Everyone wants to be happy in life. While individuals may define success or measure happiness differently, there are some basic qualities of a happy life that seem to be universal. Studies have shown that no matter where you begin in life, how you consciously live through your adult years will determine your overall lifelong happiness more than your financial situation, or even your happiness at an earlier age.Learning how to live better and feel more positive about the world around you can help you live a happy and meaningful life.
1Reduce negative self-talk. Everyone engages in negative self-talk at some point or another. While some people may find it motivating, studies show that it actually contributes to stress, depression, and poor coping skills. Learning how to identify negative self-talk can help you catch yourself when you’re thinking poorly of yourself, which can make it easier to then consciously engage in a more positive way of thinking. Some common forms of negative self-talk include:
- Filtering – this behavioral problem involves ignoring or “filtering out” all the positive aspects of your life or a given situation, and instead focusing on only the negative aspects. An example might be overlooking everything you accomplished at work and instead focusing on the one problem you were unable to successfully resolve.
- Personalizing – this entails blaming yourself for everything that happens. It can also involve interpreting any situational criticism as something that you are or should be blamed for. An example of this might involve hearing that your friends can’t make it to a party and assuming that they canceled their plans to avoid seeing you.
- Catastrophizing – this means automatically preparing for or expecting the worst possible scenario. An example of this might be assuming that the rest of your day will go wrong because of one minor setback early in your day.
- Polarizing – this involves seeing things, people, and situations as always good or always bad. An example might be assuming that because you had an off day at work, you are automatically a bad employee.
Think positive. Thinking positively does not mean that you ignore the bad or unpleasant things in life. It simply means that you approach every situation in life, both good and bad, with a positive outlook and a productive mindset. You can work on engaging in positive thinking in little ways every day. To start thinking more positively, try to:
- identify the things you think negatively about, and recognize why
- evaluate your thoughts and feelings throughout the day
- seek humor in everyday situations and allow yourself to smile or laugh even when you’re upset
- live a healthy lifestyle
- spend time with positive people (and avoid negative people as much as possible)
- be gentle with yourself – a good rule for yourself is to avoid thinking things about yourself that you would not say to another person
- try to find the positive aspects of negative situations
- envision a more positive future for yourself, and determine what you’ll need to do to make that vision a reality
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness involves developing an awareness of where you are, what you are doing, and what you are sensing/feeling in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, manage anxiety and depression, and improve your mood.
- Focus on your breathing. Become aware of the physical sensation of each breath passing through your nostrils, the rising and falling of your abdomen, and the feeling of your legs and feet on the chair or floor.
- Meditate. Activities that promote meditation, including an extended peaceful prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, or spiritual reflection, actually change an area of your brain called the insula, which is involved in your experience of empathy/understanding others. Developing your empathy muscles (helping others) will help you lead a happier life.
- Try to engage your senses in everything you do. When you eat, look at your food for a moment and smell it. You may want to consider feeling it with your hands to experience the tactile sensation of your food. Try to anticipate what it will taste like, and chew slowly to savor the experience.
Eat a healthy diet. What you eat can have a huge impact on how you feel. It’s not enough to avoid bad foods. You should also be getting vitamins and nutrients from all of the major food groups, and avoiding overeating or under-eating.
- Most adults need 1.5 to 2 cups of fresh fruit or 100% fruit juice every day.
- Adults should eat between 2.5 and 3 cups of fresh vegetables every day.
- Choose whole grains instead of refined grains. Adults should eat six to eight ounces of whole grains every day, depending on your age, gender, and activity level.
- Eat a variety of protein foods every day. Adults typically need between 5 and 6.5 ounces of lean protein, including seafood, poultry/eggs, tofu, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, or soymilk. Adults typically need three cups of dairy every day.
- Drink enough water each day. General guidelines for living in a temperate climate suggest that men should drink three liters of water each day, and women should drink 2.2 liters. If you live in a hot environment, however, or if you live a very active lifestyle (especially if you exercise regularly), you should increase your water intake to account for the water lost in sweat.
Manage stress in your life. You cannot avoid stressful situations, but you can find ways to relieve your stress. You can use relaxation techniques, such as meditation, visualization, tai chi, yoga, and deep breathing.
- Practice deep breathing by breathing in and out from your diaphragm (below the ribcage), instead of taking shallow breaths from your chest. Try to develop a pattern of deep breathing, like counting to five on a slow inhalation, holding your breath for five seconds, and exhaling slowly for five seconds.
