Your Ultimate Guide To Finding Happiness, Meaning and Purpose in Life: 26 Proven Tools & Tips
How to be happy, fulfilled and live a life of meaning and purpose, even if you think happiness is only for the lucky few.
Psychologists say there’s two ways to think about happiness: Either as way to talk about the meaning you’re gaining from life (big picture) or the pleasant feeling gained from a certain state (little picture). In this article you’ll find the top 26 tips and tools to living a life of purpose with happiness at its heart.
I tend to think of the personal state when thinking of happiness. If I look back to a time when I felt extreme happiness it was when I was dating my partner. In those early days he made CD’s for me to play in the car, so when I’d travel to his place I’d be swooning to an hour of love songs along the way. My mood on arriving was certainly high after beating out the rhythm on the steering wheel and singing along to Joni Mitchell. Crazy hot and ready to wrap my arms around him as he stood framed in the door — I think he knew what he was doing.
But as those early moments morph into today’s routine that unbridled glow is held more deeply and happiness now is more about the meaning I (and we) are creating in our lives.
Relationships, like any other venture in life, come with highs and lows. The highs to bounce along with and the lows to ride through.
And it’s how we choose to go through the lows that brings happiness (in both its meanings) to life.
Before you keep reading, would you give me your opinion please here?
Here’s a summary of what you’ll see in this article:
26 Happiness tips and tools for finding more meaning and purpose in life
Kurt Carlson, Ph.D. says “the one universal truth that, to me, seems most provocative, useful, and unconditional is this: The only way to realize positive change in your life is by making choices.”
Sounds like the answer to the ‘meaning of life’ (42).
Could happiness be as simple as making a choice and then waiting for it to happen?
Popular psychology says we make up to 35,000 choices a day — whether that’s true or not isn’t the point as it doesn’t take much to look at your day and see the myriad of micro-choices made moment to moment.
Each of us chooses:
- What time you get out of bed
- Whether you’ll exercise, meditate or journal (or not)
- What you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner
- What clothes you’ll wear
- Whether you’ll hug your partner and/or children in the morning (or be too busy to notice them)
- Who you choose to spend time with
- Whether you live far from work and commute long distances (or not)
- Whether you drink alcohol, smoke or take drugs
- Whether you spend evenings watching television curled up on the lounge
As Carlson says, ‘We choose. We choose. We choose.’
But are these really choices?
Or more correctly, are they habits formed by repeating actions over and over until we simply switch onto auto-pilot and stop reminding ourselves that we still have choice?
[The Only Way to Make Positive Change in Your Life Kurt A Carlson Ph.D. The Origin of Choices]
Before you keep reading, would you give me your opinion please here?
2. How to make happiness a daily habit
If you were to rate your happiness level today on a scale of 1 to 10 — where 10 was the happiest you could be and 0 was the exact opposite — what number would you give yourself?
(Rating myself on the happiness scale when driving to Stephen’s love songs was a definite 10. Today as I ask myself — perhaps 8.)
1. What puts the number you chose so high (or low)?
2. What is it that you’re doing now that’s contributing to your happiness?
Sartre said, “We are condemned to be free.” Each of us has the choice to choose. It’s called free will. We can choose to use our free will — or not.
Engaging free will requires a mindset aligned with Carlson’s mantra of ‘We choose. We choose. We choose.’
Each of us is responsible for our choices. Whether we’re taking action, or not — we’ve made a choice. To complain about the choice and not activate your free will is a different thing altogether.
3. Being happy: Look inside
Psychologist Michael Plant says:
‘If you look at what people actually do to be happier, it seems nearly everyone tries to change the external facts: we try to become richer, thinner, more successful, to find a better house in a nicer area, and so on. A few of us think about trying to spend less time working, and more time on hobbies or with friends and family. Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think. In fact, I don’t think this last idea even crosses most of our minds.’
Plant believes in three positive ways to be happier:
- Change how you think,
- Change how you spend your time, or
- Change the external facts of your life.
4. Relish, savor and luxuriate in your experiences
“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” (Anonymous)
Most of us are good at adapting and normalising things around us. Joy and excitement about a new relationship, new home, new job — even a holiday — fades fast in the rush to find the next big thing.
Psychologists call this: ‘hedonic adaptation’ (the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes).
So what’s missing from this equation?
Relishing. Savouring. Luxuriating.
In other words taking the time to taste, to feel, to really experience what a moment of pure joy or happiness feels like before rushing past it in the search for the ‘next big thing’.
