How To Feel Happy
By Leo Gura - January 22, 2014 | 25 Comments
How to get lasting happiness in life without succumbing to the common distractions that only lead to disappointment. These strategies actually work!
Hey, this is Leo for Actualized.org. We are going to talk about how to feel happy. This is going to be a practical, quick self-help segment where I tell you, in about eight or 10 points, what you really need to know to get sustainable happiness in your life.
The challenge is that most of us do not really understand what it takes to be happy – not on a deep level, at least. Most of us are out chasing the wrong things. Happiness is a counterintuitive concept.
So, let’s get into it. I’m going to give you some key points. By doing a lot of research, I’ve discovered these points. I think you’re going to really like them.
Number one is gratitude. Studies have actually been done on this and gratitude is a really great technique for creating sustainable happiness. The most practical way to practice gratitude is to actually have a gratitude journal and consistently spend five minutes every morning jotting down the five or 10 things that you are grateful for in your life.
This could be something that you’re grateful for that happened to you years ago, like your parents or your college education, or something you are grateful for that just happened to you today or the other day. It can be big things and small things.
The thing is that human beings have this tendency toward what’s called “hedonic adaptation.” This means that it’s hard for us to become happy because any external change in your life – like if you find $1,000 tomorrow in your car that just randomly showed up – is going to make you feel thrilled in the moment, but then after a while – a week or a month from that point – you’re not going to really feel that happiness anymore because you’ve adapted to that difference.
Human beings are really good at adapting to either positive changes and circumstances or even negative ones. There have been many studies done on this with lottery winners to paraplegics. They’ve compared happiness levels between people who won millions of dollars and people who have become crippled. What they’ve discovered is that about after a year, the happiness level returns to about where it was.
So, gratitude is a great way to turn this tide. It’s all about thinking of the things that you are appreciative of and being more appreciative of all the good things in your life. Happiness is a mind game. You want to start shifting your focus from all the negative things that you’re thinking about to all the positive things that are in your life.
Are you grateful for the country that you live in? How often do you think about that? Are you grateful for the city that you’re in? Are you grateful for the family that you were raised in? Are you grateful for the friends you have? Are you grateful for the fact that you can pay your bills? Are you grateful for the fact that you have food? Are you grateful for the fact that you have your boyfriend or girlfriend? What are you grateful for? Take stock of those things.
If you’ve never done this exercise, you’ll discover some amazing things when you actually sit down and do it. Force your mind to go back and think about this stuff consciously and articulate it. That’s a really good strategy.
The next one is optimism. Be more optimistic. This is not an abstract concept. There’s actually a practical way to be more optimistic. With optimism, I’ve found that one of the best exercises to do is journaling. Again, you can do a five minute exercise in the morning. Sit down and ask yourself, “What am I doing in the next year that I can be excited about? What am I doing over the next week that I can get excited about? What am I doing over the next five years that I can get excited about?” It can happen on the micro scale from what you are doing today to what you are doing in a week to the macro scale of what you are doing in five years or what you are doing in 10 years.
It’s about setting a positive expectation for your future. When you feel good about your future, you’re going to get engaged. You’re going to feel happy. You can do this in the morning with your journal or you can do it when you’re in the shower or throughout your day when you’re sitting in traffic or standing in a line waiting for your Starbucks Frappuccino, just think about what you’re excited about.
As you’re doing that, you’re actually going to be setting goals, too. Setting goals is a point further down on the list and I’m going to get to it in a second.
So, building that level of optimism is a great way to feel happier.
The next point is to stop overthinking. So many of us are just always thinking, some of us more than others, but if you tend to be the kind of person whose mind is always spinning and running, you have to watch out for that. Sometimes, you’re going to overanalyze situations way too much and get too much in your head so that you’re not connected with your body. You’re not going to be in the present moment. You’re either going to be worrying about the past or you’re going to be worrying about the future. Happiness is all about being in the present. So, you have to calm your mind down. You have to stop that.
