The 8 Secrets to Happiness Revealed
You know – it’s pretty interesting. The more people I meet, the more I age and the further I travel, there is one universal truth that I can’t seem to escape. People everywhere and at every stage of life are in pursuit of happiness. The thing that sticks out to me most is how few people I’ve actually come across who have it. Attaining happiness in your life is the purpose of this article. I’ll reference some interesting scientific research and share a little bit of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way to design this article in hopes that you may gain something of worth to you that you can then apply to your life.
Full disclosure: I’ve not attained complete happiness either. I don’t know that anyone can. So this article isn’t about me telling you what you should do to be more like me. I’m in the same boat as everyone else. Except that I’m bald, really really fun and very very cool – that may be one distinction that sets us apart, but I digress. Of course I have a general sense of being happy, I’m a “happy” and pleasant person and I don’t have any major issues (some may disagree here) that I just can’t work through, but overall, I do not possess a completely happy outlook. So, having mentioned that, perhaps this article is more for us than for you. I too hope to learn something from this as I dabble my way through information surrounding this topic.
The pursuit of happiness mentioned specifically in the United States Declaration of Independence is what we here in the US consider an inalienable right. This is something that cannot be taken away. It’s no wonder this was written so specifically by Thomas Jefferson and others as they penned this declaration. The pursuit of happiness was just as important and elusive way back then as it is today. The overall theme is that mankind has always been in pursuit of happiness. This, by sheer acknowledgement means that in a general sense, few if any have been able to attain it.
Luckily scientists have become more and more interested in the characteristics that make up this elusive “happiness” and have begun designing research methodologies to attempt to unlock some of the mystery surrounding this concept. There are a lot of things going on in the research world surrounding this topic but I want to focus-in on a few key things that seem to be the most accepted aspects that help people become and stay happy.
1. Money creates a sense of well-being but does not create happiness
Research has shown this time and again. Sure, money can be cool, and it can reduce a lot of what we may consider to be life’s most basic stressors. Paying the mortgage, the car payment, student loans etc., these things stress the average person. But, if you have more money than you need to cover these expenses, research shows that you tend to report having a higher sense of “well-being” than people who are always worried about staying up-to-date on their expenses. This makes sense to me and probably to you as well. The key here though is that research does not indicate that money, or an excess amount of it, creates happiness. In fact, the same studies that show people with money reporting an increased sense of well-being also show those same people do not report an increased level of happiness. Given this scientifically tried methodology, I am comfortable saying that money does not produce happiness. Therefore, let’s forget about focusing-in on gaining more money as a source of happiness for the time being.
2. Spending time, energy and money on others makes us happier than spending these things on ourselves
Being generous – a growing body of research, and average every day people, are finding and reporting that doing things for others who are in need gives them a sense of happiness. Not just happiness, but a whole bunch of other good vibes as well such as satisfaction, well-being and self-worth. It turns out that giving of ourselves, whether it be time, money or resources, just makes us feel better and produces a little bit of that stuff we call happiness (Aknin and Norton, 2008). Of course giving too much and throwing money around like a person with no hands may just lead to more stress in our lives, so balancing how and what we give is key. But in general, finding ways to contribute to the benefit of others, especially those we know and care about, makes us happy.
3. Focus your thoughts on the here and now – be present
I hear this all the time and to some degree I think it sounds like a bunch of crap. But on the other hand, it does make a lot of sense. Being satisfied and being at peace with ourselves are basic building blocks that lead to happiness (Killingsworth and Gilbert 2010). It makes total sense to think that if we are always dwelling on tomorrow and what the next situation in life will bring us, whether positive or negative, we can never truly find contentment and satisfaction. This makes me think of all the people sitting together at a table eating dinner, but everyone is on their phone, thinking about a different situation, thinking about being with other people, and what focused wholly on what is going to happen next. No wonder societies with access to more than they know what to do with tend to report being less happy. Being present allows us to calm our minds, engage the people around us and really experience life (Inglehart, et. al. 2007). I was in Europe for nearly a month this summer and was so relieved to see people sitting, talking, eating and hanging out without any noticeable distraction or care outside of where they were and who they were with. This was so refreshing to me. And you know what? Those people seemed so much happier than that tourist taking quick photos then scurrying off to see the next attraction without taking any time to just be at rest and enjoy the things they came to see. This leads me to my next thought.