Happiness can feel fleeting because we fly by in the elusive search for more.
I remember returning from Europe in my late twenties. I’d been overseas for about 9 months working and travelling. On the happiness scale I was definitely experiencing a 10. Yet returning me home and back to work I thought I’d escaped from whacked me back to a 2.
All I wanted at that stage was more. More experiences. More excitement. More ‘new’. More of waking up in a new city and having to find my way with a new language.
I mourned the loss of that time away from what was anything but routine.
Years later, I look back on the experience of travel with gratitude — not sorrow at losing the fantasy world I was living in.
Having ‘gratitude’ is a slowing-down process designed to help ‘relish, savour and luxuriate’.
Like relishing a kiss. Savouring a moment. Luxuriating in the closeness of another.
Most of us spend so little time pausing for the affect of happiness that when it occurs a dark thought of ‘this won’t last long’ often looms, placing a darkened cloud above any remnants of an after-glow moment.
Perhaps it’s the memories of a harsh parental voice: “You’ve been warned!!” “Pride comes before a fall.” Or this, “that life was never meant for the likes of you.”
But the truth is that it’s difficult to feel grateful for things you don’t reflect on and appreciate.
And reflection and appreciation take time — not fleeting moments of ‘yeah, that was good’.
Recently, I was on the Gold Coast during Australia’s winter. Coming from Melbourne, it was an instant jump of 10 degrees and an opportunity to wake with a sunrise nudging my body’s circadian rhythms into a new cycle.
Watching that warm light sneak over the city, through park lands and into our apartment felt like I was watching a dawn sky-show more vibrant than fireworks at midnight.
Returning to Victoria’s dark dawns had me hoping to keep the 6am out-of-bed action alive. Three days later and I’m back into old patterns. There’s something about being woken naturally by light that no alarm can match.
Being grateful is about de-normalising the every day. Not accepting ‘hedonic adaptation’. It’s about waking up. Seeing as if for the first time. Relishing moments and keeping their memory alive.
5. Be happier by stopping your mind from wandering
Two Harvard psychologists (Killingsworth and Gilbert) concluded that: “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind” after gleaning more than 250,000 data points from the ‘Track Your Happiness’ iPhone app for a research study on happiness.
The app pings you at random times throughout your day, asking you to answer a survey that takes 1 minute to complete.
It asks 5 questions:
- How happy are you?
- What you’re doing at the moment.
- Whether you exercised recently.
- Whether you’re alone.
- And whether your mind is either wandering or in the moment.
Of particular interest is the last question as the study concluded that a main cause of people’s unhappiness is how frequently their minds wander.
Mind wandering, (or thinking about something other than what you’re doing) occurs 46.9 percent of people’s time (according to the app).
The particular activity a person was engaged in represented about 5 percent of a persons’ happiness whereas whether the person’s mind was on- or off-task accounted for over 10 percent.
If you want to replicate the experiment simply set your timer and answer the questions above.
I’d add another step to the exercise:
When the timer rings (and after answering the above questions) take a moment to look around you with the purpose of noticing either something different to what you normally do and/or noticing something you’re grateful for.
Extension: Ask yourself how you can bring more of the things you’re grateful for into your life.
What you bring your attention to shifts what you think about. If you spend time noticing what you don’t have, then you’ll notice more of that. If you spend time noticing what you’re grateful for, monitoring how happy you are and looking for more ways to bring more gratitude into your life, then there’s a high chance you’ll notice your scores increasing exponentially.
6. Find happiness by avoiding ‘immune neglect’
Most of us are good at adapting to the good or the bad things that happens in our lives. Psychologists call it ‘immune neglect’ which means we expect that bad things (like a break-up) will be more painful than they actually turn out to be (especially when remembering all the problems and bad habits the partner had).
This happens through a filtering process that goes on in our memory. Instead of remembering the whole experience we recall the peak- and end-moments (called the ‘peak-end’ effect).
If you compare your life to Mick Jagger’s or model, Kendall Jenner — in fact anyone with fame and wealth — there’s a big difference between where we are and where they appear to be. Polar opposites some may say. Yet the rich-and-famous have normalised their living conditions — to them jet-setting is no big deal.
In a similar way if you compare your life to a person living in a 3rd world country (like Mozambique) who struggles to find water that isn’t polluted, then a yawning gap between your life and theirs exists. You’ve normalised your living conditions and have established expectations, yet the person struggling for clean water would relish, savour and luxuriate in what you have available with a twist of your wrist.
