PL_VTLsvR0-ijXl9QLHJLiWRQfS2DzsM3y

      I would LOVE to see follow up articles from you, dissecting each one of these bullets further, revealing the gradation beneath. 🙂 For example you go high level with some topics, but then really specific in others (like the Gratitude Letter). This article is a great representation of the scientific approach to being happier! Well done! 😀

      • Warren Davies says:

        Merci Lisa! Not sure I’ll get time for a follow up, although it is a good idea, maybe adding a few more ideas to the list too.

        I like your video!

  • This is a GREAT post on happiness. On my blog, I focus entirely on the positive aspects of life and trying to have postive outlook (in spite of some of the crummy situations that are thrown at us). I really like the chart as well as the idea of being realistic. As important as it is to have goals and to strive towards them, we must keep a real attitude throughout life.

    For some positivity/happiness tips, check out: http://positivelypresent.typepad.com

  • Mark says:

    We are what we do – this, for me, is the essence of happiness – that happiness emerges from the fit between who we are & what we do.

    There are things we can do to improve this fit but pursuing happiness as an end in itself is probably futile.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Hmm, I’m not sure I’d say pursuing happiness is futile. I do think the idea of true and complete happiness is wrong, because positive emotions are regulatory, so they can’t have evolved to ‘on’ all the time. Or we’d have died out from complacency. I think in reality, happiness is more fickle. It’s still worth pursuing, just don’t get too attached to it.

  • david says:

    If you’re interested in a new approach to boost your happiness based on the latest positive psychology research, check out our iPhone app: Live Happy; it’s based on the work of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness” and provides a unique method to create a personalized program to increase your happiness.

    You can also learn more about the iPhone app on our Facebook page.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Thanks David. If I had an iphone, I’d probably get it… I might badger my iphone wielding friends into getting it, to see what they think.

      By the way, check out the rest of David’s website, Signal Patterns – some good stuff and other apps on there too.

  • Lian B says:

    This is a really good post, I think you can decide how happy you are by looking at the definition of happy. If you are stuck thinking that you will never be happy till you win the lottery, then you are pretty much screwed. If you look at what you have got, instead of what you want then i believe things will fall into place. Ill check out that i phone app too. 🙂

  • Can’t remember who said it to me, but it was something along the lines of:

    You can be happy through:

    – getting (girls/money/cars/status)
    – doing (what you love, purposeful living)
    – being (state of is-ness, accepting self and others)

    Which makes your argument a lot more interesting (and complex) because each one of those 10 points can come from any of these 3 motivations.

    Take writing for example. You can do it

    – to get validation
    – because it’s an expression of your true nature
    – because through it you express your love for the world.

    Headfuck, innit? 😉

    Steven

  • Carico says:

    Great list of things to make us happier. I really think that positive thinking is the key.

  • Aussie BOy says:

    My steps to happiness are the following:
    Sports, women, children, good job, enough money, you need to love people no matter who they are and what is involved. But the family is on the first place.
    thx

  • I was really struck by the pie chart that around 50% of happiness is down to genetic predisposition. I didn’t expect it to be that high. So can even following some of the advice here make a significant difference?
    .-= Mario Templeton´s last blog ..Ladbrokes Casino =-.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Mario,

      Yeah it’s pretty crazy. But genetic does not mean it’s fixed, only that there might be a certain range of happiness you experience or a set point you oscillate around. So yes the advice here can still make a difference (50% is still a lot of space anyway).

  • Aussie Boy, I agree with you but I would say it goes like this: Money, Women, Beer, Computers!

  • Jake says:

    Thanks for the helpful tips, if I can just find the self discipline to follow through with making changes.
    .-= Jake´s last blog ..First Time Buyer Tax Credit Extended, Act Now =-.

  • Kelly Ripa says:

    Thank you for the great tips to becoming happy. This is really important for people to read, exceptionally in the winter time when people are not happy. The world would be a better place if everyone was happier.
    Thank you very much!

  • Rysk says:

    Happiness psychology seems to have become quite popular in recent years, with psychologists now looking at the ‘how we can become happier’ angle rather than the ‘why are we depressed angle’.
    Its all quite nice but i’m a bit cynical, most of what’s written seems like basic self-help common sense. I think humans are destined to struggle in many ways, and all we can realistically aim for is to love and work to the best of our potential as the rather more cynical Freudians say.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Hi there Rysk; many thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      I strongly disagree that there is such a thing as “self-help common sense.” It’s a bit of an oxymoron, right up there with “honest politician.” The self-help industry is far from unitary; one book will tell you one thing, the next will tell you the complete opposite. To the unsuspecting reader, both would be equally convincing. I’d rather have the advice tested in randomised controlled trials, using validated psychological measures to find out what works.

