People have discussed, debated and agonised over the topic of happiness for centuries. Furthermore to answer the elusive question, what are the keys to happiness? Questions such as ‘What is happiness?’ ‘How can we achieve happiness?’ and ‘What does a happy life look like?’ have been hot topics. Countries have attempted to measure and define happiness. Bhutan has a gross national index that measures the collective happiness and well-being in their population. In 2016 the United Arab Emirates created the first Minister for Happiness, whose role is to oversee the UAE plans, programs and policies to achieve a happier society. Somewhere within this, there must be clues.
I used to wonder what the meaning of life was all about when I was young. The key to happiness in my world was playing outside, being hyperactive, participating in sports and having adventures. If it was very wet, as often happens in England, and I had to be inside, I turned my attention to creative pursuits. Making model ships or planes, drawing, reading, building lego, creating stables and apparel for my model horses from felt, scraps of leather, material and loo rolls. Fun, creative and simple keys to happiness.
How come rich people with large incomes are often unhappy yet those with low incomes are often happy?
When I ‘grew up’ I travelled the world, meeting people from all walks of life, cultures and societies. One of my biggest insights was experiencing first-hand how many people with successful jobs and seemingly affluent lifestyles weren’t happy. Others, who had low incomes or no jobs, living subsistence lifestyles appeared happy and joyful. One special memory was dancing with villagers in a small town in Malawi who simply stopped what they were doing to enjoy the moment. Dancing as if no one was watching to the rhythms and beat of African music, smiling, laughing and simply being present. Welcoming me as if a young English lady with a backpack was an everyday experience.
In the last 12 years, having coached hundreds of people, I have studied and researched the above topic and noted how in our supposedly ‘affluent’ country our happiness levels are falling. I read recently that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that around $9 billion was spent nationally on mental health services during 2015-16. No doubt this has risen now. While this blog isn’t intending to give you all the answers, my intention is to share a few insights and tips that I hope stimulate you to think about your happiness, your life and to sprinkle in some small changes. Furthermore, some simple mindset shifts to give you extra keys to happiness and to keep your levels topped up.
The keys to happiness include meaning and pleasurable moments
First, it’s important to look at the definition of happiness. The dictionary defines happiness as:
‘Being fortunate, cheerful, lucky, or expressing joy. Happiness is about loving who you are and where you’re at in life.’
Happiness is also defined as a ‘state of being happy.‘ As a ‘state,’ only you can truly decide how you feel and it is a happy state or not. No outside source can give you true happiness as we all measure and gauge feelings from our perspective.
In the book ‘Happier’ by Tal Ben-Shahar, Tal states that happiness is created through a combination of experiencing pleasurable moments; good feelings. Moreover, finding meaning in our lives. Together, both give us a purpose and allow us to feel pleasure in our lives. He suggests rather than asking the question, ‘Am I happy?’ which is a closed question, we should ask ourselves ‘How can I be happier?’
Instead of asking 'Am I happy?' a better question to ask is 'How can I be happier?' Click To Tweet
Asking questions that expand possibilities is one of the keys to happiness
Questions that start with how can be helpful because they expand possibilities. Furthermore, they help our curious minds search for answers to solve the riddle. When we embrace this question as important and adopt it as a primary value it brings the focus to the forefront of our minds. What we value we will find time to focus on. In our busy world, it helps us prioritise amongst the myriad of distractions, options and choices. When we live a life according to our values we are doing more of what is important to us than what everyone else wants or expects us to do. Less ‘should’s’, ‘needs’, ‘ought-to’s’, obligations and more ‘want to’s’ and fun.When we live a life in accordance with our values we have less should's, needs and obligations pulling us away from what we want to do. Click To Tweet
The rapid change in business and organisations is one factor that diminishes happiness
One of the problems diminishing happiness in society is the rapid change in business and organisations. For many, the once important, safe ‘secure’ vision of a job for life is no longer there. The mountain of pressure for big companies to increase profits at all cost, downsizing due to automation and job roles changing, adds more pressure to those in the workforce.
Worrying about the future, or how to adapt to change, increases stress, and selfish behaviours. Sometimes bullying rises as people fight to survive and cling to a semblance of control to hang onto. Ultimately, this only exacerbates an avalanche of disengagement in the workplace. As a vast amount of our lives are spent at work, it isn’t too difficult to understand how work is a major source of unhappiness for many. Moreover, for many people, it’s as if they are being asked to prepare for a life which is unknown and one they aren’t as yet equipped to thrive in.
The keys to happiness lie in changing our meaning
Workplace aside, one simple way to improve our sense of happiness, is to focus not on what we don’t have, but to ask ourselves how we can add in activities that bring us pleasure? How can we do more of what gives us meaning? Rather than how can survive a tedious job, how can we make it more meaningful? This shift in thinking moves the energy of our mindset away from worry, lack and fear and towards solutions, positive options and expansion. As our results are shaped by what we think and feel, our internal radar, like a laser, shines out towards possibilities and new solutions.
Setting goals is a key starting point in finding new keys to happiness
Unless you have been living in a cave, I am sure setting goals as a priority isn’t anything new? However, while most people know this intellectually, few actually take the time to intentionally create goals, let alone write them down. Fewer still create a crystal clear action plan and then stick to the actions required consistently.