It’s all relative. Gratitude helps ground us. It reminds us that our memories filter experiences — often dismissing what’s relevant and necessary for our wellbeing in the moment, the simple things most of us take for granted — like clean water.
7. Discover your best hopes with Solution Focused Thinking
A solution focused approach gears you towards thinking about your preferred future. If you and I were working together using Solution Focused Thinking I’d ask about your ‘best hopes’ — what you wanted to achieve in the time we had speaking together.
We’d then talk about your preferred future and what that would look like.
I’d ask you how you’d know that you were living your preferred future. I’d ask about any evidence you’d see that would tell you you’d achieved this preferred future. What you’d notice that was different. Who else would notice these changes. And whether these changes were pleasing and right for you.
We’d focus on what you want — in detail. Because when you drill down into the smallest detail you begin noticing the tiny steps you’re taking towards that preferred future in a deliberate way.
In other words you’d take time to reflect on what you’d be relishing about this preferred future.
Call it ‘future-pacing gratitude’. When you shift your focus and voice what you want, and then describe what you’ll notice that’s different in your life using rich evocative details, you experience something very new and exciting in your life. You trigger hope and desire on a neurological level which in turn helps to project you forward by bringing in all your senses. You see what you want, you hear yourself describing what you want and emotionally you feel how much you desire this and the distance between where you are now and where you want to be seems to close.
Working in this way will finally get you off the rat wheel that once looked like a ferris wheel.
8. Practice Mindfulness For Stress Reduction
Breathing is a natural response to living.
If you don’t breathe, then you won’t live.
Yet, there’s more to it because a big difference exists between breathing in a way that centers your whole body, and breathing as if you’re sipping air through a straw.
Mindfulness training begins with ‘focusing on the breath’.
When you ‘focus’, you direct your attention.
When you direct your attention, you’re in the moment — until your mind gets used to (or bored) with focusing on your breath and wanders into memory land retrieving random thoughts that seem more entertaining than your breath.
And this is where the challenge of mindfulness lays — in remaining present to what is.
Everyone’s mind drifts when being mindful. It’s normal. Your mind is doing what it’s been trained to do — entertain itself when you aren’t asking it to do any heavy lifting — and that is amuse itself by wandering aimlessly.
If you can imagine your mind as a muscle, it may help. A weak muscle won’t respond well to heavy work. It will hurt, ache and generally let you know it’s sore. A strong muscle handles it easily.
Training your mind by focusing on your breath is the first step. From here it’s an easy step to use your breath to scan your body — in much the same way an MRI machine does. You become still, allow your breath to be the guide checking your body and note any tension.
This ‘noticing’ trains you to be more aware of your body and inner sensations.
This process leads to noticing when emotions start to escalate in a negative way. Having the ability to calm yourself and manage emotions is a powerful skill, and worthwhile investing time in learning.
In this state it’s easier to accept negative emotions and be curious about them rather than feeling as if you’ve got to escape from a battle field run by overzealous hormones.
9. Practice Positive Psychology
Gratitude is a hallmark of the positive psychology movement. Positive psychology helps you notice when positive emotions are present so you can access them more easily.
Positive psychology can help you flourish and operate at an optimal level by focusing on your strengths and virtues. This is designed to help you thrive. (Gable & Haidt, 2005, Sheldon & King, 2001).
Recently, I conducted research and saw first hand how strong the desire to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives is. Above all else, happiness is linked to this. Happiness is beyond the single moment of a feel-good purchase. It’s beyond a fleeting feeling. It’s a deeply embedded sense of purpose, of knowing that you’re using your strengths in a way that enriches the people you come in contact with — whether that’s your family, friends, colleagues, local community or the global community you contribute to.
When you can be at your very best and enhance your life with deeper experiences in love, work and play then it’s possible to reach a richer and more rewarding life.
Positive Psychology’s four major aims are:
- Rise to life’s challenges, make most of setbacks and adversity
- Engage and relate to other people
- Find fulfillment in creativity and productivity
- Look beyond oneself and help others to find lasting meaning, satisfaction, and wisdom (Keyes & Haidt, 2004)
10. Spend the same time on your psychological health as you do brushing your teeth
About 80% of people brush their teeth twice daily. Roughly 50% of these people also floss daily.