      I do agree that maybe some positive psychologists get a little over-zealous in the promotion of happiness, or their publishers do at least. Chris Peterson calls them the “Happy Company,” and unfortunately maybe I fall in this category by writing a post called “How to be Happier” (although I hope my cautionary notes at the end of the article would exclude me from that group).

      But like you, I also think that struggle is a part of life. I also like what you say there, to love and work to the best of your potential is all we can realistically hope for. Not a bad lot, all things considered.

  • Gjivan says:

    Out of all the terms described above, FEELING OF GRATITUDE and MEDITATION are those which i recommend. The feeling of gratitude has got lot of power, we should be thankful no only to others but also to our self-being inside after accomplishing a task succesfully. This habit really works. We should always “COUNT OUR BLESSINGS NOT TROUBLES” and able to feel gratitude to self. Another thing meditation, yoga, concentration are the keypoints which we are not willing to ignore esp. in this busy era. We are busy in earning name,fame and money so much that we pulnge in the ocean of these that we forget ourselves totally. So to know self from inner mind, we should take time for meditation like transcendental meditation or vipaswana dhyan as well as autogenics!!!
    .-= Gjivan´s last blog ..KICK STRESS OUT FOR PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT (AUTOGENICS TECHNIQUES) =-.

  • Warren Davies says:

    Gjivan,

    Thanks for the comment; yes I would agree with you on that one. I would say that meditation and gratitude are the two options here that are most effective at countering the “hamster wheel” effect that modern life is so effective at instilling in people.

    Cheers,
    Warren

  • Glenn Magas says:

    Wow- perfect insight. If more people would just ‘change their attitude’everything would fall into place!

    If you can do just 7 of 10 on a daily basis, which is average, you are well on the road to happiness!

    Great stuff Warren!
    .-= Glenn Magas´s last blog ..WordPress for iPhone app =-.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Thanks Glenn! Hmm, I’d say that any one of these would be beneficial, if you can do 2-3, even better. It’s tempting to say ‘the more the better’, but once you get to doing seven tasks on a daily basis and it might get to be a chore; probably better to chop and change to keep yourself interested.

  • John says:

    Wow, this really was in depth. Definitely a breath of fresh air compared to most cookie cutter content related to happiness. Putting some of these things into practice definitely takes a whole lot of effort but they are all very much worth it.

    Personally, setting goals is a big one when it comes to my happiness. It makes me feel as if I am really doing something and working towards an achievement. I think it’s important for people to experiment in order to find out what works for them.
    .-= John´s last blog ..What Exactly Are Mid Calf Boots? =-.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Thanks for the kind words John!

      “I think it’s important for people to experiment in order to find out what works for them.”

      Definitely true.

  • Glenn Magas says:

    The goal of creating daily habits is that it does not become a chore. People have habits every day they can break, these are learned aren’t they? Like hitting the snooze button or not washing their hands after they go to the bathroom.

    We can change those to ‘good’ habits for the lack of a better word. Instead of hitting snooze, make it a habit to get out of bed. You earn 50 to an hour and ten minutes a week Mon-Friday if you do that! Understand that it is in everyone’s good health to wash your hands after going to the bathroom too – these are habits. That’s 2 of 2 that aren’t chores, but just things you do.

    7 out of 12 daily habits is average. And yet its better than most average people!

    I love this post because it shows sources of happiness! I’m going to have to refer to it in one of mine!
    .-= Glenn Magas´s last blog ..Win $300 By mentioning Snipsly.com =-.

  • Thanks for this artticle,I will try to do all the thinks you suggest…I have some probles with meditation(I’m too nervous) but I’m still trying!

  • psd designer says:

    Really I was under major stress, this article was really very relaxing and provided some confidence for me.

  • Exciting article.I also have read lots of information about how to be happier. But your article is really great. Thanks for advices. I’ll try to follow them. You never knows what can make you happier.

  • StormJewel says:

    thanks for this article, I will bookmark this and checkback. I recently got the chance to do a mindfulness course for free, and so far am enjoying it and feel calmer already (well most of the time anyway!) I do reccommend it, its certainly making me think of things in a new way. But if you can’t afford the classes, I think any meditation daily is great (there are lots of guided meditation tracks that really help me). xx

    • Warren Davies says:

      Thanks, I’ve been trying to keep up daily meditation and after about a month, I feel like I have progressed a little. It’s incredibly difficult to do, at least for me as my control over my attention is pretty bad.

  • I am happy when I do exercise so I have to do it few times a week.

