• Brigitte Granger

How to Be Happy RIGHT NOW (and in the Long Term)

a happy woman with arms outstretched on the top of a hill overlooking water and mountains

Every month, over 40,000 people on Google search “how to be happy.” Maybe that’s how you found this post.

There are entire fields of study on happiness. On the one hand, it’s pretty disappointing that so many of us feel the need to turn to a search engine or scientific analyses for answers on something so core to the human experience. On the other hand, it’s reassuring that clearly we value happiness.

Or at least, we want to value it.

With rising depression rates, especially among teens, it makes sense that we’re trying to find ways to be happy.

In this article, we’ll discuss what it means to be happy, sources of happiness and unhappiness, and things you can do in the short and long-term to stay happy.

What is happiness?

Happiness. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?

For me, it’s the yellow smiley face. (Fun fact: the color yellow is associated with happiness according to color psychology.). A close second is the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Third is the “Don’t worry, be happy” bumper sticker and song.

Being happy is so subjective. It can look and feel different for everyone.

You know those people who seem to always be happy? Yes, I’m talking about the bubbly ones. Smiley folks. There’s literally an adjective describing their personality: “happy-go-lucky.”

Well, my understanding is that these people have a cheerful, easygoing attitude and demeanor that we interpret as happy.

But someone who smiles and laughs a lot isn’t always happy.

And people who have a serious exterior? (Ahem, looking at you RBF). Well, those people could be perfectly happy and we’d have no idea. They’ll have the last laugh...but probably won’t actually laugh.

According to positivepsychology.com, happiness is the state of “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” Because it is a state, it can come and go.

That said, theorists seem to agree that happiness is neither totally fleeting nor a stable long-term trait.

What does this mean for you? It means that achieving a state of perfect “happiness” might be futile. Chasing it sets you up for failure as you wonder “What’s wrong? Why aren’t I happy all the time?”

It’s okay to not be happy all the time. And if happiness is what you seek, I have some ideas for you.

Because with a bit of intentional action, you can make happy moments more frequent.

What makes people happy?

Researchers have long been searching for the secret for how to be happy.

As I read some of the research, I began to wonder whether people who study happiness are more likely to be happy than those studying other subjects, like disease. Or are they less happy because “those who can’t do, teach,” etc.? Someone should study THAT.

Anyway, here are a few things that researchers have found to make people happy:

  • Individual income (up to a point, after which money doesn’t increase happiness)

  • Labor market status;

  • Physical health;

  • Family;

  • Social relationships;

  • Moral values;

  • Experience of positive emotions (AIPC, 2011).

To summarize, having enough money, good health and relationships, and feeling positively are associated with being happy.

Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. Bet you could have guessed these.

What's not as clear? Exactly how to get the good money, wellness, relationships, etc.

Dan Buettner, author of the Blue Zones of Happiness, traveled the earth to interview the happiest people around the world. He sought out consistencies among these happy people. In his conclusion, he lists nine lessons for how to be happy:

  1. Love Someone

  2. Curate an Inner Circle

  3. Engage

  4. Learn Likability

  5. Move Naturally

  6. Look Forward

  7. Sleep Seven Plus

  8. Shape Surroundings

  9. Find the Right Community

Does anything stand out to you?

I was surprised that so many of his lessons involved relationships and interactions with other people. Personal connection plays a tremendous role in our experience of happiness.

Remove—or control—sources of unhappiness

As much as you may seek out things that bring joy to your life, if you’re regularly triggered by unpleasant experiences that dampen your joy, finding happiness will be that much more difficult.

Having sources of unhappiness while trying to be happier is like swimming with shoes on. They drag you down. It’s possible to swim with shoes on, of course. It’s also possible to be happy even in the face of a looming source of unhappiness. But it’s a lot more difficult to do.

Some sources of unhappiness you don’t have control over, like an illness, trauma, or other circumstances. Amazingly, we see countless examples of people finding joy and happiness in their lives in spite of tremendous pain and adversity. We'll talk about perspective more below.

So ask yourself: what factors can I control?

Some things that are possible to control and are standing in the way of your happiness might include:

  • Being in debt

  • Hating your job

  • Being in a toxic relationship

  • Having a long commute

  • Not setting boundaries

  • Holding resentment

  • Being lonely

  • Having a negative self-perception

The tricky thing, of course, is that the steps required to remove these sources of stress are themselves difficult and unpleasant. No one said this happiness thing was easy.

However, getting rid of unhappiness forces may be worth the temporary discomfort.

Eliminating the stress of debt, a job you hate, or a painful relationship can allow you to experience more happiness and swim freely.

How to find happiness

Creating future happiness is like investing in a retirement savings account.

Like most things worth waiting for, setting yourself up for a happier future is difficult now, but rewarding later.

By beginning to do the hard work to remove sources of unhappiness in your life, you can set yourself up for more happy moments down the road.

What are some things you can do to start tackling sources of unhappiness?