Philosophers, scientists, politicians, poets and musicians, as well as each of us, will have our own idea of what happiness is. Is it ‘feeling good’, or experiencing satisfaction for your life? Is it getting what you want in life, or perhaps living according to your values? It may be that it is a combination of these, and you may feel positive about some areas but not happy in others. Are any of these more or less important to you, or even relevant to you?

I want to build on the earlier post which asked ‘what is happiness?’ Beyond your basic physical and security needs being met, what do you think makes you happy? Do you compare yourself with others, and rather envy their happiness? Perhaps you look back at times when you were more content, or look forward to times when you hope you will experience more joy in your life?  Do you ever think ‘If only … happened, I would be happy’? Perhaps if I won the lottery … or lost weight … or stopped arguing with my partner … or had a round-the-world trip … or moved into a high-paying job? Do you believe that if you lived more authentically, you would be happier?

In my last post, I mentioned the work of psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues. In their view, 50% of what makes us happy is within our own control. Of course, some people may be fortunate in having inherited a higher happiness ‘set-point’, but this research suggests that in principle we can all do something to increase our wellbeing. Although we may get a lift in mood from e.g. a special purchase, or a holiday in the sun, or perhaps a pay-rise, these positive feelings can be relatively short-lived. The tendency is that we revert to our happiness set-point. Nevertheless, there are changes we can make in the way we approach life that can make a difference, and make more sustainable happiness more possible.

According to Action for Happiness, for example, happiness can come from:

  • Giving – doing things for other people
  • Relating – connecting with others
  • Exercising – taking care of your body
  • Awareness – living life mindfully
  • Trying out – learning new things
  • Direction – having goals to look forward to
  • Resilience – finding ways to bounce back
  • Emotions – looking for what’s good
  • Acceptance – Being comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning – being part of something bigger.

I know that there have been times when I imagined that my mood would improve if things were different. Fortunately for me perhaps, I have rarely had a desire to own more things, or to have ‘the best/designer’ anything. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that, it just isn’t something that I yearn for. Over time I have learned to recognise that it is positive connections with people that give me the greatest lift. Being with loved ones is very special, and because I am curious about people and a bit of an extrovert, I get my energy from others.  At the same time, I can be surprised by a moment, an experience – hearing some lovely birdsong, watching the various colours of sunset, the smell of a pinewood forest and the taste of wild strawberries that take me back to my childhood, and much more.

The Action for Happiness ‘keys to happiness’ listed above are evidence-based. Sonja Lyubomirsky also gives evidence-based strategies in her book ‘The How of Happiness‘. I have highlighted my particular favourites.

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Cultivating optimism
  • Avoiding overthinking
  • Practising acts of kindness
  • Nurturing social relationships
  • Developing strategies for coping
  • Learning to forgive
  • Increasing flow experiences
  • Savouring life’s joys
  • Committing to your goals
  • Practising religion and spirituality
  • Taking care of your body (meditation, physical activity, acting like a happy person)

Last year I wrote in brief posts about practising acts of kindness, and I will come back to this on another occasion. I enjoy getting out of the house each day, not only for the fresh air and for the exercise, but as a form of relaxation and even meditation. There is a lovely cemetery near my home full of beautiful trees, and I find it a peaceful environment. Getting out into nature can also increase a sense of wellbeing.

Religion and spirituality are also an important source of my wellbeing and happiness. I go to Quaker meeting twice a week and find this very helpful in grounding me. I am also part of a Quaker ‘Experiment with Light‘ group that meets regularly, and which starts with a guided meditation. However although I have found daily meditation helpful, I find it difficult to maintain the discipline of meditating each morning. Nevertheless, if I find the need, I do use either mindfulness or Buddhist meditation practice.

So looking at ways of increasing your happiness, are you drawn to any? Are there strategies you already use? Have you already tried some but found they did not fit in some way? It makes sense where possible to find strategies that suit your needs, values, strengths and interests. We are all different and certain activities may simply not fit us or our lifestyle; or you may find that what seemed to help before, no longer does. Nevertheless, if we have a number of activities available to us, we can give them a go. So why not experiment?