It's so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday living that we frequently forget to prioritize one of the simplest, most important aspects of being human – our happiness. World Health Day is tomorrow (April 7), and feeling happy not only promotes a healthier lifestyle, it also combats stress, strengthens our immune system, protects our heart and reduces pain. It may even increase life expectancy! Whether we define happiness as fulfillment, success (not just the monetary kind) or contentment, it’s crucial to find ways to indulge in little acts of joy regularly, consciously observing where and when we feel our best. While there are infinite ways to find enjoyment, we’re highlighting a few key actions that can infuse our lives with positivity and help us brighten our days.
1. Break routine.
As busy people, we tend to become preoccupied with what lies immediately in front of us – the work presentation we need to complete, our kids' carpools, errands we have to run and a million other to-do's we want to check off our lists each day. These responsibilities, however, have the ability to blind us to what’s most important and instead, force us into a mundane regimen. In these moments, the struggle becomes about how to snap ourselves out of "efficiency autopilot" and remember the things that bring us genuine joy. These items might include ringing up a childhood friend, taking time in nature, enjoying a day of self-care or sleeping in. No matter what the activity, these simple acts have the power to remind us of who we are at the core, enabling us to feel recharged and view things from a fresh perspective.1
2. Public interaction.
Happiness can become tainted, or entirely ignored, when our engagement with others is limited to quick, impersonal interactions – small talk at the coffee shop, water-cooler chats with co-workers or fleeting, rushed dialogue with neighbors or strangers. Most of the time, these conversations are completely forgotten by the end of the day, likely due to the fact that our focus was elsewhere at the time. But imagine how much more meaningful our encounters could be if they contained intention and heart. In fact, we often forget that even basic conversations can provide the same emotional benefits as performing a good deed!2 So, the next time we're in a public setting, consider taking a moment to ask our barista how his/her day is going, or give a smile to a person we pass on the street. Leading personal interactions with kindness and presence can mark the beginning of a great day or even more so, a greater friendship.
As the responsibilities we hold become more and more demanding, it’s easy to feel trapped between what we want to do and what we feel we have to do, both professionally and personally. We can become so overwhelmed by our “shoulds” (what we need to do) that we forget to make time for our “wants” (what we crave to do). But balance is key. Without completely neglecting our obligations, it's important to feel free to exercise our desires. One way to identify which one is which, and find more harmony internally, is to create a list of aspirations.3 By becoming more aware of what we genuinely yearn for, we can better understand where to focus our energies and ways to achieve our goals, ultimately leaving us with feelings of gratification and fulfillment.4
Perhaps one of the easiest, most rewarding ways to experience a happier life is by volunteering and lending a hand. When we help others, our brain releases endorphins – the same chemical released when we go for a run, sleep or eat chocolate. This “helper’s high” can occur during big or small gestures, not due to the magnitude of philanthropy, but purely because of the desire to have impact.5 It may sound cliché, but it's often through giving that we receive the most.
Patience is paramount. It's impossible to become happy overnight, and achieving consistent feelings of contentment is a process that requires dedication and time. When we attempt to incorporate these or any other practices into our daily life, remember that if we take them day by day, and focus on staying in the present moment, we can ultimately achieve a more joyful, fulfilled existence.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” ―