What is happiness?
The question of happiness is one that most people in our society are concerned with.
Are you interested in happiness?
Even if you don’t care much for studying happiness on a scientific level or understanding how it works on a social level, you probably are interested in your own happiness.
We want to be happy and we try to seek the things that we expect will make us happy.
However, we often find that the money or status have a limited effect on how happy we feel and then we tend to fall back to how we used to feel before.
This occurs because we choose things that don’t truly impact our happiness.
In this article, we will be talking about the things that can truly make us happy and that can make a big difference in regards to our well-being.
But before we get to that, let’s ask the big question: what is happiness?
If we ask different people, we will get different answers.
Some might feel that happiness is synonymous with bliss or joy, so being happy means being joyful all the time.
Others might link happiness to an achievement: once you have the right ingredients in your life, happiness will happen and then you will always be happy.
However, when talking about what is happiness, some of these definitions are going to be very vague or unattainable.
There are no people who experience no negative emotions or people who are always joyful and satisfied with everything.
If we don’t see happiness as something immutable but rather something dynamic and something flexible, it becomes easier to imagine ourselves being happy.
Happiness might be seen as a state characterized by a prevalence of positive emotions over negative emotions and resilience, associated with the capacity people have to bounce back from a variety of issues.
Happiness is associated with a variety of things that promote positive emotions and resilience.
We will be discussing these things in a moment.
The Science of Happiness
Happiness can be considered an art.
Certainly, there are people who are effortlessly happy and seem mostly satisfied with their daily lives who have stumbled onto the secrets of their happiness by themselves.
However, this is not true of most people.
One can think of developing happiness as developing an artistic skill.
There are many myths associated with the state of happiness.
People might believe it is innate or that it is only for some, naturally talented people.
However, it is possible to develop artistic ability through practice and it is also possible to develop happiness by practicing specific skills that are associated with it.
Through constant practice, we can become happier.
But what are these skills?
What type of practice makes you happier?
Take a moment to think of what comes to mind.
If you find it hard to find the answer, don’t worry!
There are answers out there already.
To develop the art of happiness we just need to turn to the science of happiness.
What is the science of happiness?
It refers to a wide variety of research that has attempted to create a scientific study of happiness.
For many years, science, especially social sciences like psychology or sociology, have been focused on what makes people miserable or ill and how that can be “fixed”.
While this is an important avenue of research, it also means that for many years, aspects like strengths, happiness, and enjoyment have been neglected.
This has changed in recent years when more and more scientists have attempted to provide insight into what makes us happy.
While this might seem a bit like attempting to “measure the marigolds”, that is to apply science to something subjective and immeasurable, there have been some concrete and incredibly useful and practical findings that we will be discussing.
While it might be difficult to quantify happiness, it is possible to find things that make people feel more satisfied, experience more positive emotions, and that promote other aspects associated with happiness, like good and strong social relationships, a better physical and mental health, and a longer life.
Overall, there have been a variety of things that were identified as positive and as contributors to our happiness.
While working with them won’t make us fall into a constant state of bliss, it can definitely make us feel happier most of the time.
Let’s take a look at what these are.
Interestingly enough, gratitude is one of the main determinants of our happiness and also something that we can easily control and improve.
Gratitude has been identified as a factor that has a big influence on our well-being and can make us feel more satisfied.
This has been explained through different mechanisms.
One explanation behind the positive influence of gratitude is associated with the way in which we perceive the world.
Our emotions and behaviors are largely determined by the way in which we see the world.
For example, two people who receive the same present for their birthday might react in different ways.
One person might feel happy and appreciative of that gift and another might feel neglected because it was not good enough.
This interpretation of the same event will lead to two vastly different interpretations and, in turn, to vastly different emotional reactions.
One reaction is positive and the other negative.
One will give you energy and flow of attracting more abundance into your life, whilst the other will give you more lack and desperation.
While one negative reaction might not have a lot to do with our state of happiness, many reactions can shape a specific filter through which we see the world
Have you ever met a person who seems to have only bad things in their life?
Everyone around them is malicious; anything that happens is nasty or unfortunate…
This doesn’t usually mean that the person is truly so unfortunate as to experience only bad things but that it is the way in which they see the world.
