Happiness is one of the most elusive of emotions. David G. Myers believes that there is no foolproof way to be happy, but he suggests we can learn the following lessons by studying happy people.1
Savor the moment. “Happiness,” said Benjamin Franklin, “is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by the little advantages that occur every day.”2 Unhappy people see today as only a means to the future. Happy people learn to enjoy the little things in life today.
There is no relationship between having money and being happy. Myers points out that “wealth is like health. Although its utter absence breeds misery, having it is no guarantee of happiness. Happiness is less a matter of getting what we want than wanting what we get.”
To feel happier, take control of your time. “One way to feel more empowered is to master our use of time,” says psychologist Mike Argyle. For happy people, time is “filled and planned.” For unhappy people, time is unfilled, open, and uncommitted; they postpone things and are inefficient.3 Myers recommends breaking down big goals into daily aims as this will help you to accomplish your goals. Meeting goals provides “the delicious, confident feeling of being in control.”4
Happy people act happy. As crazy as it sounds, if you want to be happy, act happy. People with happy lives exhibited three traits: they like themselves, they are positive thinkers, and they are outgoing. If you don’t have these qualities, you can practice them and actually become happier. In a recent study, people who were told to go around smiling wound up being happier than those who went around scowling. Strangely enough, going through the motions can trigger the emotions.
Seek work and leisure that engage your skills. Challenges at work and home can leave us stressed. The trick is to be involved in activities that interest us. The experience of being absorbed in this interest is called “flow” by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.5 To stay in flow, we might choose to take a lower paying job that we find more interesting and challenging. Alternatively, we could take up a stimulating hobby. “In every part and corner of our lives, to lose oneself is to be a gainer; to forget oneself is to be happy,” noted Robert Louis Stevenson.6
Join the “movement” movement. Physically fit people are more self-confident, less stressed, and in better spirits than those who don’t exercise.
Get rest. People who are energetic and cheerful make time to get enough rest. Studies show that there is less depression among people who get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Some research shows that people who get a good night’s sleep have better self-control.
Give priority to close relationships. It is no surprise that close relationships are an antidote to unhappiness. People with several close relationships are healthier and happier.
Take care of the soul. C. S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” More and more studies are showing what Christians have known all along: there is a relationship between faith and well-being. In a recent Gallup survey, highly spiritual people were twice as likely as those lower in spiritual commitment to declare themselves as “very happy.”7
While happiness may be elusive, we can become happier by developing the above qualities of happy people.
1. David G. Myers, “Pursuing Happiness,” Psychology Today, 1 July 1993, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199307/pursuing-happiness
2. Benjamin Franklin Quotes, goodreads.com, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/30129-happiness-consists-more-in-the-small-conveniences-of-pleasures-that
3. Myers, Ibid
4. Myers, Ibid
5. Myers, Ibid
6. Robert Louis Stevenson Quotes, goodreads.com, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/658144-in-every-part-and-corner-of-our-life-to-lose
7. Deborah Jordan Brooks, “Running Down the Road to Happiness,” 8 October 2002, https://news.gallup.com/poll/6943/running-down-road-happiness.aspx
Eileen Nielsen is the Member Care Facilitator for TEAM Japan and a counselor at Tokyo Mental Health Clinic. She leads seminars on using MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) for team building, conflict resolution, and personal development.