How well they do this may be another story … but imagine if practicing solution-focused thinking, mindful stress reduction or doing a positive psychology exercise daily was something that attracted as much attention (and advertising) as oral care does?
A time existed (only a few decades ago) when daily brushing was not as popular as it is today and flossing optional. Today, few would think of not optimising their oral hygiene — for personal benefit and for those sitting near them.
Not too far in the future I hope that optimising our mindset to enhance wellbeing will be as natural as oral care routines are today.
For many, brushing teeth is part of a sequence that is a ritualised habit. Brushing teeth after meals and/or as part of a bedtime routine.
A similar ‘ritualised habit’ will help you incorporate a wellness routine into your day.
Action step: How could you incorporate just 3 minutes a day (about the same time you spend brushing teeth) to optimize your happiness?.
11. Use your money to help others
Most of us believe having more money may make like easier and open the door to happiness. Yet more than having money is how we choose to spend it.
Professor Will MacAskill says that, “A tension between our immediate satisfaction and the greater good exists. Making decisions about how you spend your income — deciding to live on less in order to give more rather than just spend it on yourself — is an exceptional way to not really make your life any less happy but do huge amounts for other people. And insofar as giving has positive benefits for you personally — the good feeling you get when you give and being part of a community of people who are thinking similarly and trying to do good things — might well be good for your happiness as well.”
We can measure happiness by estimating how happy we are in a given moment in time; or alternatively, happiness can be measured as an overall idea around how happy you are with your life in general.
Increases in money may bring about higher levels of happiness in a given moment, yet researchers are finding only a small correlation between increasing income and happiness as an overall measure.
“In contrast”, says MacAskill, author of Doing Good Better, “the amount of good your money can do is absolutely astonishing. £2,000 ($2,800) can save a child’s life from dying from malaria by distributing long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets — many hundreds of thousands of children have already been saved in this way. $1000 (£700) can double the household income of a family living in Kenya for a whole year.”
“When you take a dollar away from yourself and give it to someone who’s extremely poor, you can be providing a benefit that’s roughly a hundred times greater to them than the benefit you’re providing to yourself. I think making these decisions about how you spend your income — deciding to live on less in order to give more rather than just spend it on yourself — is an exceptional way to not really make your life any less happy but do huge amounts for other people,” says MacAskill.
12. Follow your passion IF you have these things in place
This is a popular question. Problem is that it’s not the right question to ask.
Few people have passions involving their work. More likely passions involve creative pursuits, sport and hobbies totally unrelated to the 9–5 routine.
With only about 3% of jobs available in these ‘passion’ industries, many would be unemployed.
MacAskill instead suggests looking for skills to become good at in management, leadership or sales — real-world skills that are highly valued in the workforce.
In my twenties I was passionate about fashion design. I salivated over fabric and made clothes at every opportunity. For a while I did ‘follow my passion’, unfortunately I didn’t have the business acumen to make it work. If I’d spent more time learning practical skills to promote my work then my design aspirations may have had more of a chance of succeeding.
And the best place to learn real-world skills? On the job. Not when you’re ‘following your passion’.
“Psychologists talk about the ‘end-of-history illusion’ — where people are perfectly willing to admit that they were a completely different person 10 years ago but they still think they will be the same person in 10 years time as they are now.”
When beginning a career or changing one it’s helpful to think of it through the lens of an investigative journalist who’s exploring options — not one committing 100% to something that should remain as a hobby.
13. Exercise your happiness hormones
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
In the book Spark:The Revolutionary New Science of Fitness, John Raty cites exercise as one of the most effective cures for stress, anxiety, depression, and many other ailments.
The link between exercise and happiness involves hormones triggered during active sessions, like running, swimming and dancing.
These experiences offer natural highs by activating the body’s pain-pleasure circuitry and stimulating the release of endocannabinoids (natural cannabinoids) and endorphines (natural opiates), resulting in natural highs and elevated pain thresholds which are positively addictive.
14. Happy people flip any ‘negative bias’
How do you perceive the world? As a safe or as a dangerous place? As a place of joy and creative intrigue or a dark mystery with a fatal ending.
Dr Catherine Harmer’s research into how people see their world brings up fascinating studies about ‘negative bias’.
A ‘negative bias’ refers to how someone interprets what could be described as a neutral event. For example, how would you respond if a friend passed you on the street without acknowledging you? Would you shrug it off by thinking: ‘She didn’t see me’ or would you take it personally, saying: ‘She ignored me’?