  • Simon Hardly says:

    I find the winters in England are very long and depressing. I always try to get away to a hot place at Xmas so that I know I have something to look forward to that makes me happy.
    .-= Simon Hardly´s last blog ..Explain What A Natural Fat Burner For Weight Loss Is? =-.

  • Thanks for your post. It’s great. Your pieces of advice helped me a lot. I try to follow them and feel myself happier.
    .-= Ashley Madison´s last blog ..FriendFinder review =-.

  • Matt says:

    Points 2,4 & 5 are ones that I have really driven forward with this year. I have had some pretty heavy events that would have sent me spiralling into an anxious state previously but by approaching things differently and changing my mind set I have been able to cope with these situations much easier.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Matt,

      That’s really cool, congrats on making the change. I would agree with you on that one – 2, 4 and 5 are the ones I do deliberately. Also 7 , though not really long enough to become familiar with it. I have been thinking that if you are doing 5 (pursuing goals), then 7 (expressing gratitude) should be included as a rule. Or you run the risk of ending up like a hamster on a wheel; achieving goal after goal without deliberately taking the time to appreciate what you have.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Warren

  • Les Dunaway says:

    I’ll contribute two examples. I have two friends who have very different visions of “retirement”. One wants a log cabin in Elejay where he can sit on the porch, in a rocker, sipping sweet-tea and watching the squirrels. The other describes retirement as a process 1) Get on a cruise ship 2) Come home, wash, visit grandchildren 3) Get on a cruise ship, repeat as necessary.
    Two very different visions both yielding happiness
    Thanks for your post
    .-= Les Dunaway´s last blog ..Key to personal development: the attitude of excellence =-.

  • Alson Joe says:

    This is a really great post, I think you can decide how happy you are just by looking at the definition of happy.

    If you are stuck thinking that you will never be happy till you win the lottery, then you are pretty much screwed.

    If you look at what you have got, instead of what you want then i believe things will fall into place. 🙂

    Live going to be heaven if we think like that, isn’t it?
    .-= Alson Joe´s last blog ..The Go Green Theme =-.

  • Gena says:

    This is a really great post, I think you can decide how happy you are just by looking at the definition of happy.

  • Gena says:

    If you are stuck thinking that you will never be happy till you win the lottery, then you are pretty much screwed.

  • I do writing. It works great for me! Most of the time I write down my negative thoughts. Then I just tear paper with all that negative stuff to pieces and I release from bottled feelings. It feels great after

  • Marvel says:

    When I was recovering from a divorce I really concentrated on my daily activities and getting control of where my mind was wandering. To do this I created a list of 12 actions to concentrate on in a cute Flash-based animation… you can check them out on my website link! No matter what, happiness is within, work on being present in the moment, not thinking of the past or future.
    .-= Marvel´s last blog ..Present and Focused with Mandalas =-.

  • Jake says:

    I have a tip number 11 that I think is a good one.

    TURN OFF YOUR TV!

    I very rarely watch TV at all now and I feel much happier for it. TV is a constant barrage of advertising and poor/unrealistic role models which just serves to bog you down.

    There is also a link between TV and eating disorders, as reported by the BBC (ironically enough). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2018900.stm
    .-= Jake´s last blog ..The Ultimate Self Hypnosis Script Book! =-.

  • Jake – yes good point about tv, I noticed that when I watched music tv for a few weeks or longer, I started becoming very concerned about my body image, despite the fact that I have quite a good figure – all those looking at impossibly thin and beautiful women obviously messes with my brain!

    On a nother point did you see that article in the standard where debenhams showed how they would normally airbrush and cut off all the fat of a perfectly good model – they are now not doing it anymore, lets hope others follow suit!

  • Just reminded me of the chart topping song from Ken Dodd (a UK comedian) in which he sings:

    Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess!
    .-= Mr G from Pasty Muncher´s last blog ..Boom Boom Drench The Room =-.

  • Happiness does not only consist of material things. In fact, some of the happiest people I know don’t really have much. I guess being contented with whatever you have contributes much on you’re happiness. Overcoming a problem, knowing that it had made you a much stronger person can actually make you really happy. It’s not having everything, rather, its having something and making the best out of it that brings true happiness in life.

  • Rummy says:

    @ atilla
    Agreed with what you say about some of the happiest people dont have really much but the benchmark on what you think that they are happy could differ from people to people i.e. what is the reason because of which you think they are happy. If X is the reason, may be X would not be the happiness criteria for a lot of other people. X may just be a criteria for you. So, happiness could differ from people, criteria, thinking and a lot of other reasons too, what say?