The person chooses to notice primarily bad things and over time it becomes so natural that it is perceived as their actual reality.
But what does this have to do with gratitude?
Gratitude helps us change the filter through which we see the world, our interpretation of events, and, as a consequence, the emotions that we experience.
By changing our perception, we are able to change our state of happiness.
We are, generally speaking, more focused on our mistakes, flaws, and deficits.
This makes sense: it allows us to detect what we are doing wrong and modify it accordingly.
However, this also means that it becomes harder for us to focus on our own achievements and everything in our life that works.
It tends to fade into the background.
Practicing and cultivating gratitude helps us recognize the positive aspects of our lives and also changes the interpretation that we give to the events that happen to us every day.
We become more compassionate and appreciative and learn to see the positive before the negative, which can make a big difference in terms of our emotional state.
But how can we promote gratitude?
How to practice gratitude
Feeling grateful is a natural state that we might experience from time to time.
Considering this, how can we make gratitude a bigger part of our lives?
There are many exercises and practices that can help us improve in this regard.
The first and most common practice is keeping a gratitude journal.
This practice involves writing down things that we appreciate and feel grateful for during the day in order to find something positive in every situation.
By keeping a gratitude journal that features only 2-3 things every day, in just about two weeks, we can make a massive change in regards to our emotional state and well-being.
An important part of gratitude is that it is often not just directed at the world but at specific people.
Showing gratitude in an open and genuine way can be a way of including this practice in our lives and can also have additional positive effects, like improving our relationships.
How might you show gratitude more?
Some easy ways of doing so is making a point of always saying thank you.
Make this a rock-solid habit that you always engage in.
Secondly, you might try replacing “sorry” with “thank you”.
When you apologize, see if an expression of gratitude doesn’t work better in the situation.
For example, if you are late, you might express gratitude to the person for waiting and create a more positive interaction for the two of you.
Thirdly, a more pointed practice is the practice of writing letters that tell your gratitude stories.
Writing gratitude letters involves jotting down the things that you are most grateful for in regards to a person and then reading or sending it to that person, which is the hard part.
However, this gratitude letter can have amazing effects for your relationship to that person and also your own situation.
Gratitude practices might help you find what are the truly good things in your life.
By recognizing them and learning to see the good in everything, you can become a happier person.
The second main practice is kindness.
Kindness covers a wide variety of practices.
You may be kind to yourself by expressing a compassionate attitude towards your own failings or problems.
You may be kind to other people by doing acts of kindness to help them in their daily lives.
You may be kind to the world, in general, by engaging in positive, pro-social practices.
Why does kindness make us happier?
It seems that we have evolved to be kind and altruistic.
Being kind is associated, consistently, with greater well-being, better health, and a greater quality of life.
It makes sense: people have always lived and survived in communities.
Kindness makes us feel connected to others and may relieve our feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Kindness can also help us feel in control: when we do something kind, we make an impact on the world, however small it may be, and that helps us feel like we are doing something.
Kindness may be associated with positive emotions and an activation of the reward systems of the brain, which simply feels good.
How to practice kindness
How might you practice kindness?
There are hundreds of different ways.
You might adopt the challenge of doing random acts of kindness that involve doing nice things for others, strangers and loved ones alike.
There are many initiatives around the web that provide tips and ideas for how you might practice these random acts of kindness daily or frequently.
Another approach to kindness involves being kind to yourself by cultivating self-compassion.
Think about how you usually criticize yourself or judge yourself and make a commitment to changing this habit.
Create more habits in your daily life that involve you being kind to yourself as well as to others.
There are a lot of ways of practicing kindness.
You might choose to do something bigger, like volunteer for a cause, or something smaller, like make a donation.
However, whatever you choose, you will soon feel the positive influence on your happiness.
Overall, happiness might feel like something subjective and complex but, in reality, there are concrete and scientifically proven ways of enhancing this state and finding greater well-being in our daily lives.
Kindness and gratitude are two of these ways.
They can make a significant impact on how happy we feel, and you can increase the presence of kindness and gratitude in your life through simple and concrete practices.
Try it and let me know how you go with it!