Everyone is in the pursuit of a happy life. Whether we realize it or not, humans seek to be happy. It drives our choices, emotions, and decisions.
But what makes a happy life? The answer is different for everyone, but some common threads apply.
I want to help you learn how to build a happier life for yourself.
Everyone’s version of a happy life is unique. Some people are happiest when serving others, while others find great joy in pursuing their interests. For most of us, it’s a combination of things that make us happy.
In truth, your happiness depends on doing what is meaningful to you. In order to be your happiest, you must find meaning and value in life.
What is personally meaningful to you? What are the things that matter to you and bring you satisfaction?
These are the things you should focus on to have a happy life.
The people, places, things, and feelings that create your meaningful life line up with your subjective well-being, which refers to how you evaluate your life.
People usually evaluate how well they’re doing at any given time by how much inner peace they enjoy. We all strive for peace of mind, even without consciously knowing we are doing it.
The following list of items contributes to the overall happiness of most people. As you read about each one, think about which would create a more meaningful life for you and give you more happiness and abundance.
Both your physical and mental health are vital to a happy life. When your mind is at ease and your body is in good health, you not only feel better but you have more opportunities to pursue things that will bring you happiness, success, and overall well-being.
Stay active every day. Exercise releases endorphins in your body, which keep you more calm, relaxed, and happy. They’re called “feel-good” hormones, and all you need to do to release them is by moving.
A morning walk, afternoon jog, weekend hike, yoga class, gardening, recreational sports team, and bike ride are just a few examples of how you can add activity to your schedule.
Eat a healthy diet to prevent feeling sluggish and to lower your risk of developing conditions that limit your mobility and health.
Be sure to take care of your mental health by filling your mind with positive input, refraining from complaining, and nurturing positive emotions.
A commitment to something bigger and more important than yourself is a key component to a happy life. To be truly happy, you need to feel that your life stands for something and that you’re somehow making a valuable contribution to the world.
Create a mindset of selflessness over selfishness. When you serve others, you contribute to their overall happiness, which can’t help but make you happy as well.
When you help another person, you often forget your own troubles or worries for a moment and may even realize that you have more to be grateful for than you thought you did.
Options to serve are endless. For example, you can spread happiness simply by smiling at someone. Numerous studies show that smiling helps people live longer, happier, and better other people’s lives.
Here are some more ideas on how to serve others and increase your happiness:
Having a clear sense of direction brings happiness. You can achieve a happier life when you’re working step by step toward something that is really important to you.
Finding happiness goes hand in hand with having a purpose in life. Personal fulfillment is a feeling that you’re becoming everything that you’re moving toward. It’s the realization of your full potential as a human being.
Setting and striving toward meaningful goals also gives you hope for a better future. As you create a daily checklist of to-do items that will bring you closer to achieving your goals, you’re more equipped to overcome the challenges that come your way.
Positive social connections contribute to a happy life. Even if you happen to consider yourself an introvert, creating an inner circle of positive people increases your level of positive emotions and overall well-being.
Who are the happy people in your life?
Spend more time with them. Observe the things they say and how they spend their time. What do they omit from their lives and what do they prioritize? Following the example of happy people can lead to being a happier you.
Supplement your life with encouraging people by listening to uplifting podcasts, watching inspiring vlogs, or joining a book club that reads positive material. Identify the coworkers, neighbors, classmates, family members, and others in your life who are positive thinkers.
Gravitate toward these people, and you’ll find that you’ll start thinking more positively and feeling happier too.
The number of friends you have is much less important than the quality of your friendships. Seek out friends who are supportive and have a positive influence on you–those who help bring out your best self.
Look for like-minded friends by joining groups or clubs that you are interested in and by engaging in activities you enjoy. Chances are, you will find one or two people that you connect with, want to spend time with, and can form meaningful relationships with.
Find beauty around you, in simple everyday things. This can range from taking a minute to enjoy the sunset to being thankful that you have a comfortable home to live in.
Appreciating your surroundings simply means being thankful for everything in your environment.
Take a moment to pause. Walk at a slower pace and observe what is around you. Notice colors, smells, textures, sounds, silences, faces, light, movement, and shapes.
Add time to reflect on your routine every day. Meditating, pondering, or just sitting can calm your thinking and enable you to step out of the hectic world we often live in to enjoy solitude and respite.
Changing your surroundings can lead you to appreciate what you have. Travel to or learn about a foreign country or even what life is like one state over from yours.
Stepping out of your normal environment to explore a different one can give you a better sense of the aspects of your life that make you happy– or what you can add or subtract from your life to make it even happier.
Home should be a place where you can retreat from the hustle, bustle, and contention of the world to find peace, solitude, safety, and comfort. However, this doesn’t always come naturally, it can take a concerted effort.
Strive to minimize arguments and other factors at home that detract from a happy life. Choose to listen and speak respectfully. If you need help, reach out to relationship experts online or in your community, or learn more about positive psychology and relationship building.
