The experience of happiness is different from person to person. Some find it elusive and short lived, whist others seem to attract happiness with ease, having plenty to share with those around them.
Although we know it when we feel it, the simple definition of happiness being ‘feeling or showing, pleasure or contentment’, indicates that it is indeed an internal feeling, but can also be an external expression. As for what influences this state of happiness, it can be placed into roughly two areas once again, internally the frame of mind we have, and externally what we actively do.
That which sways happiness
Mental health is an obvious start for internal influences, as this directly affects the capacity to plan towards happiness and the capability to put them into action. The level of mental aptitude to see beauty in everyday life will also affect the ability to achieve a happy lifestyle, as will the perspective taken when coping with change. After all change, along with death and taxes, is a certainty in life.
As for what we actively do, one’s state of physical health is pivotal, as are social connections and personal relationships with friends, family and partners. Further to this the standard of living we have and the amount of satisfaction derived from work, are also crucial in developing and nurturing happiness.
Ideally happiness is a choice, yet these internal and external factors can complicate our best efforts to be happy. So by looking at certain areas of our life we can influence better an environment that is conducive to happiness.
Influencing a happier environment
Small changes to what we do in daily life can add up over time. Starting off the day by taking the time to neatly make a bed is easily achieved. Achievement after all is good for lifting the spirits, and being at the start of the day this small task can have things off to a positive start.
Next is a nourishing breakfast to start the day and some exercise to release those helpful endorphins. Not all of us have time to run a half marathon before heading off to work, so instead a short exercise routine in the lounge room can suffice, or even better a walk around the block. Being outdoors could more easily fulfil the next criteria of taking notice of your surrounds, as plants, people and animals may assist in quietly focusing on the innate beauty of being alive. Think of this as a walking meditation through appreciation of nature. Of course some may prefer the seated version of meditation, which contributes just as much to a happier outlook.
Taking and having the time to slow down and do these things is difficult in a society where everyone looks to be busy. So if life is full, then once again achievements, great or small, can contribute towards happiness. Ideally these achievements are ongoing, each milestone working towards bettering oneself. It is important though to ensure that these achievements are recognised and rewarded in some way, even if that means quietly toasting success to yourself.
Preferably though achievements can be shared with those within a supportive group of family and friends, as these people provide another source of maintaining happiness. As humans we are gregarious by nature and are at our best when living and working within small groups. This is a two way street though, as support is ideally given and received equally. This is especially true for happiness, as there is a strong correlation between those with compassionate and altruistic behaviour, and improvements to their own well-being, happiness, health, and longevity. This can be taken further by the act of giving, yet the positive influences on happiness are required to be balanced with restraint, so as to avoid extending selflessness too far and becoming overwhelmed.
Lastly for material influences on happiness, experiences in life have a lot to offer. Trying out something new or taking up an old pursuit can takes courage but overcoming this fear can provide an increase in confidence. This could be a sport, traveling, or a cultural experience. At the end these positive experiences can be relived and remembered fondly, especially in the knowledge that they are unique to one’s own perspective. They also provide a refreshing change to everyday life, and can energise oneself for any challenges that lie ahead.
Further to positive external experiences, having influence over our attitudes towards life, provides a logical match for these environmental factors.
Ingredients for a happier outlook
A positive attitude towards life begins with acceptance of ourselves and being comfortable with who we are. It also includes taking it easy on ourselves when things pan out differently to what we would have wished. In addition to this another quality, self regulation, is required to then bounce back from these challenges. Self regulation can aid in the avoidance of risky behaviour, such as excessive eating or alcohol, and instead influence healthier choices regarding diet and exercise.
In other words resilience for when times are tough, which goes well with optimism, another quality with which to nurture happiness. Having an optimistic perspective, such as looking at what you have achieved at the end of the day rather than what you have failed to complete, can develop gratitude rather than resentment.
Also with achievements, it is good to set goals, thus having something to look forward to and provide direction within life. Working towards a life goal or being part of something bigger than ourselves, such as a charitable organisation, can provide meaning and enrich life.
Whilst attempting to achieve these qualities, emotional vitality is also an essential personal attribute. This encompasses enthusiasm, engagement and hopefulness, which is more easily achieved by doing that which is a passion, and then trying to apply the same approach to other tasks in life.
Happiness comes in as many forms as there are people. It could be a short, elated experience with a warm afterglow and fond memories, or a slow and steady train of contentedness throughout life. Whatever the level of happiness, it can be appreciated by more than just ourselves.
As the French novelist, Marcel Proust, wrote: ‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.’ Perhaps with choices and changes made over time, we can acquire our green thumb of happiness to share around.