- Practice meditation by sitting in a comfortable position away from anything that might distract you. Use deep breathing and try to focus only on your breath, letting go of any thoughts that pass through your mind without judging them or engaging with them.
- Use visualization to calm your mind and put yourself in a better mood. Combine deep breathing with an imagined image of something calming, such as a relaxing place or situation.
Cultivate a healthy lifestyle. In addition to eating a healthy diet, it’s important to live a healthy and active lifestyle. How well you care for your body in your early and middle years can have a big impact on your health later in life.
- Exercise regularly. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes each week of moderate aerobic activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of strenuous aerobic activity. Try to incorporate strength-training exercises (like lifting weights or using weight resistance) at least twice each week for a well-rounded workout.
- Avoid smoking, and quit if you are currently a smoker. You can use smoking cessation products like nicotine gum or patches, and you may find it helpful to attend a support group or recruit the help of your friends/family.
- Practice safe sex by always using condoms and engaging in monogamous, exclusive relationships.
Finding Purpose in Your Life
Determine what you value most. Everyone has things that are important in life, but what do you ultimately value above all else? Don’t think about physical, tangible things. Instead, focus on what you want in your life that will give your life a sense of meaning and purpose. Some commonly valued elements of a meaningful life include:
- friendship/connections with others
- generosity/service to others
Find a career that challenges you. Personal growth can give you a tremendous sense of meaning and purpose. One of the best and most-fulfilling ways to accomplish this is by finding a career that challenges you to grow and develop as a person.
- Figure out what you’re passionate about doing. You might begin this by examining what your values are. Do you value compassion and generosity? Perhaps a career helping other people might be personally fulfilling for you.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Just because you are getting by at your job, it does not mean that you derive any real satisfaction or fulfillment from it. Try finding ways to pursue your passion through volunteer work, and if you like it, see if there is any way you can transition into doing that work professionally on a full-time basis.
- Having a fulfilling career will most likely give you a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment than having a lot of money would. You need to be financially secure, of course, but it’s more important to live with a sense of purpose than to acquire meaningless wealth.
Consider pursuing a spiritual life. Being spiritual may mean a religious life for some people, but spirituality does not require any organized religion. It’s entirely possible to live a spiritual life without ever identifying as religious, though some people find religion itself to be quite fulfilling.
- Practice self-reflection every day. Learn to control and take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions.
- Find ways to increase your compassion for others. Work to help others in need, no matter what their circumstances might be.
- Try to maintain hope and a positive attitude, even during stressful or tragic situations.
- Engage with nature. The natural world can be tremendously calming, and many people find that being in nature gives them a sense of spiritual happiness. Try going for walks in the woods, contemplating the landscape whenever you are outdoors. You can also bring nature to you by planting a garden or growing flowering plants in your home or yard.
Find a sense of community. Belonging to some kind of community is an important component of mental health. It can also help give you a sense of purpose and meaning in your life. Even introverted individuals often find that being a part of some larger community is fulfilling and enjoyable.
- Find groups that share a cause you’re passionate about.
- Try volunteering with likeminded people for some kind of shared cause.
- Join a book club. You’ll get to interact with people who share your interests while also bonding over works of art.
Dealing with Challenges in Life
Confront your struggles. It may seem easier to avoid the challenges in life than to face them head-on. But avoiding your problems will only lead to more problems down the road, which may result in your feeling a lack of control. The best way to deal with challenge and struggle in your life is to acknowledge it and face it.
- Don’t avoid dealing with your problems. Address them as they arise, and recognize that a given problem needs your attention.
- Think about the times you’ve faced your problems in the past. You no doubt walked away with a greater sense of purpose and a stronger sense of confidence. Remember this as you approach new and bigger problems, and take comfort in this fact.
Accept what you have, not what you want. One of the best ways to feel content with the conditions of your life (no matter how challenging) is to practice accepting your situation as it is. Though you may wish things were easier (like having more money, a more secure job, or even better health), dwelling on what you don’t have will not make living in the present any easier.
- Remember that without hard times, you would not have as much appreciation for the good times.
- Accepting your life the way it is right now is the only way you can truly appreciate everything you have. Be grateful for the people in your life, no matter how difficult your life’s circumstances may be at the moment.
- Recognize that everyone has similar struggles in some form or another. No life is without difficulty, but it is through perseverance and mindfulness that life becomes joyous and meaningful.
