While happiness has been defined in multiple ways, there is some agreement that it is a subjective experience that everyone desires to achieve. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychology researcher defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Cristina Martin-Garcia, a psychotherapist at Psychology Therapy, portrays it as “a profound state of inner peace and well-being. A sense that your life is right as it is and that you are moving in the right direction, regardless of the presence of unpleasant feelings, such as anxiety or sadness”.
Similarly to Martin-Garcia, Martin Seligman, psychologist and one of the founders of positive psychology, considers that happiness is not just a fleeting emotion but a state of overall well-being and life satisfaction. Seligman is one of the most prominent figures and researchers of happiness, and he has proposed the PERMA model, which outlines five key elements necessary for happiness and well-being:
· Positive emotions: According to Seligman, experiencing positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, and contentment, is an essential component of happiness. Cultivating positive emotions can lead to greater overall well-being and life satisfaction.
· Engagement: the psychologist emphasizes the importance of being fully engaged and immersed in activities that provide a sense of flow. Flow refers to a state of complete absorption in an activity, where time seems to fly by, and one’s skills and challenges are well-matched. When individuals experience engagement in their daily lives, they are more likely to experience happiness and fulfilment.
· Relationships: Nurturing and maintaining healthy connections with others, such as family, friends, and communities, contribute to a sense of belonging and social support, which are crucial for overall well-being.
· Meaning: Finding a sense of meaning and purpose in life is another important aspect of happiness, according to Seligman. This involves identifying and pursuing goals that align with one’s values and passions. Engaging in activities that give life a sense of purpose and significance can greatly enhance happiness and well-being.
· Accomplishment: Accomplishments, both big and small, contribute to a sense of achievement and self-efficacy, boosting self-esteem and overall happiness.
Although circumstances can affect our mood, this model offers a basis for happiness that gives specific and practical steps towards happiness and well-being. Following the Seligman model and the science of happiness, there are numerous practical steps we can take to boost our overall happiness. By incorporating certain habits and mindset shifts into our daily lives, we can cultivate greater joy and contentment. In this post, we will explore scientifically proven tips to increase happiness, providing you with actionable advice to enhance your well-being.
1. Practice gratitude
Research has shown that by focusing on what you are grateful for regularly, you can increase your sense of happiness and well-being (Wood et al., 2010; Czyżowska & Gurba, 2022; McCullough et al., 2002).
Take a few moments each day to reflect on the things you are grateful for, whether it’s a supportive friend, a beautiful sunset, or a delicious meal. To make it an official practice, Martin-Garcia, suggests having a gratitude journal where you can write three things you are grateful for each day. Alternatively, you can find a gratitude partner, and each day both of you can send an email or text message to the other person expressing what you are grateful for that day.
2. Cultivate relationships
“As social beings that we are, we need social relationships to thrive”, affirms Martin-Garcia. The psychotherapist recommends investing time and effort in building and maintaining relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. Engage in active listening, show empathy, and express appreciation for the people in your life.
As previous studies have shown, positive relationships provide support, connection, and a sense of belonging, which contribute significantly to your overall happiness (Umberson & Karas Montez, 2010; Fernandez-Portero et al., 2023).
Engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help cultivate a greater sense of peace and contentment. Experts recommend setting aside a few minutes each day to focus on your breath, observe your thoughts without judgment, and connect with the present moment. Mindfulness allows you to let go of worries about the past or future, promoting a calmer state of mind and increasing overall happiness (Keng et al., 2011).
4. Engage in regular physical activity
Exercise has been proven to boost happiness by releasing endorphins, also known as “feel-good” hormones, in the brain. Martin-Garcia proposes engaging in activities that you enjoy, whether it’s jogging, dancing, or practising yoga. Regular physical activity not only enhances your physical health but also improves your mood, reduces stress, and increases overall well-being (An et al., 2020).
5. Set and pursue meaningful goals
Having clear goals that align with your values and passions can provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Identify what truly matters to you and set realistic, achievable goals to work towards. Break them down into smaller, manageable steps, and celebrate your progress along the way. The pursuit of meaningful goals brings a sense of accomplishment and joy, contributing to your overall happiness (Ryan & Deci, 2001).
6. Prioritize self-care
Prioritize self-care activities such as getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Carve out time for hobbies, self-reflection, and activities that recharge your energy. By nurturing yourself, you’ll have more to give to others and experience greater happiness.
7. Cultivate a positive mindset
A positive mindset has been found to foster happiness and resilience. To shift from negative thoughts to a more positive perspective of things, Martin-Garcia proposes surrounding yourself with positive influences, whether through uplifting books, inspiring podcasts, or supportive friends.
“However, sometimes it can be difficult to cultivate a positive mindset, challenging negative thoughts and focusing on the positive aspects of situations, when you have been doing the opposite for your whole life”, warns the psychotherapist. “CBT therapy is a type of therapy that helps challenge unrealistic and unhelpful thoughts, substituting them for other more helpful ones. For some people, CBT therapy or other types of talking therapy is the best option to cultivate a positive mindset”.
An, H.-Y., Chen, W., Wang, C.-W., Yang, H.-F., Huang, W.-T., & Fan, S.-Y. (2020). The Relationships between Physical Activity and Life Satisfaction and Happiness among Young, Middle-Aged, and Older Adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(13), 4817. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17134817
Czyżowska, N., & Gurba, E. (2022). Enhancing Meaning in Life and Psychological Well-Being Among a European Cohort of Young Adults via a Gratitude Intervention. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 751081. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.751081
Fernandez-Portero, C., Amian, J. G., Alarcón, D., Arenilla Villalba, M. J., & Sánchez-Medina, J. A. (2023). The Effect of Social Relationships on the Well-Being and Happiness of Older Adults Living Alone or with Relatives. Healthcare, 11(2), 222. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare11020222
McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J.-A. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 112–127. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3518.104.22.168
Keng, S. L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1041–1056. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On Happiness and Human potentials: a Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141–166. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.141
Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social Relationships and Health: a Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(1), 54–66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890–905. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005