Choosing Happiness

Watch the video or read the blog post below for five tips on how to increase your happiness.

It’s been spring for a few days in Seattle, and that makes me so giddy-happy that I only want to think about happiness—so that’s what I’m writing about today. Now that the sun is out—and I hope it is too wherever you are!—my Positivity Experiment (more about it here) is a piece of cake. 

It’s hard to not be happy when everything is blooming and beautiful around you. But relying on sunshine for happiness seems a little risky, at least for anybody who doesn’t live in Hawaii (life goals, anyone?). So, the true question is: Can we choose to be happy?

The answer is: yes, to a certain extent. But that does not mean that everybody can do it to all the time and under any circumstances. Biology actually has a say in our potential for happiness (the jury is still out on how big the genetic component is). And of course, if you are going through a depression, you are most likely unable to make that choice. Last but not least, humans can’t be happy all the time—it’s just not sustainable. So please, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t self-coach yourself into a state of happiness. 

Happiness takes practice

It’s probably fair to say that most of us want to be as happy as possible as often as possible. And genetics, upbringing, and external conditions notwithstanding, there is plenty we can do to increase how happy we feel:

1. Boost your happy thoughts 

Our thoughts define our feelings, and when we change our thoughts, we can change our feelings. The more often we do, the better we get at it. Here’s a simple example: Let’s say after a few days of gorgeous sunshine, you get up and see that it’s all gray and rainy. You can now either be disappointed about the weather change and bitch about it all day long. Or you can decide not to let the rain bring you down—and be excited about the opportunity to wear your super cute new raincoat. That’s a very Seattle example but I hope you see what I’m getting at. Changing thoughts isn’t always this easy, but the way it works is always the same. So keep doing it, and it’ll become much easier over time! 

2. Create happiness through decisions

To a major extent, our happiness is based on the decisions we make. Decisions, of course, that align with our values and with our authentic self, not with expectations we think we should meet. An important happiness decision is to spend time with people we care for. Personally, I grew up an only child and often feel very happy spending time by myself, but as a rule, humans are pack animals—so if you can’t improve your own mood, let others do the job! 

3. Happiness does come from within

It’ll probably not surprise you much but I’ll write it anyway: Hardly any of our happiness comes from material stuff or external conditions (with clear exceptions: economic hardship or racism significantly affects people’s potential to be happy). Minimalists tend to be pretty happy people, and there’s even a well-known study that shows that not only are lottery winners not happier than non-winners; they are hardly happier than people who were paralyzed in an accident! Yep, you read that right. Now, there’s food for thought!

4. Optimism pays off

Optimists tend to be happier than pessimists. Goes without saying, you think? Well, yes, it sounds logical enough—but optimists often have very high expectations, and reality tends to disappoint them on a regular basis. If things don’t work out, their expectations are disappointed while pessimists feel confirmed. The beautiful thing is that when we train ourselves to look at the bright side, we also start to respond differently to what happens in our lives. And optimists can much more easily shrug off a setback or failure than pessimists who second-guess their every step or get stuck in disappointment.

5. Gratitude makes people happy

Sorry to pitch the idea of a gratitude journal to you again. I know I do that a lot. But it’s not because I am obsessed with gratitude—it’s because being grateful for what we have may well be the best way to become a happier person. Just think about children’s books: Who are the unhappy characters? Always the ones who want more or what others have. And the happy characters? Usually the ones who sit in the grass and enjoy the sunshine and the company of a friend. We learned this lesson when we were young—now it’s time to refresh it. It was a good one back then, and it still is a good one now.

6. Move your butt

And the easiest thing: get moving!! I am not much of a music person and there are only a handful of people who’ve ever seen me dance, but even I have a happy song. When I feel stressed out or down or anxious, I have Alexa play it on full volume and I make myself dance through the whole song in front of the bathroom mirror. Granted, it feels totally ridiculous to start out with, but after a minute or so it feels pretty good. Bonus points if you smile at yourself in the mirror! Our brains are complicated things, but pretty simple in one aspect: They see us smile—and they believe we are happy, so they give us the happy feels. Give it a try—it’s the cheapest and quickest way to lift your spirit!