Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is one of my favorite happiness researchers. Her writings helped me understand the science of happiness, and how to choose happiness in my daily life. It’s worth noting that Dr. Lyubomirsky is a distinguished researcher, professor, and author who has been studying happiness for over 30-years.
Dr. Lyubomirsky argues that “happiness takes work.” Happiness is a habit that you can build, just like exercising or eating whole foods. Choosing happiness is something you can do for yourself, and for the people around you.
Also, building a happiness habit doesn’t mean you should ignore negative emotions or your mental health. This article isn’t about embracing toxic positivity. It’s meant to serve as an overview of the actions and activities that are in your control.
Is happiness really a choice?
In a recent interview on “The Psychology Podcast,” Dr. Lyubomirsky discussed three types of influences on happiness. The influences matter because they are all connected within individuals.
- Genetics and personality. It’s important to state that you aren’t fated to be at a certain level of happiness because of your genetics or personality. You can make habit changes that will increase your positive emotions and overall well-being.
- Life circumstances. Our life circumstances matter. For example, living in a war zone or being in an abusive relationship will have a negative impact on your happiness. On the other hand, if your basic needs are met and you live in a safe community, you will likely be happier.
- Daily life. You can take actions in your daily life that will foster positive emotions like joy, awe, gratitude, curiosity, and more.
15 Tips for Choosing happiness
Being happy in your life means you experience positive emotions like joy, tranquility, curiosity, pride, and more. Being happy with your life is about life satisfaction. You feel like your life is good and that you’re progressing toward your goals.
Below you’ll find 15 tips to help you choose happiness. Pick a few activities that align with your interests, personality, values, and culture. Some of the tips might not interest you, and that’s okay! We’re all different.
Remember to have fun, experiment, and to enjoy the journey!
Tip #1 – Be social.
Studies suggest that people are happier when they are interacting with others and when they are more socially engaged. This could be with your pet, one person, or many people. Choose ways to connect that suit your interests, personality, and values.
Tip #2 – Talk to a stranger.
Dr. Lauri Santos is a happiness researcher, professor, and the host of a popular podcast called “The Happiness Lab.” On her podcast, she’s talked about how simple studies have shown that you can boost your happiness by talking to strangers. You can chat with a barista at your favorite cafe or with someone during your daily community. Dr. Santos said, “… those quick moments of social connection, even with a stranger, can boost your positive mood.”
Tip #3 – Engage in deep conversations.
As you engage deep in conversations, try to talk less, listen more, and ask questions. For example, I recently purchased Esther Perel’s new game – “Where Should We Begin.” It’s a game that facilitates listening and storytelling. Thanks to this game, I’ve learned new things about my husband and mom.
Tip #4 – Incorporate acts of kindness into your weekly routine.
Studies suggest that incorporating acts of kindness into your weekly routine can boost your well-being. For example, you could send a loved one flowers, make breakfast for your partner, or write a thank you note to a friend or family member. Looking for more ideas? Read “Random Acts of Kindness: List of 99+ Ideas & Examples.”
Tip #5 – Express gratitude.
Writing down 3-5 things that you are grateful for at the end of the day can boost your happiness. And, that can happen in as little as two-weeks! You can also express gratitude via handwritten letters, sending a text message, and you can share what you are grateful for on social media.
Tip #6 – Move your body.
Research suggests that regular exercise can improve your mental health and well-being. Exercising with a friend can boost your well-being, too. For example, whenever I’m feeling sad, I go for a walk with my husband or lift weights. A quick 20 to 30 minute workout gives me a bump in endorphins that will last for a few hours!
Tip #7 – Spend your money on small pleasures.
The research on how money impacts happiness is fascinating. For example, spending money on small experiences like a weekly lunch date with a friend or a regular massage will offer you more joy than new material items like a television or car.
Tip #8 – Give compliments.
Turn your focus outward and offer compliments freely. For example, tell the cashier at the grocery store how much you appreciate their assistance, write a helpful review of your favorite podcast or book, or thank your coworkers for their hard work on a project.
Tip #9 – Stop ruminating.
Ruminating means you are engaged in circular thinking. This is something I do frequently, and it isn’t good for my happiness or mental health. I stop the rumination cycle by journaling about my worries, talking with a friend, and by thinking of creative ways I can solve a problem.
Tip #10 – Choose sleep.
Studies repeatedly show that sleep deprivation isn’t good for your physical or emotional health. For example, when I’m sleep deprived all of my tasks are more difficult, and I tend to be grumpy. Over the years, I’ve learned to prioritize good sleep hygiene. It’s an easy way to make my day more joyful and productive.
Tip #11 – Spend money on others.
Research by Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues suggests “that people who spend money on others report more happiness.” You can do this by making charitable donations or by taking a co-worker to lunch. The important takeaway: spend your money in ways that strengthen your connections with others.
Tip #12 – Choose activities that foster a state of flow.
Have you ever become so immersed in an activity that you forget about time and yourself? If yes, you have experienced a state of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—a researcher and writer who popularized this concept—called flow “the secret to happiness.” Try to find an activity that helps you experience this state. For instance, I experience flow when I’m writing, taking photos, or trying to learn a new language.
Tip #13 – Adopt a dog.
Animal companions can boost your health and happiness. For example, Dr. Lauri Santos talked about dogs in this context. Dogs can make people happier because they change a person’s behavior. If you have a dog, you’ll get outside to exercise more, be more socially connected, and experience the present moment more often, too.
Tip #14 – Practice loving-kindness meditation.
Greater Good in Action describes “practicing kindness as one of the most direct routes to happiness.” Research suggests that kind people tend to be happier in their relationships, and with the overall trajectory of their lives. A simple way to cultivate kindness in your life is by starting a Loving-Kindness Meditation practice. It involves “sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others by silently repeating a series of mantras.” Learn more.
Tip #15 – Savor your experiences.
Instead of thinking about what’s next, try to live in the present moment. For example, instead of making to-do lists in my head during dinner, I engage in deep conversations with my husband. I also do my best to eat slowly. This makes my meal and conversation more enjoyable because I’m able to savor the experience.
My favorite quotes about choosing happiness…
If I need a little encouragement to choose happiness, I open my notebook and read my favorite happiness quotes:
1.) “If you look at the positive psychology literature, one of the hugest effects on our own happiness is our social connection … Social relationships and strong social relationships are necessary for happiness. They’re not sufficient for happiness, but you can’t find happy people that don’t have them.” — Dr. Laurie Santos
2.) “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — Marcel Proust
3.) “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You must fight for it, strive for it, and insist upon it.”— Elizabeth Gilbert
4.) “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” ― Mary Oliver
5.) “ … It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.” ― Ross Gay, The Book of Delights
Own your happiness…
Most of the tips I shared above involve social connection because happiness research has shown that connection, although occasionally awkward, makes people happy. You can cultivate high-quality connections through positive activities that involve kindness, reciprocity, and gratitude.
Remember, it is possible to choose happiness. It just takes a little bit of effort. It’s also more fun when you involve other people in your happiness journey!
If you want to dive deeper into the science of happiness, check out the resources below:
3.) A fascinating article: “The Happiness Boomerang Effect: When Positive Activities Backfire” by Megan M. Fritz and Sonja Lyubomirsky.