How to be happy

(and focus on what's really important)

Happiness is something we all seek, but do we know what we're looking for? Tolstoy wrote that it is "your ability to love others." Victor Hugo, on the other hand, believed it is "the conviction that we are loved." "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert defined happiness as "the consequence of personal effort," while Walt Whitman considered it to be "this place, this hour."

All of these definitions of happiness can be accurate. It depends on what is most important to you — because you are the key to your happiness. Authentic happiness occurs when we find satisfaction in what we do and what we have. But when we look to other people or things to supply us with happiness, we set ourselves up for discontent.

9 tips to help you get happier


Develop positive habits (like these tips). Commit to one; notice the results. That sense of accomplishment will boost self-esteem, motivating you to acquire other good habits.


Spend more time with people you care about. The connection is nothing less than life-affirming.


Practice gratitude. Each day, write down five things you are thankful for. It can be as simple as having enough milk for your cereal.


Exercise. You'll sleep better and worry less (it's hard to fret when you're focused on lunges). Keep it up to increase your endorphins for a sense of well-being.


Get a good night's sleep. When we're sleep-deprived, the world can look a lot worse than it is.


Savor the everyday and your views on life will become more positive. If you tend to find fault with things, practice looking for something good whenever you notice a defect.


Strive for realistic optimism. When making plans, assume they will succeed — just don't assume they will magically succeed.


Don't compare yourself to others. It breeds dissatisfaction with yourself and with others.


Let go of perfection. You've got flaws, we all do. Accept them, work on them if you can, but focus more on your strengths. They are a source of happiness.

What makes us happy?

Social psychologist Professor Michael Argyle, author of “The Psychology of Happiness,” believed that happiness consists of three components: positive emotions, the absence of negative emotions, and a general sense of satisfaction with life. During the fifteen years he studied human happiness, he found that neither wealth nor expensive items could, in and of themselves, make people happy. Rather, he identified four necessary conditions for a happy life:

  • One close relationship.
  • A strong network of friends.
  • A fulfilling job at a realistic level for your skills.
  • An absorbing and challenging leisure interest. This can include reading, music, travel, sports, art, and, surprisingly, watching soap operas.

What not to expect from happiness

Deciding to be happy is a good first step. But if your hopes for happiness are pie-in-the-sky, you probably won’t get where you want to be. It may be thorny to describe what happiness is, but it’s simple to list what it isn’t. Don’t expect:

  • Your path in life will be clear and decisions will come easily.
  • You’ll be in a constant good mood.
  • Someone or something else is the key to your happiness.
  • There is a formula that will make you happy.
  • Everyone will like you all the time.

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