Chances are, if you’re thinking about something, you’re thinking a lot, you’re not thinking about it in a positive way. You’re thinking about it in a negative way. You’re having these automatic negative thoughts and you’re having these storms of negative thoughts and debates and arguments in your mind. That does not make you fulfilled.
You have to cut that out. Good ways to cut that out are through various techniques from journaling to visualizations to doing therapy to doing meditation. So, there are many different ways that you can try to stop overthinking.
The next point is eliminating addictions. I find that addictions rob you of any chance of happiness in life. I’ll define addiction in a second, because it’s a larger definition than you would initially think, but they’re like Band-Aids over your unhappiness in life. It’s like a quick little patch that covers up the unhappiness in your life with a little hit of pleasure, but this is not a sustainable type of happiness. Ultimately, it leaves you feeling hollow and guilty.
By addictions, I mean things like the obvious ones, including drugs, alcohol, and smoking, and other more subtle forms of addictions, like television, compulsive shopping, gambling, sex, gossip, negative thinking, and the internet. These are compulsive behaviors that you’re doing. They are destroying your life. If you have an addiction, then you know that up-and-down guilt cycle and rollercoaster that you’re on. It’s not ultimately fulfilling. It’s not pleasant at all.
I forgot to mention food. Food is a huge point of addition and one that I personally had to get over. When you’re addicted to food, what happens is that you have a negative day at work and then you come back home from work and you just want to splurge on some food because that food gives you a hit of pleasure to mask the crappy day that you had at work. It masks it, but it doesn’t really give you happiness.
What you want to do is unhook yourself from these additions. To do that, you need to do some work. First of all, identify what your addictions are. Be honest about them. Then start to wean yourself off of them.
The best way I’ve found to get yourself off of an addiction is to first of all create a very strong reason for why you’re doing that. For me, the reason would be that I don’t want to have any monkeys on my back and I want to live a very powerful type of life. I can’t do that when I have addictions.
Health might be a very important reason, too. A lot of these addictions create bad health, such as smoking and food.
The other reason that you might want to get rid of the addiction is so that you have this happiness and this fulfillment that comes when you’re not addicted to anything. It’s amazing.
The other point that I wanted to make about how to wean yourself off of addictions is to create something positive to replace the addiction. Don’t just stop overeating or smoking. Replace that with a positive habit. So, maybe now instead of smoking, you do a little bit of jogging. Maybe now instead of overeating, you do a little bit of writing. Replace it with something positive.
Build Deep Relationships
The next point is to build relationships. Humans, even the most introverted of us, are very social creatures and relationships are a very deep and fulfilling source of happiness. In fact, in cultures that are not materially successful, but that have rich family connections and rich social connections, people are happy. Happiness levels in certain countries that you would think should be low because they’re poverty-stricken are actually very high because they have a more interconnected society. People are more plugged in.
In the West and America, we tend to be disconnected. We tend to have those more shallow Facebook relationships rather than those more personal face-to-face relationships. So, the key here is not quantity, but quality.
Develop a few – maybe five, at most – really deep high-quality relationships. Focus on those and invest time and energy into those and avoid the shallow relationships which just tend to make you overwhelmed and distracted and don’t really contribute much to your life, in terms of happiness.
Savor Life’s Joys
Next is the point of savoring life’s joys. This is a really interesting one. I found this one to be really powerful for me. I’m always so rushed and all of us are so frantic and we’re living this 24 hour a day life, but we’re living it as though we are on a 27 hour cycle. So, we’re always frantic and frazzled and running around and doing things like a chicken with its head cut off. In doing that, we forget to slow down and savor the good things that are already part of our lives. These are usually mundane things.
For example, for me, it’s just enjoying a meal. A lot of times, I’m so busy that I’ll just scarf down a meal. I won’t enjoy it. However, when I’m following this principle of savoring life’s joys, I’ll say, “You know what? I’m just going to calm down and give myself five minutes to really enjoy this nice meal that I cooked for myself.” When I do that, I feel good. It’s happiness. Then if I remember to do that every day and I have two or three meals a day, that’s two or three moments in my life, very consistently, that I’m feeling much happier.
