Most studies on what makes people happy agree that family and relationships rank right at the top. Next come meaningful work, positive thinking, and the ability to forgive. In rough order of importance, here are the top 10 things you can do to increase happiness in your life.
What MOST makes people happy:
1. Family and relationships
The happiest people spend time with those they love. Intimacy with others fulfils two basic human needs. We need social connections with others of our kind. We also need the personal growth that relationships provide which makes us feel fully alive.
Try to accept social invitations whenever possible, or initiate social gatherings with family and friends. Face-to-face meetings make us more happy than online networking, because hugging and other forms of physical touch release endorphins. So use technology to set up meetings, but get out there and hobnob the old-fashioned way.
2. Meaningful work
We are happiest when engaged in activities that make us forget ourselves and lose track of time. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this the “flow” experience. Flow can be achieved when making music, gardening, playing with children, practising sports, writing, or even pouring over a spreadsheet. You achieve flow when you enjoy doing what you do best.
Abraham Maslow defines “self-actualisation” as the innate human motivation that each of us has to achieve our potential. This is why we experience a sense of fulfilment when using and developing our skills, talents and abilities. When we complete a challenge or task that we are pleased with, we achieve a peak experience of self-actualisation.
3. Positive thinking
Refuse to compare yourself with others. Be content you have “enough house” instead of envying your neighbour’s bigger house. If you really have to compare, compare down and not up. Olympic bronze medallists who consider themselves lucky to get a medal are happier than silver medallists who feel that they missed the gold medal.
You can also choose to believe the better option. For example, if your partner often works late, accept that he is overwhelmed with deadlines instead of telling yourself that he just doesn’t care enough to spend time with you.
What also makes people happy:
This is a subset of positive thinking, yet it is such an important aspect that it deserves a place all by itself. Grateful people are happy people. Gratitude is best expressed in writing or talking. Keeping a gratitude journal or saying prayers aloud every night is a surefire way to increase your happiness.
Those who cannot forgive become angry and depressed over time, and suffer poorer health due to the physical reactions to these negative emotions. Give the gift of forgiveness, and you increase your happiness.
6. Giving to others
Many people testify that what lifted them from depression was helping others. So you could volunteer at a homeless shelter, hold the hand of a terminally ill patient, raise funds for charity, or tutor children from poor families. All these forms of giving take us out of ourselves and set us back on the path to normalcy and happiness.
Religion provides a personal creed, a direction in life, and this sense of purpose contributes to a person’s well-being and happiness. A person’s specific religions belief or denomination does not seem to matter as much as the fact that she believes in something.
8. Personal freedom
We cannot be happy unless we determine our own fate and are left to make our own choices. Each of us may need this freedom in varying degrees. If this is extremely important to you, starting your own business, freelancing, or even choosing a single life may contribute to making you happy.
9. Good health
Surprisingly, health does not contribute much to happiness. This is because health, like money, is a hygiene factor. We are unhappy with it, but once we have it, we take it for granted and do not become any happier with more of it. So keep yourself in reasonably good health so that you can enjoy life, but do not obsess over it.
10. Watching TV
Psychologists and economists confirm that this simple activity increases our enjoyment and happiness in the moment. While excessive TV may reduce your quality of life by taking away time from other important things, a little TV is harmless and may even be good for you 🙂
What makes YOU happy?
Lists like this are useful only if you take action on at least one of the 10 areas above. If you’re not sure where to start, work on your personal relationships. This is the number one thing that makes people happy.
A good way to improve your relationships is to learn the 5 languages of love. Start using these with the people you love. Doing this alone will work wonders for your happiness. And theirs too!