A person interpreting life through a negative bias can be more prone to depression.
If you’re looking for the problem, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for the solution, you’ll find it.
Having a negative bias isn’t a fixed way of being. If you feel you tend to default to a negative bias, then start an experiment where instead of seeing the anger, disappointment or sadness around you — and actively search for the positive. Search for smiling faces, and smile back. Watch for ‘bright moments’ and relish them — even if it’s watching a baby explore the faces of people around.
Bring wonder to the everyday.
15. Happy people manage everyday stressors smarter
“Stress can be either a reaction or a stimulus and is formed from how an individual perceives and responds to events appraised as overwhelming or threatening to his/her well-being.” (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984)
Whether you see a situation as stressful (or not) comes down to personal judgement. And this judgement will result in activating the hormone, cortisol, or not. If a person perceives a stress as unsafe, then the hormone, cortisol, rises until the danger passes, signalling that it’s safe for the hormone level to drop.
Professor Liz Tunbridge says, “The stress response is there to ensure that your body becomes alert and ready to respond when your encounter something dangerous — it’s a very immediate response to something in the environment that’s stressful. However, if you have too much stress repeatedly then that’s really bad for your body. Your body is not designed to be in that hyper-alert state over a sustained period of time. There’s evidence that people who suffer from depression have altered cortisol responses.5
The problem comes when the body’s stress response remains elevated. And in modern society, for many, those elevated levels of cortisol can do long-term damage to your mental and physical health if not monitored and managed.
Learning how to manage stress responses is essential to maintaining balance, energy and health throughout your life.
While some stress is optimal in that it helps you engage positively with a task that stretches you beyond your comfort zone (e.g. public speaking), the stress we’re talking about here is more of the negative kind and there are simple exercises you can practice to manage negative stress in your life.
Tom came to me as a client complaining of panic attacks that left him crying in a corner, unable to manage the torrent of stress hormones raging through his body. He’d be left shaking, drenched in perspiration and unable to think straight.
This state was ruining his work life and his relationships. The stress was triggered at work when challenges arose and was causing him to misuse alcohol as a way to release the tension he felt unable to control.
He was resistant to using mindfulness based stress reduction as he felt it wouldn’t work for him. Instead we used ‘solution focused coaching’ which helped him see himself in a different way. Instead of an instant trigger being activated between a challenge and what felt like a pre-programmed stress-response to Tom, he began to describe the way he wanted to respond to stress instead. Tom talked about how he’d prefer to respond instead. He built detailed descriptions of his preferred future, and in this way was able to pre-envision a different response that he could use in challenging moments.
When you change how you respond to an external event, the internal automatic triggers that have been programmed over decades can begin the process of letting go of the old and adopting the new.
16. Happy people let go of unhealthy things
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” ~Jim Rohn
Professor Richard Gombrich says:
“Nirvana is the abolition of passion (which means wanting something very much), the opposite — hatred and confusion. And, if you can completely get rid of those, you no longer want anything so you become — not ‘happy’ as we would call it today, but something closer to attaining complete ‘peace of mind’ — it’s calmness, tranquillity, imperturbability if you like. And nothing will upset you any more. Capitalism, advertising, tells us we want things. Real happiness is from peace of mind. Form positive, good relationships with your family; your children. That’s tremendously important.You don’t need objects.”
Have you ever achieved a goal in your life only to find the happiness and joy of it short-lived and something else soon arrives that’s even more desirable to take its place?
An eternal search for happiness can feel more like disenchantment when we’re short on gratitude.
Most of us live with abundance — some may say ‘clutter’ — the result of successful advertising campaigns telling us what we need.
The minimalist movement shows us how to release clutter from our homes, yet the most important clutter needing release lays within our minds.
Check which ‘clutter’ items below you may need to release:
- Controlling the outcome of things around you
- Pleasing everyone to not ‘rock the boat’
- A sense of entitlement that it’s now ‘your time’
- Resentment around privilege, your upbringing/education/wealth
- Comparison to those around you who seem to have it all
- Guilt that you aren’t enough or could do more
- Pride in the idea of who you are and what you deserve
- Not wanting to put any of yourself (or your work) into the public arena as it’s not ‘perfect’ (and you may be judged
- Seeing problems rather than solutions and thinking negatively
- Staying in relationships that take more than they give
- Being busy, yet achieving very little
- The desire to have more money
- Fear that you’ll fail
- Believing that you’re unlovable
- Feeling abandoned
- Having expectations on those around you
- Talking about past problems as if they’re alive and well today
17. Activate your happiness hormones with music, social dancing
Most cultures have a specific music or dance associated with their cultural origin. From Scotland to Spain, New Zealand to Norway and India to Indonesia a coming together of community offers a social glue and sense of identity. Music can ignite a personal rhythm that activates our senses and feel-good hormones.
