Photo by Szilvia Basso on Unsplash
We are all striving to be happy. Every person on earth searches for that sense of joy that is happiness; some people spend their lives looking in all the wrong places, never realizing that happiness is a light that shines from within. For others, it comes naturally, and they radiate light in all that they do.
Finding happiness can be simple if you let it. It’s not about being stoked every moment of every day or being absolutely enthralled with all aspects of your life. Life isn’t always going to be perfect, and if you’re constantly seeking out perfection, you’re likely never going to be happy.
Here are a few tips on what happiness is and what happiness isn’t, and simple ways you can find it in your life now.
Realize that happiness comes from within.
Happiness isn’t based on external circumstances.
Many people spend years seeking out higher pay, more glamorous jobs, nicer cars, nicer homes, more stuff, thinking that happiness is somehow buried inside all that glitz and glam. They travel to the far reaches of the world, which is wonderful in so many ways, but they are just constantly looking, on a journey to escape the trauma, the darkness that resides within.
If you are constantly looking for happiness in glitter and gold, you’ll never find it. Happiness comes from inside of you. Searching for happiness in external circumstances, whether it be your job, your income, or where you reside, then that happiness will always be based on something that can be changed at any given moment. Your happiness will always be circumstantial. If you run away from your darkness into all those things, then that darkness will find a way to catch up to you.
True happiness is the light within. It’s finding that joy within yourself, that contentment with you you are, no matter what stage of life you are in so that even if life changes, whether for better or worse, you will always be happy.
Embrace the negative.
Happiness isn’t being happy all the time. That’s not realistic. That’s not life.
Have you ever heard of toxic positivity? It’s dismissing the negative, unhappy parts of life in lieu of “keeping a positive mindset,” no matter what. It’s a pathological good-vibes-only approach to life.
Life is not meant to be easy. If it were, we wouldn’t need healing, we wouldn’t have lessons to learn that help us evolve, and we would never find growth. The darkness in life is here to teach us something. It’s where the hard lessons of life reside so that we can emerge into the light at the other side a better and wiser person for it.
If you’re going through a tough phase in life, embrace it. Sit with your sad or angry feelings. Don’t bury them inside. Experience them. Talk about them if you need to. Acknowledge the unhappy moments of life.
Loss is hard.
Grief is hard.
Life doesn’t always go according to your original perfect plan. Sometimes it sucks.
Sometimes life really sucks.
It’s okay to feel it. It’s okay to embrace that suckiness, to walk towards the darkness, to feel the lessons that lie within that shadowy forest, even if you don’t know what they are as you enter it.
You’re not always going to know the lessons in that darkness right off the bat. Just know that there is a reason for the hardships in life, if anything, to help you grow and become a stronger person for it.
Give back to others.
Showing compassion and kindness towards others triggers a biological response that lifts our spirits and makes us happier from the inside out.
Research has shown that spending money on other people promotes happiness more than spending money on ourselves.
A study done in 2006 showed that when people gave money to charities, it activated regions of the brain associated with social connection, trust, and pleasure, and those scientists believe that endorphins also get released when people are good and charitable to one another.
Other studies have shown the wide-ranging effects of generosity from improvements in physical health, longevity, a decrease in stress and subsequently stress-related illnesses, and improved social connections. When we feel less stressed, physically healthier, and connected to those around us, we feel happier.
Gratitude can sometimes feel like a buzzword of lifestyle gurus and mindset and motivation coaches, but there is absolutely something to it.
Practicing gratitude for what you have can help you attract more of what you’re grateful for into your life. Many studies have shown that people who practice gratitude are overall happier, more successful, and better adapted than those who don’t.
Practicing gratitude can even help those who struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. A study at the University of California Berkeley sought out to find out if gratitude could help those with a happiness deficit; they acknowledged many studies done on happiness looked primarily at well-functioning or successful people.
This study looked at 300 college students who were seeking mental health counseling and divided them into three groups: One group wrote a letter of gratitude weekly for 3 weeks, one group wrote about their deepest thoughts and experiences around negative emotions, and the third group didn’t have a writing exercise. All three groups were continuing their mental health counseling services at the time.
Those who wrote letters of gratitude reported significantly better levels of mental health after the three weeks, and the effects were even present 12 weeks later.
You don’t even have to share gratitude to get the effects. In this study, participants were told they did not have to send their letters, and less than a quarter even did. Whether or not the letters were sent did not affect their improved levels of happiness.
Take care of your body.
If you’re suffering from inexplicable chronic pain or fighting illness, finding bliss may be the last thing on your mind. It’s not to say that people who are sick can’t find ways to count their blessings, I’m just saying it adds an obstacle to the process of finding happiness, one that many find challenging to overcome.
If you want to experience happiness, take care of your body.
Many studies have been done on the correlation between health and happiness. Happier people overall tend to have better health, less illness, and more longevity.
It’s also considered that people who are chronically unhappy tend to be stuck in fight-or-flight mode, the nervous system state that kicks in when you’re facing down an angry bear in the woods… or an unhappy boss (your nervous system doesn’t actually know the difference). This leads to higher blood pressure and a lowered immune response, making you more susceptible to illness, both acute and chronic.
When you’re happy, you’re also more likely to eat healthily, exercise your body, connect with others socially, and engage in activities that are good for overall health, wellbeing, and longevity.
None of these things are going to necessarily make you happy overnight. If you give a few bucks to a charity today and fall asleep thinking about things you’re grateful for, it may speckle you with a bit of joy, but to find true and lasting happiness, it takes time. It’s not to say it’s not worth the effort: Small efforts compounded add up to big results.
Even in the gratitude letter writing study I mentioned before, none of the participants necessarily had great effects right away, and many of the effects came up even in the several weeks preceding the 3-week study, so that by the time that 12-week check-in hit, they had experienced a profound difference.
Remember that happiness isn’t toxic positivity, it isn’t burying your negative emotions and guilting yourself into feeling happy when you’ve gone through a bad experience. It’s not based on outside or material things that could change throughout the course of life, but finding that light within you, that glowing bit of sunshine that radiates from your heart, and is carried with you no matter where you may walk, fly, or lay your head at night.
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