  • Henway says:

    Meditation is certainly one of the ways I’m trying to cultivate happiness. There’s also a difference between happiness and inner peace. I feel happiness is due in part to certain situations being viewed as positive, such as getting a high paying job, getting married, having kids, winning the lotto, etc. If you’re just divorced, laid off, and lost your house, you can’t be happy.. but you can have inner peace.

    Some of the methods described above are also temporary fixes, and in my experience I find to be relatively useless in instilling permanent happiness. I feel it has to come with some deeper, spiritual digging.

    I also am combining meditation + positive reminiscenes even tho they may seem like opposites. I actually meditate and reflect on past events and view them as temporary, and fleeting.. which in a sense emphasizes the importance of the present moment. It’s all we have. Those happy moments, events, occasions are in the past.. they’re gone.
    .-= Henway´s last blog ..My Colon Cleanse Experience =-.

  • This is something I wish I had learned many many years ago! But at least I am aware of it now right? Better late than never 😉
    Anyway, thanks for a FANTASTIC blog post. I recently started a blog to try to encourage myself and others to change their perception of themselves and their life to one that is more positive. I truly believe the key to happiness is in changing our outlook more than changing anything else. A great example of this in my own life was when I, a few years ago, went on a very extreme diet and lose 10kgs.. people commented on how great and thin I looked, but to me – I still felt chubby and wanted to lose more weight! It’s because my perception of myself has always been that I am unattractive and chubby, so even when I lost a large amount of weight I couldn’t see it… anyway! Rambling. 🙂 Thanks again for an awesome post!

  • Guy Farmer says:

    Great article Warren. It’s remarkable how many of these ideas are conscious choices that people can make. Perhaps being happy is as much about the things we choose to think and do as our circumstances. It’s not easy and it takes deliberate practice, but we can steer our lives in a happier direction.

  • Mica says:

    Thank you for publishing this excellent article!
    I used to be quite optimistic, until I moved to a small town & found myself surrounded by gossipers.
    Ironically I eventually became a gossip myself. I decided to just stop after discovering it sucked all the happiness out of my life & how it has hurt other people.

    My friend has become increasingly angry all the time now that I do not gossip to the point where, we are no longer really friends anymore. She needs her daily gossip fix, which I no longer provide. No matter, she has found new ‘friends’ to fill that void. It does leave me sad to see her this way, but we are all responsible for ourselves.

    I am now working hard on my own happiness, following steps 2, 3, 4 & 5 & believe me, it is work! It’s paying of & the darkness & depression are slowly lifting. I am reclaiming my happiness & slowly along with it my optimism too.

    It does take real determination & dedication amidst being surrounded by constant gossip & negativity but it is worth the effort.

    Stay determined & be tenacious in your pursuit of happiness, a state of mind that is just waiting to be tapped into & utilized: then proceed to step 4 when it starts to become ephemeral!

    Thanks again!

  • Felice says:

    Your article is REALLY GOOD! wow man
    Let me use some of ur ideas for my school project
    U definitely r freakn awesome! I like u! 😀

  • Shawn says:

    Not to disagree, but I somewhat disagree. My belief is circumstances are the biggest factors when it comes to ones happiness. You said yourself “most” people try to change their happiness by changing their circumstances. So the question remains..if most people do this then why are their ways wrong and yours right? Someone loses their job…their unhappy. Maybe a divorce or money issues..all circumstances and its all natural to feel unhappy about it. The opposite is just as true. None of this pertains to genetics. Finally, the suggestions of change your thinking, be positive..etc. These are becoming very mundane in today’s world. Old school therapy that carries little results. I can assure you if someone is unhappy it will always come down to a specific circumstance(s). We are told this is wrong because happiness is suppose to come inside out..but I ask again..how can the majority of the population be wrong and only a few be right? Peace.

  • Naadine says:

    Thank you for this article, it is very comprehensive and I am a sucker for a well researched article. Your advice at the very end is very important. I have experienced deep deep depression for many years, with slow care and medical attention I have achieved what one may call normality. One thing I had to realise out loud was that we cannot be happy all the time, for in that lays madness. Really if one was happy all the time, then I know we would get used to it and have to up the “happiness dose”. Like addicts, we would no longer be content with what made us happy a month ago, we would need to find the happiness hit again and again. Now many of us would not like to call happiness a drug, but being happy all the time, is like being bi-polar without the downs, the higher you are the further the drop. I now take my happiness in small chunks, was I happy today, yes. I was grateful that I am no longer working! I paid something forward, I saw my friend moving towards a new stage of life a bit scary for her, but she can handle it, did I study today no, and that does not make me happy, but I did read this article, and it reminded me that I am alive and working on staying that way.

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