As Oliver Sachs famously said: “We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one.”
Music and dance offer times for people to move in synchronous ways resulting in a sense of shared joy triggering our brain’s pleasure and reward circuitry.
Dr Bronwyn Tarr says: “When we get this kick [of feel good hormones] in the presence of others, the result is that of collective joy — positive, shared experiences through which we establish and maintain important social connections with others. Now we feel like we belong to a unified, cohesive whole. Being part of a cohesive social group would have been really important for our ancestors — collaborating with others to find shelter, hunt, rear young would have increased our chances of survival. Music and dance are by no means the only ways we can stimulate these positive social ‘highs’. But they’re really good ways of doing it because it’s an experience that we can share with lots of people at once. In order to understand why that would have given us such a great advantage we need to look at our species in the context of primates.”
These experiences offer natural highs by activating the body’s pain-pleasure circuitry and stimulating the release of endocannabinoids (natural cannabinoids) and endorphines (natural opiates) resulting in you receiving a natural high and elevated pain thresholds which is addictive.
Athletes are familiar with pushing through the pain barrier due to the natural high they receive which helps them return to body-pushing activities despite the pain endured.
Music and dance offer similar opportunities enhanced by a shared sense of belonging to a group.
Dr Bronwyn Tarr says: “Certain songs will send shivers down your spine, raise the hairs on your arms and give you a real emotional response. In fact, listening to music can activate the release of endorphins, making us feel good and better able to cope with pain. Of course endorphins are also activated when we exert ourselves, so allowing yourself to just get up and dance when your favourite song starts playing is a sure way to trigger those happy chemicals!”
“In some of our recent research, we found that dancing with high energy and in synchrony with others (so doing the same thing at the same time) has great effects. Compared to non-synchronous and low-energy dancing, people felt closer to one another and had higher pain thresholds (an indirect measure of endorphin release) after dancing energetically and in synchrony. So activities that involve lots of physical exertion and interpersonal coordination (specifically synchrony) are hitting the spot in more than one way, triggering our brains to release this deluge of happy chemicals.”
“So join a flash mob, take a zumba class! But, don’t worry — if you are not physically able to dance all out, even just synchronising small hand gestures still provides a dose of this music-triggered happiness.”
18. Happy people care about things beyond themselves
“People who are less self-absorbed, who devote their activities to projects other than their own self-advancement and pleasure, who care about things outside their own lives, tend to be subjectively more satisfied, as well as having objectively better lives.” Professor Jeff McMahan
Self-interest creates a tension distracting you from living a moral life that’s focused on the greater good. When thinking beyond yourself inspiration is easily found by following people you admire and enjoy satisfying lives.
By modelling yourself on someone already living a happy and purposeful life the pathway is easier to follow. Consider philosophers, historical figures, writers or people who have dedicated their lives to a higher purpose by living their beliefs and constantly striving for the truth.
Maintaining relationships with people who share similar aims and interests creates personal connections — the social glue of happiness and wellbeing.
As McMahon says:
“People who are less self-absorbed, who devote their activities to projects other than their own self-advancement and pleasure, who care about things outside their own lives, tend to be subjectively more satisfied, as well as having objectively better lives. Devotion to aims that transcend one’s self-concern is one of the ingredients of a certain type of good life, and maybe the best life.”
19. Can a life coach make you happier?
Yes. And no.
Life coaches are guides. Not gurus with all-knowing answers. A quality life coach asks questions that take you to a place that may be too foggy for you to see clearly as the life condition you’re experiencing may be keeping you too much ‘in your head’. When you’re swirling with indecision or self-judgement is clouding the view, talking to a life coach can offer clarity.
When you work with a life coach who knows what they’re doing, you stand back from your own perspective and see options with greater insight.
Life coaching isn’t therapy. It’s not about finding the root cause of your ‘problem’. More, it’s about finding your base line of what you want, what that will look like and helping you focus on where you want to go without getting distracted.
Life coaching isn’t ‘girlfriend chatting’ — that’s what friends are for. Airing opinion on what’s right or wrong isn’t in their mandate.