4. Experiences matter more than things
Back to the hurried tourists running around Europe trying to see everything they could as quickly as possible. To those people, the people and places they were seeing weren’t opportunities for experience, they were things. Just things. The people and places they saw were like fish in an aquarium – things to be looked at and then left behind. Things to be photographed and posted on Facebook. That’s it, nothing more to it. The Louvre, the kissing couple sitting by the Seine River in Paris, the castles of Bavaria – they were all just things to those people. Those people could not find it within themselves to slow down, breathe, sit still and enjoy the experiences that each situation presented them. They rushed right past it. The calm, quiet sound of the Tiber River in Rome, surrounded by ancient city walls and the low rumble of scooters in the distance is something that brings such happiness and experience to someone like me who had never been there before. Talking to the woman on the train in Paris who wanted to know all about New Orleans and San Diego was such a joy! She was as fascinated and interested in me and where I’ve been as I was in her and where she lived. What great experiences that brought such happiness and were so simple and in most cases, free. Just writing about them here makes my spirit slow down, makes my breathing get a little deeper and brings an overall sense of happiness to my spirit. As it turns out, science also tells us we should focus on experiences instead of things if we want to be happier. As indicated in research (Easterlin, 2003), it seems that life experiences and events play a larger role on overall happiness than anything else, even gaining more money. My friends, this life is short and it’ll be gone before you know it. Take time to experience everything life provides you from the thousandth high five from your friend’s little kid to mowing the yard you are so blessed to have, to looking into your aging parent’s faces and memorizing them so you’ll never forget them when they’re gone – take time to invest in experiences in this life. Experiences makes us happy.
5. Find what you are meant to be
This is the most difficult thing in life for me. No matter where you live, a lot of how you approaching “being” and “doing” is influenced by the society in which you reside. It’s simple to see that people from various places tend to do and be similar to other people from those same places. I’m not recommending that you resist this, surely there is a lot of beauty, experience and commonality in being like others you care about and are attached to and surely this too can bring happiness. My message to you here is, don’t be like others at the expense of being yourself. Be yourself and seek out people who will allow you to be yourself. I learned a long time ago that the best way for me to determine who I should, and should not associate with was to find out who I felt comfortable being completely myself around and who I didn’t. Consequently, I make no bones about not wanting to associate with some people. I hold no malice or ill will toward any human being or creature, but there are simply some people who are not okay with me being me and this provides me a great compass by which to steer my personal interactions. I highly recommend practicing this in your own life. It’ll help you branch out, meet new people and find a lot of happiness that has been waiting for you all along. Be yourself and find people who like and accept you the way you are and you’ve got yet another ingredient to the delicious recipe we call happiness.
6. Set and achieve short-term goals
We should all understand by now that short-term goals moving in a specific direction lead to the attainment of long-term goals so let’s focus on the short-term. Few things in life will give you a sense of worth, esteem and happiness like completing something you really wanted to do but that required effort and sacrifice to attain. For me, one of those was international travel. For you it may be something much different or very similar. Whatever it is, make sure your short-term goals lead you in a direction you want to go. Think of them as steps and think of long-term goals as floors in a building. You and I are trying to get to the top and we are focusing on the present, the here-and-now and our daily lives as we move steadily closer to tomorrow and attainment of our next goal. It is possible to have goals and live in the present. Make your goals short enough and attainable enough and you’ll find yourself just thinking about today, just dwelling on the here-and-now and being at peace when you go to bed at night satisfied with another day of success. This factor more than any of them is completely within your control so take control and make it work for you. Find ways to be a winner at life every single day. By doing so you’ll inspire others; and seeing them adopt quality life practices will bring you back to #2 listed above and will bring you so much happiness by seeing your daily living being used to benefit someone else.
