As a result of the multiple moves I’ve experienced over the past 30 years, I’ve gone to school with, worked with, and become friends with many individuals from all walks of life. If I were to survey these individuals and ask them what one thing they would like to achieve in life, I believe all would say to be happy and healthy. How one determines what happiness looks like or feels like might be different, but the desire to be happy is something all would agree is important.
Everyone’s path to happiness may be different, but based on a review of some of the latest research, evidence suggests there are ten keys that have a positive impact on people’s happiness and well-being. Five are related to how we interact with the outside world in our daily activities, and five come from inside us and depend on our attitude in life.
When was the last time you did something for someone else? Helping others is not only good for them and a good thing to do, it makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also connects us to others, creates stronger communities, and helps to build a happier society for everyone. And it’s not all about money — we can give our time, ideas and energy. So if you want to feel good, do good!
Connecting with people and building relationships is the most important overall contributor to happiness. People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier, and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support, and increase our feelings of self-worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So, taking action to strengthen our relationships and create new connections is essential for happiness.
The need to take care of our mind, body, and spirit is not a new concept. It is all connected. Being active is not just about our physical health, it makes us happier too. It instantly improves our mood and can even lift us out of a depression. We don’t all need to run marathons - there are simple things we can all do to be more active each day. We can start boosting our well-being by unplugging from technology, getting outside, and perhaps the most difficult - making sure we get enough sleep!
Taking time to observe the world around you helps you realize there is more to life than what is going on with you personally. We just need to stop and take notice. Learning to be more mindful and aware can do wonders for our well-being in all areas of life - like our walk to work, the way we eat, or our relationships. It helps us get in tune with our feelings, stops us from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, and ultimately allows us to get more out of the day-to-day.
Learning affects our well-being in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us remain curious and engaged. It gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience. There are many ways to learn new things, not just through formal qualifications. We can share a skill with friends, join a club, learn to sing, play a new sport, and so much more.
Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness so set some goals. We all need goals to motivate us. Goals need to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. If we try to attempt the impossible this brings unnecessary stress. Choosing ambitious but realistic goals gives our lives direction and once achieved, brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
We all have setbacks or stumbling blocks in life. Stress, loss, failure, or trauma is a part of life. But how we respond to these has a big impact on our well-being. I’ve found that stress, loss, failure, or trauma in my life taught many great life lessons. It doesn’t mean I liked it at the time, but I grew from the experience. Some of the greatest leaders have “failed” in some aspect of life but found a way to bounce back. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we will react. In practice it’s not always easy, but research indicates that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.
Positive emotions — like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride — are not just great at the time. Regularly experiencing them creates an ‘upward spiral’, helping to build our resources. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation. Think that the glass is half full rather than half empty.
Being comfortable and knowing who you are is important for happiness. No one’s perfect. So often we compare our insides to other people’s outsides. Dwelling on our flaws — what we’re not, rather than what we’ve got — makes it much harder to be happy. Learning to accept ourselves, warts and all, and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong, increases our enjoyment of life, our resilience, and our well-being. It also helps us accept others as they are.
Being part of something bigger also adds meaning and purpose to your life. But where do we find ‘meaning and purpose’? It might be our religious faith, being a parent, or doing a job that makes a difference. The answers vary for each of us but they all involve being connected to something bigger than ourselves.
I hope you find something in this article helpful in moving you toward a happier and healthy life.
Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Men’s Christian Association.