Try to see problems as opportunities. It’s not always easy to see the silver lining in unfortunate or challenging situations. But the reality of the situation is that struggle often leads to new insights about yourself, a new perspective on life, and even a renewed sense of purpose.
- It will not be easy to see your problems as an opportunity for growth, but with mindfulness and a lot of practice, you’ll quickly see that you do actually grow and develop from living through your challenges.
- Recognize and always remember that life is full of meaning. Just because you are going through a hard time (like being unemployed or losing a loved one), or even suffering physical/medical ailments (like chronic illness or the loss of a limb), it does not mean that your life is without meaning.
- Try to use the problems in your life to motivate you. Perhaps living with a medical condition might give you the opportunity to join others in raising awareness of that condition, or even working towards finding a cure.
- Know that even if a given problem doesn’t work out favorably, you’ll still have grown as a person and developed more confidence as a result of facing your problems and trying to learn from them.
Being a More Loving Person
Practice gratitude. Everyone has countless things to be grateful for in life, but in the chaos of day-to-day life, it can be easy to forget to practice gratitude. Increasing your gratitude in every situation and circumstance in life can help you feel better, and may help you find a greater sense of purpose.
- Write a letter to someone you appreciate (a parent, a friend, your romantic partner, etc.) and let that person know why you appreciate them. Thank that person for everything they’ve done for you, and let them know that you value their friendship.
- Keep a journal of things you’re grateful for. You can write about the big things in life, of course, but carry your journal around every day and write about the little things, too. Perhaps a hot latte prepared perfectly at your favorite cafe was what you needed to feel better on a gray, rainy day. Often it’s the little things that can have a tremendous impact on your day-to-day life.
- Take time to dwell on pleasant places and things you encounter. Allow yourself to stop what you’re doing and watch the sunset, or slow down your walk through the park to enjoy the colors of the leaves around you.
- Share good news and joyous occasions with others in your life. Studies have shown that sharing good news with someone you care about can actually increase your joy, and it allows your friend to engage with you in your moment of happiness.
Identify and use constructive feedback. It can be hard to hear what other people think of your performance, but learning how to identify and use the constructive feedback that you receive can help you to develop your skills and work towards a happier life.
- Keep in mind that criticism can be constructive or non-constructive. For example, if after giving a presentation someone tells you that you made a bunch of mistakes and that it was really boring, then this is not constructive. This statement is mean and it does not offer an opportunity for you to improve your next presentation.
- However, if a classmate tells you that she really liked your presentation, but sometimes had a hard time following along because you were talking kind of fast, then this is constructive feedback. You received a compliment and can use this information to improve on your next presentation.
- If you receive feedback that upsets you, try to take some time for yourself before you do or say anything about it. Take a walk, call up a friend, or do something else to distract yourself. Wait until you are feeling less emotional to think about ways that you can use the feedback to improve yourself.
Be forgiving of yourself and others. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to offer to someone who has hurt you. It can be even more difficult to forgive yourself when you’ve done something upsetting. However, harboring anger, resentment, or even guilt can be incredibly damaging to your sense of self, your mental health/wellbeing, and the relationships in your life.
- We all make mistakes, and we often learn from those mistakes. That’s what makes someone a stronger, more caring individual.
- Forgiving others doesn’t mean you have to necessarily forget others’ wrongdoings. It also doesn’t mean you should make yourself a doormat that other people walk all over. It simply means recognizing that someone (including yourself) made a mistake, hoping that something was learned from that mistake, and letting go of anger and resentment.
- It’s often easy to forgive others for their mistakes, but hard to forgive yourself. Don’t hold yourself to an unfair standard that you wouldn’t hold others to. Accept yourself as someone who is trying his or her best, and try to learn any lessons you can from your mistakes.
Cultivate compassion. Living compassionately will help you be a better friend, a more caring person, and an overall happier individual. In fact, studies show that practicing genuine compassion and love towards others can also give you greater insight into how and why other people live and think.
- See yourself in others, and try to see others in yourself. Your experiences are ultimately not so different from others’ experiences, and everyone desires happiness, health, and affection.
- Offer genuine warmth, humor, and friendliness to everyone around you.
- Try smiling at others. It may be the little boost that someone needed to get through a difficult moment.
- Everyone has hurdles to overcome. We’re learning through life every day, so it’s natural that everyone will occasionally make mistakes.
- Practice genuine gratitude to others. This extends beyond being grateful when someone does something nice to you. Learn to appreciate the patience, love, and efforts of everyone in your life, including those who work with you or for you.