This concept applies not just to meals, but to all the people in your life whom you love. It applies to your family, to your spouse, or boyfriend or girlfriend.
This applies to nature. Appreciate nature a little bit more. When you’re on your drive to work in the morning, appreciate the sunrise. When you’re on your drive from work back home, appreciate the sunset. Appreciate that. Appreciate nature.
Appreciate all the little things. Appreciate all the marvels that we have in our lives and just savor those. Enjoy them. Don’t just rush through everything.
Next is meditation. Meditation is a really effective technique if you develop a habit of it every day. I like to meditate for at least 20 minutes every morning. If you develop that habit, then you’re going to calm your mind. You’re going to quiet those automatic negative thoughts. You’re going to become peaceful. You’re going to stop worrying about the past and the future and you’re just going to become very calm and centered and grounded. That’s going to spill over, beyond those 20 minutes of meditation, into your whole day and will improve your whole life. So, meditation is an awesome habit to develop and I have other videos about exactly how to do that.
Get Into Flow
The next point is flow. Flow is the state of being in the moment and in the zone. It’s about being fully engaged and fully focused and so absorbed in that activity that you’re not thinking about anything else and you’re not self-conscious anymore. This type of state is entered into usually when you’re doing something that is fairly challenging, but that also matches your skill level. So, if your skill level is high and the thing that you’re doing is challenging, then you’re able to put your creative energy into it and you’re able to reach a state of total absorption.
This might happen when you’re playing a musical instrument. This might happen when you’re playing a sport. This might happen when you’re really pushing yourself at the gym. This might happen when you’re at work and working on a project that you’re really passionate about. Maybe it happens when you’re writing. Maybe it happens when you’re out there giving a speech or a presentation. You’re totally in the zone and you want to create more of these flow-state experiences.
How do you do that? One is by not multitasking. Give yourself time to focus. Eliminate distractions. Give yourself at least one or two hour chunks of time where you can just totally be absorbed in something. Every time you’re interrupted, you lose your state of flow. So, you want to be able to focus without interruptions.
The second way is to develop proficiency in something. Have something in your life that you’re trying to master. Have a technical expertise that you’re developing. As you’re developing technical expertise, it becomes easier to get into flow. If you’ve never played the guitar and you try to go play the guitar right now, you’re not going to be in flow because you don’t know how to play. You don’t have enough expertise. Once you get really good at playing the guitar in a couple of years, then you’re going to really enjoy it and you’re going to enter a flow state even when you’re playing a complicated song because you have the skill level to match. So, make sure that there’s something that you’re mastering in your life.
Goals and Life Purpose
Lastly, the point is going to be goals and life purpose. Have some goals in your life. Set some big and ambitious goals. The human mind is a goal-seeking machine, really. We are designed to seek goals, whether it’s at work, in a relationship, or it’s a big goal that’s going to be accomplished a year down the road or it’s a little goal that’s going to be accomplished tomorrow. We are goal-oriented creatures. So, have goals that you’re constantly setting and revising for yourself.
Even more importantly, have a life purpose. Have something that your life is about that’s outside yourself and that you’re having some sort of impact in. This is probably going to be related to your career. Have a career that you’re really passionate about and that you are doing something positive with – something that’s really meaningful to you. Ask yourself, what is the most meaningful thing in life and then make sure that your career is aligned with that. When you have that in place, you’re going to be very happy.
I’m going to be signing off. Go ahead and leave me your comments. I love to hear from you guys. Please “like” this and share this. Of course, if you like these ideas and you want more about how to feel happy – because I really just glossed over all of these points and there are many more points about feeling happy in your life – check out Actualized.org where I really cover the topic of happiness, success, and human fulfillment and how to master your emotions and the psychology of all of this stuff. You can get this handled once and for all in your life.
So, check that out. We have a lot of exclusive content there for free. You can also sign up for the newsletter.