Invest in making your home a place you really want to be. Where you live can be simple, but if it is homey, intimate, and comfortable, it will contribute greatly to your happiness.
Give the walls a fresh coat of paint in colors or neutrals that make you smile. Hang photos or art on the walls that remind you of wonderful memories or add cheer to your surroundings.
Even cleanliness is a component of a happy life. When your home is clean, tidy, and free of unnecessary distractions, your mind often feels less cluttered as well and you’re able to relax and feel joy in your home.
Experts are finding more and more evidence of the benefits of nature to mental health, physical health, and happiness. In one study, researchers found that spending 30 minutes a week in green space outdoors can reduce depression by 7% and lower the prevalence of developing high blood pressure by 9%.
Another study found that taking a walk in a natural environment can improve your memory 20% more than taking a walk in the city.
Being outdoors, or around plants and animals, helps restore your mental health and can even help you heal faster physically.
Natural light, fresh air, and the positive energy you receive from living beings can reduce pain. Vitamin D from natural sunlight helps prevent cancer, heart attacks, and osteoporosis.
Try to add nature to your schedule every day. Breakfast on your porch or in front of a window overlooking your yard or garden can start your day off with serenity.
If you live in the city, create a green space on your patio or in a window box by adding potted plants, flowers, trees, and bird feeders that will attract birds, butterflies, and other friendly wildlife.
Make a point of getting sunshine every day by taking a walk or simply stepping outdoors at lunchtime. Explore your local parks, bike paths, streams, rivers, lakes, and natural habitats.
Studies show that spending time with animals increases the production of oxytocin, which makes us feel relaxed and less stressed or anxious. Get a pet or volunteer at the local animal shelter. Everything from a horse, dog, or cat to guinea pigs, birds, and rabbits can increase your happiness.
Financial freedom is a worthy goal. It’s defined as having enough money that you are no longer preoccupied with it.
While it’s not necessarily money that brings happiness, the lack of enough money to meet your needs usually creates stress, worry, fatigue, anxiety, and a host of other negative consequences.
Therefore, striving for financial stability is a worthy life goal. Beyond this, however, there are other things to focus on that are essential for a happy life.
Once your basic needs are met, studies show that more money does not necessarily bring more happiness. Therefore, focusing on things that really matter leads to life satisfaction.
Often the things that matter the most to us are the things money can’t buy. Love, acceptance, trust, respect, health, stable relationships, compassion, understanding, faith, loyalty, and safety are among the intangible qualities that add to a happy life.
Which of these or other qualities are most meaningful to you? Which brings you happiness? Or, another way to look at it is which brings unhappiness when they’re absent from your life?
Once you identify what you value most, find ways to attract more of them. Often, what you give comes back to you. So if you show more respect to others, chances are you will receive more respect. The same applies to love, compassion, kindness, good humor, creativity, excitement, and so on.
Moderation and simplicity often bring more happiness than excess and overabundance. A healthy balance of work, rest, and play are key to a happy life.
It’s very easy to overwork in our quest to provide for ourselves and our families, strive for success, and meet our goals. However, too much work is often counterproductive and creates more problems, including health issues and rocky relationships.
Although many people work 45 to 50 or more hours a week—with an average of 47 in the US—numerous studies indicate that productivity suffers greatly after putting in a 40-hour work week and may halt altogether after 55 hours.
Strive to balance your life with good time management skills and goal setting. Happy people take time to rest, pursue their interests, and spend time with people that are important to them.
Consider eight hours of work, eight hours of play, and eight hours of rest every day. Of course, every day cannot be perfectly balanced, but striving to maintain balance throughout your week will help you maintain a happy life.
Balance keeps stress at bay, helps you give attention to the good things in your life, and allows you to be more energized so that when you do work you are more productive.
Happy people have things to look forward to. Future aspirations add zest and excitement to life, and they can help you stay focused on what you need and want to do.
For example, you might plan a vacation next year when you can unplug for a full week or two in a place you’ve never been before or love returning to. You can also plan small things to look forward to, such as a regular date night, family activity, or fun adventure once a week.
Some of the most successful and happy people insist on having dinner with their family every night, for example. It gives them something to look forward to after a busy day and helps them nurture strong relationships—which in turn brings more happiness.
Set reachable goals, take action, and plan things in your schedule that you enjoy.
I also recommend rewarding yourself for your accomplishments. As you set goals, build in smaller achievement markers that show you are making progress.
Plan ahead of time what you will reward yourself with as you check off each task. This can motivate you to persevere when you’re having a hard time focusing or progressing as well as increase your overall well-being by having something to look forward to.
Spending time alone in the pursuit of something you’re interested in gives you meaningful time for self-reflection. As you unplug from your job, responsibilities, and cares of the world, you’re able to ponder your level of life satisfaction.