Life coaching is structured, offering you scaffolding. A measurable approach where you remain in control of the direction.
20. Happy people avoid these 4 things
Filtering — if you focus on the negative and view life through a biased lens then you may be “filtering out” all the positive aspects of a given situation, and instead narrowing your view to highlight only the negative aspects.
If you’re working on an important project and focusing on what’s not right, you’re missing opportunities to continue highlighting what is working. At times, elements of a project may not be 100% — avoid seeing the whole project as failure — aim to see things with a more balanced perspective.
Personalizing — have you caught yourself saying ‘sorry’ for something you had no influence over? Blaming yourself for everything that happens — regardless of your involvement is a sign that you’re taking things out of context and placing yourself as the central reason for things going wrong like being late for a meeting (because the traffic was heavy), plans being cancelled (because you’ve personalised the event to mean people want to avoid you) or missing out on a promotion (because they don’t want to ‘you’).
Catastrophizing — do you take an event and create a domino effect whereby one thing going wrong means dozens of other things will automatically be triggered?
While forward planning is a great skill to have, believing that one misshap will mean the ruination of all that follows is taking things to an extreme.
If you’ve spilled food on your tie or shirt, it doesn’t follow that you’ll have a miserable day — unless you practice believing this will be so.
Polarizing — judging people or situations as black or white suggests limiting beliefs that could be holding you back. Rarely are things black or while. It doesn’t follow that someone who makes a spelling mistake is a bad writer. Nor does it follow that having a piece of chocolate when you’re on a diet mean that you’ll never lose weight.
21. Happy people re-frame problems
Any of us can go through our day and find at least one problem. One thing we wish could have gone differently. One thing we should have said when we had the opportunity. One thing we did that we’d take back if we had a time machine. One thing that would cause a ripple effect of good fortune to fall our way.
Less easy to then take those unhappy or unsatisfactory moments and reframe them so their negative potential becomes counter-intuitive and positive.
[Problem] I’ve got qualifications, but can’t find a job. Life sucks.
[Reframe] With all this time on my hands what could I do now that I couldn’t do if I had a full-time job?
[Answer] Write a blog. Do volunteer work. Teach what you know online.
Flipping problem thinking on its head not only puts you in a solution focus mindset, it activates parts of your brain that may be laying dormant.
When this happens you’re laying down new neural pathways and the more you do this the more you’ll find creative solutions to what you once perceived as problems.
22. How finding ‘flow’ can lift your happiness
Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-hi-six-cent-me-hi-e) is one of the founds of positive psychology who coined the term ‘flow’ to describe a state when a person is so intensely focused and creatively engaged that time seems to fly and nothing seems possible to interrupt this state.
Have you experienced a time like this?
Researchers say this ‘flow’ experience leads to increased concentration, self-esteem, performance and commitment to long-term meaningful goals and most importantly: happiness.
Being in this flow state involves a loss of self-consciousness resulting from a state of complete absorption in an activity — intellectual, professional, or physical. For a flow state to be present, you must see the activity as voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), and it must require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging) with clear goals towards success.
In addition, having a sense of control and immediate feedback with room for growth must be present. Emotion is often absent — a complete loss of self-consciousness — yet, the flow activity usually is described as enjoyable and even exhilarating.
Csikszentmihalyi’s work has identified six factors of flow:
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- Merging of action and awareness
- A loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- A distortion of temporal experience
- Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to asautotelic experience
Think of a time when you’ve experienced a state of flow. What did you notice about yourself that’s different to your everyday experiences?
When you experience these flow states, what do others notice about you?
How can you have more of these flow states in your week?
23. Happy people learn how to recover faster from rejection
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
Self criticism is an easy default position when feeling rejected socially or professionally. For some this rejection seems to cut deeper than others.
Carol Dweck became popular because of her work around fixed and growth mindsets, that is the notion that our personality traits are malleable.
Dweck and doctoral student Lauren Howe applied this thinking to ‘rejection’.
They found that those with a ‘fixed mindset’ internalised the rejection and held a negative perception of themselves based on these rejections, whereas those with a ‘growth mindset’ were able to release the unpleasant emotion and isolate the rejection rather than adopting it as a personality trait.
In their research Howe and Dweck prepared 121 subjects to adopt a certain mindset before thinking about a hypothetical rejection: One group read articles describing how personality traits seem set in stone after young adulthood (i.e., “3 Critical Factors That Shape Who You Are”); the second group read about how these traits can be developed anytime (“3 Key Ways to Shape Who You Are”).