7. Exercise and eat whole, natural foods
Society is overfed, under-nourished, under-exercised and over-medicated. You don’t need a scientific study to tell you this, you see it every day and have seen it worsen throughout your life. Eating processed foods and being sedentary does two primary things. 1.) it makes our bodies sluggish and 2.) it makes our bodies hungry. Processed foods cannot satisfy your body for any length of time like high quality, whole foods can. You hear all the time that eating whole and/or organic foods costs so much money. This is nonsense. It is nonsense because whole foods satisfy. Sure if you ate the same amount of organic food that you eat of processed foods, that would cost a pretty penny. But in just a couple of weeks, as your body cleanses itself, you find that whole foods satisfy you more with less and break the food cravings and addictions you once had. This is part of gaining access to better health! And healthy bodies and minds are happier than those who are in distress. Have you ever seen how happy your puppy is after you come home from a run? They’re simply ecstatic and they feel great! The same is true for human beings who get up and get moving on a regular basis. You just feel better when you eat quality foods daily and you are physically active. Medications are prescribed to treat conditions that sometimes occur naturally. These medications have to be taken in order to live a healthful, functional life – I get it. But, the vast majority of medication in the United States is prescribed to treat conditions that are within our control. Medications change our bodies. They modify hormone levels and they cause your body to behave differently both at the cellular level and often in an outward manner as well. When people take medication for a situation they could have otherwise avoided, their bodies get tired, they fatigue easily and weight gain becomes more rapid. This tends to create a domino effect where physicians feel that the patient will not adhere to any type of self-regulated lifestyle choices, so the prescriptions keep coming for every new ailment that shows up that is rooted in the previous ailment. Be well my friends, live vibrant, healthy lives and eat good food, nourish your bodies, treat yourself with love and care and by all means get up and move every single day.
8. Find your passion
The most miserable people I know have no interests, no ambitions and no internal drive that creates a curiosity of the world. I don’t know if this is learned or built-in but I can tell you that unmotivated, uninterested people are very taxing to those around them and they’ll steal your happiness. It’s easy to find out what a person does to engage their creative side, just ask them. What do you do that you really love? If they say, “I don’t know” or “nothing really” then you know this is a person who has no passion for life. Me? I love writing, I love learning new things and experiencing new people and places and I love educating people. That’s the purpose of this blog! This website is certainly for you, but it’s even more for me – it’s my outlet, it’s how I find interest in new things and learn new ways of being and it’s how I help others come to know these things as well. To me, that is so so cool and it’s a passion of mine. The heading at the top of this page list the things I love to know and experience. Work to find interesting and interested people in your life. People who have interests and passions are amazing to be around and if those interests and passions appeal to your sense of what is cool in life, there is a lot of happiness to be gained from that relationship.
I wish you nothing but happiness my friends. But don’t let yourself be fooled. If there is one thing I know to be true, it is this – happiness is gained purposefully, not by accident. Happiness is not “found” it is created. I hope you’ll think about the eight (8) things we’ve discussed above and consider implementing them into your daily lifestyle and I sincerely hope these things, once adopted by you, help you create a better life, more great experiences and more happiness than you could ever want. I hope they do these same things for me and I can truthfully tell you that they have already, and they continue to do so.
Be well my friends! Best to you!
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Dunn, E., Aknin, L., Norton, M. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science. 319(5870), 1687-1688.
Easterlin, R. (2003) A Social Survey on Life Events (paraphrased). University of Southern California.
Inglehart, R., Foa, R., Peterson, C., Welzel, C. (1981-2007). Development, Freedom and Rising Happiness: A Global Perspective.
Killingsworth, M., Gilbert, D. (2010). A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind. Science. 330(6006), 932