Pursuing your interests allows you to nurture your talents and find new skills. It’s not uncommon for our personal interests to be pushed aside by greater responsibilities. However, it’s important for a well-rounded life to take time for personal growth.
Get in touch with the things you have always wanted to do but felt you didn’t have time or money for. Perhaps it’s traveling, water skiing, learning a new language, or taking up a hobby.
As you set goals and manage your time—and finances if needed—you can carve out hours each week devoted to pursuing your interests. This will make a noticeable difference in your overall happiness.
Negative thoughts and emotions are the ingredients of a miserable life. They stunt our progression, cause depression, and create more problems.
Form an awareness of when you ‘e having negative thoughts and emotions, and actively find ways to replace them with positive thoughts and emotions.
Negative emotions can include anxiety, worry, anger, fear, frustration, irritation, envy, rejection, insecurity, stress, guilt, boredom, and lethargy. Be in tune to when you are experiencing these emotions and identify what is causing them.
Do you see a pattern? Do you need to eliminate or reduce certain situations, circumstances, habits, or people from your life in order to be happier?
Keeping a journal may help you identify what is causing these feelings and what you can do to counteract them. For example, if you feel anxious before seeing a combative boss or coworker each day, you can begin your day with positive affirmations and meditation to calm your mind.
Just as negative emotions zap the happiness out of our lives, so do negative thoughts. They can range from, “I’m not good enough” and “I can’t do this” to “I’ll put it off until tomorrow” and “I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of pie.”
Be aware of the dialogue that is going on in your head to combat negative thoughts with positive thoughts. “I am good enough,” “I can do this one step at a time,” “I’ll do it now,” and “I enjoyed that pie” will uplift you and contribute to your happy life.
Positive psychology suggests that happiness depends on focusing on positive emotions, experiences, traits, events, and influences.
Make a conscious decision to choose optimism. Even when you’re in the midst of an intense challenge or something has gone wrong, you can always choose to look at the opportunity it is and focus on solutions instead of dwelling on problems.
While we cannot always choose the things that happen to us, we can always choose how we react to any given situation. For instance, in the past, you might have felt rejected by or angry with a friend or colleague who disappointed you.
But in the present and future, you can choose to communicate your feelings to that person and work toward a resolution so that your relationship is strengthened.
Research suggests that feeling grateful can increase your feelings of happiness and hope. Happiness and thankfulness go hand in hand. When we’re thankful, we complain less and we see the good in everything around us.
As you practice gratitude, you’ll naturally become more aware of the positive aspects of your life and the good things within your environment.
Think about all of the things you are grateful for. Write a list. The longer your list gets, the more you’ll recognize that your happiness increases.
Keeping a gratitude journal can make a big difference in how happy you are. People who keep gratitude journals have lower rates of depression and sickness and increase their longevity.
You’ve likely heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” But it’s more than a saying, it’s actually proven that laughing reduces pain, strengthens your immune system, and accelerates healing.
Laughter reduces stress, relaxes your muscles, and stimulates vital organs, such as your heart and lungs. When you laugh, you not only raise your happiness level but you make others happy too.
Laughter is contagious, just as a smile is. It’s hard not to laugh or at least grin when you hear someone laughing. And as you do, notice how your mood lightens and you can actually feel the positive physical effects.
For a happy life, find ways to infuse appropriate humor into your days. Read amusing comics and blog posts, watch funny movies and videos, or gather an arsenal of clean, uplifting jokes to tell others. More laughter can lead to a happier, healthier life.
You must be able to let things go to have a happy life. If someone has hurt you in the past, carrying that pain into the present only continues to hurt you and rob you of your happiness.
Although it may be difficult at times to forgive, you’ll benefit greatly. Even if someone doesn’t feel remorseful for their actions, your ability to forgive will release you from the thoughts and emotions that are debilitating you.
The power of forgiveness includes forgiving yourself as well. Allow yourself the grace of making mistakes and work toward improving.
Focus on what you’ve gained and how you’ve grown through every experience you have—and not on what you’ve lost or should’ve done. The best path to a happy life is moving forward, not looking backward.
To feel your best, you need to know who you are and why you think and feel the way you do. Strive to find your purpose in life by identifying your strengths and talents.
Know your love language to understand what makes you happy. Are you happiest when you’re given words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, or physical touch? Knowing your love language will help you avoid disappointment or blaming others for not “making” you happy.
Instead, you will be happiest when you realize you’re in control of your happiness. If someone close to you doesn’t give you a compliment and your love language is words of affirmation, you’ll realize it is not their fault that they don’t know it is important to you. Instead of being disappointed, you can ask for their opinion to help take control of your own happiness.
It’s up to you to decide what would make you the happiest in everything you do.
I hope this list has helped you come closer to understanding what defines a happy life for you. Once you know what makes you happy, add more of these things to your life. And to help you get started on mapping out what a meaningful life means to you, download my free Personal Development Plan Template now.
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