The results? Those reading the set-in-stone personality article expressed greater concern that the fake rejection would change how they and others saw themselves. They reported feeling worse about themselves, and they thought rejection would happen again. The researchers believe that even being exposed to the idea that personality traits are fixed can make it harder for people to recover from rejection.
24. Re-affirm your self-worth
Authors who took multiple rejections before gaining fame, like J.K.Rowling, who went from welfare to wealth (estimates of above $25 billion in book sales) knows rejection personally and professionally.
From a single mother suffering depression to reknown author didn’t stop a novel post the Harry Potter series to be rejected. (Rowling sent it to a publisher using a pseudonym.) The reject letter came back saying she should attend writing school.
Psychologist, Guy Winch, also knows the pain of receiving manuscript rejection which led him to explore the intense emotional pain of rejection.
Winch says that “Functional MRI studies have revealed that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. In other words, rejections hurt because they literally mimic physical pain in our brain.”
I also discovered there are five things we can do to soothe the emotional pain rejections elicit, as well as to speed our psychological recovery:
If your default is to beat yourself up and allow your inner critic to go wild, it not only extends the painful experience but also lowers self-worth.
Having a handy stack of self-affirmations can buffer you because rejection isn’t personal — it’s one individual’s opinion — which is so often proven wrong by another.
List the qualities you believe you have and think back to times in your life when those qualities and/or values you held helped you do something. Taking time to reflect on your strengths before a rejection happens helps build a stronger sense of your identity.
It also helps build mental toughness.
25. Why you feel unhappy when you have everything
Creating positive changes in your life is tough. It can be scary.“We fear the unknown, fear failure, even fear success,” said Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and expert in postpartum mental health.
Clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, also noted that fear is a great obstacle to change.“We’re afraid that we’ll try and find that we don’t have what it takes — that we’ll discover limits to our abilities that will feel devastating.”
We’re also afraid of what we’ll find with the positive change. For example, as Howes said, you’re very familiar with the challenges that come with your bad job: unreasonable boss, unfair paycheck and poor working conditions.
However, a better new position might mean unfamiliar challenges, such as “competition, hard work and an unknown X factor … You don’t like where you are, but in some ways these problems are known and comfortable.”
26. Engage your creativity and aesthetic sensibilities
Creativity gets you in touch with yourself in a way that talking and reading can’t. If you’ve ever dabbled in doodling you’ll know what I mean.
Doodling is an easy example of how easy it is to become mesmerized by a simple connection between pencil and paper. Intricate patterns and images can form as if by magic.
The simplicity of expression is a proven way of releasing tension and engaging your creative brain.
Creativity is an act of linkage. When thinking about a problem and wearing your mind out with alternatives and possible solutions you’re actively engaged to a point where you feel you’ve got no more to give.
Once the logical part of the brain is worn out, then the creative side can draw the pattern-like threads together and form insights.
The problem is that most people claim they’re too time poor to allow their brain much rest time, so this valuable resource seems wasted in a society rushing through life.
Whether it’s taking an art class, a new hobby or walking in nature — you can learn how to activate your creative brain and let ‘play’ become an ally not a childhood memory.
- How choosing to be happy can make a difference
- How to make happiness a daily habit
- Being happy: Look inside
- Relish, savor and luxuriate in your experiences
- Be happier by stopping your mind from wandering
- Find happiness by avoiding ‘immune neglect’
- Discover your ‘best hopes’ with solution focused thinking
- Practice mindfulness for stress reduction
- Practice Positive Psychology
- Spend the same time on your psychological health as you do brushing your teeth
- Use your money to help others
- Follow your passion IF you have these things in place
- How to exercise your happiness hormones
- Happy people flip any ‘negative bias’
- Happy people manage everyday stressors smarter
- Happy people let go of unhealthy things
- Activate your happiness hormones with music, social dancing
- Happy people care about things beyond themselves
- Can a life coach make you happier?
- Happy people avoid these 4 things
- Happy people re-frame problems
- How finding ‘flow’ can elevate your happiness
- Happy people learn how to recover faster from rejection
- Re-affirm your self worth
- Why you feel unhappy when you have everything
- Engage your creativity and aesthetic sensibilities
Call To Action
Discover how your thinking may be limiting your happiness with this ‘Ready To Thrive’ quiz. Amplify your happiness, thinking and motivation here.