Did you know that there are actual studies on happiness and what helps us move towards feelings of happiness? In fact, figuring out what makes us happy has been bandied about for a long, long time. The Ancient Greeks apparently defined happiness as “the joy you feel moving toward your potential.” In the 1800s, a doctor by the name of Alexander Chalmers evidently stated: “The three grand essentials of happiness are: Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” And now we have 21st Century people like Shawn Achor and various other notables at Harvard studying happiness on an even grander scale.
So here are a few things we know about how to create happiness in our lives (and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money).
- People: We need relationships with people in a face-to-face way, not just via technology. Skype and Facebook are great, but the Keith Urban song that says “I know you’re only a phone call away, but it’s just not the same” is true. We need people and we need to be in the same room with them from time to time, in conversation, listening, making eye contact and sharing time and attention.
- Kindness: Doing something nice for someone – it could be someone you know or a total stranger. Volunteers talk about the “helper’s high” and there really is such a thing – brain science is proving it. Smiling at someone; being nice to the cashier at the grocery store; letting someone in your lane while driving in rush hour traffic … there are lots of ways to cultivate kindness.
- Move: get out there and walk the dog, play catch with your kids, or ride bikes with your spouse. We’ve known for a long time that regular physical activity has a big impact on our mental health and our happiness.
- Religious and/or Spiritual Practices: Time and time again, religious practices or spirituality, along with prayer or meditation are shown to have an impact on happiness, our feelings of well-being, and finding deeper meaning in our lives.
- Gratitude and Optimism: Both of this help generate a habit of happiness. Being grateful for what we do have and optimistic about a brighter future can have lasting benefits for our well-being and feelings of happiness.
Whether we are living in Ancient Greece, the 1800s or the 21st Century, happiness is something very real and very important that we are all striving for. There is an invitation for each of us to take a look at what we can do to improve our well-being and our feelings of joy as we walk to our fullest potential.