Goal setting is important in our lives because goals give us direction and our brains are goal-seeking organs. If your work is unfulfilling or stressful, then try to create some small and simple goals for yourself at work. Then, have some goals that inspire you outside work. Goals, however big or small, give meaning to life and will help you achieve accomplishments, another important key for happiness. As Brian Tracey says:
“People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.”
Setting goals correctly are one of the keys to happiness
Writing goals down is one of the essential keys to happiness and foundations for living a meaningful life. Words have the power to shape and positively influence a better future. Knowing precisely why you want your goal is also important. Connecting with the core feeling this gives you provides the fuel for action and staying focused despite obstacles and potential distractions along the way. Ticking off the small wins along the way, acknowledging them and rewarding yourself are also essentials.
In the book, ‘Happier’ in relation to the purpose of goals, Tal Ben-Shahar says:
‘The proper purpose of goals is to liberate us so we can enjoy the here and the now.’
When you ask yourself directed and specific questions about your goals, you have another of the keys for happiness
Asking yourself questions can help you see things differently, find a way to increase meaning, joy and purpose.
- Do you actually set goals?
- And if you do, do your goals liberate you and allow you to enjoy the here and now?
- How much do you enjoy the journey or are you exhausted by your quest to attain them?
- What about when you achieve a goal? Do you feel excited or is it a bit of an anti-climax?
- Do you celebrate your successes consistently and acknowledge your achievements?
- And how do you respond if you don’t reach your goals?
- What could you change in the above to give you more meaning, joy or purpose?
Sometimes the achievement of a goal can take over from enjoying the journey along the way
I know in the past, coming from a goal-setting sporting background, sometimes the achievement of the goal became such a major focus that it almost became an obsession. I was probably guilty of forgetting to enjoy the journey and smell the roses along the way at times. However, it was always awesome and created a huge sense of achievement when I raced well!
Research that has studied the attainment of goals, correlates this. Studies show that the feeling of success or failure concerning goals is often short-lived. A psychologist, Philip Brickman demonstrated this by looking at the levels of happiness people had after winning the lottery. Within a period as short as a month, lottery winners return to their base levels of well-being. If they were unhappy before winning they will remain so. While this is no excuse to give up on goal setting, I think it highlights the importance of being aware of why we want the goal in the first place.
Lottery winners often return to their base level of happiness within a month of winning
What does achieving this goal mean?
We need to ask ourselves what does achieving this goal mean to our lives, now and in the future? What else will happen as a result of achieving the goal? Moreover, are we enjoying the journey along the way or are we just driven to reach the destination? Furthermore, it is vitally important we grow to fit in with our goal, emotionally, spiritually, physically and psychologically. Neglecting this critical key to happiness means we may well be doomed to fall back to our current level of identity.
Apparently, we aren’t very good at predicting our future emotional states either! We may buy a new house, a new car or move town because we feel we will be happier, but in reality, it tends to lead only to a small spike in our levels of well-being and feelings of happiness.
Goals must have meaning and be aligned to values
To maintain a sustained state of happiness, we must set goals that give us meaning and are aligned with our values. They must be for us and not for others. Goals need to allow us to do more of the ‘want-to’ tasks than the ‘have-to’ tasks. More of the fun things and less of the ‘needs’ and ‘should’s’. Actions and pursuits that allow us to grow, learn, contribute and connect. Ones where we clearly define our target. Furthermore, set our sights on the destination and then unhook from the desired result and focus on the daily activities that will lead us to our goal.
Connection with other people is one of the essential keys to happiness
Connection with people is a fundamental human need. This involves having meaningful face-to-face connections. With so much focus on online communication, emails, texting and social media, there is an avalanche of loneliness, depression and anxiety in our society. This has resulted in mass prescribing of ‘anti-depressant’ drugs, which in many cases doesn’t address the underlying sources of the problem. For a fascinating read on this important topic, I can highly recommend the book ‘Lost Connections’ – Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression, and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari.
Taking time out, and participating in an activity such as meditation, mindfulness or yoga to quiet our busy minds is another one of the essential keys to happiness. A sprinkling of quiet time in our fast and noisy worlds helps avoid an overload of stress, over-thinking and worry. Too much ruminating over less than ideal circumstances can increase negative feelings and create a downward spiral.
Having someone on your side is helpful
Finding someone to keep you accountable and support you is important. Someone who will listen to you rather than criticising or trying to deflate you. Being open to feedback is another key and helps you grow and improve. This takes being open to learning and growth, essential ingredients for a Mindset for Success, or a Growth Mindset as termed by Carol Dweck.
In conclusion, see if you can answer the following questions to sprinkle in some more happiness into your life:
- What do I want to achieve?
- How can I add meaning to my life?
- What will give me more pleasurable moments?
- How can I ensure I connect with others regularly?
- And, how will I make time for some quiet in this busy world?
Ultimately, what can you do to set goals, have more meaning and fulfilment in your life? Can you find a way to enjoy the here and now more despite external events? Who can you share and connect with and who will you choose as your champion and supporter? The answer to these questions may set you free and give you some answer to that age-old question of ‘what are the keys to happiness?’
To read more ways to increase your sense of happiness, read about a happiness tonic here.
About the Author
Mandy Napier BSc
Mandy Napier is a Global Mindset & Performance Coach coaches people to P.E.R.F.O.R.M optimally and produces breakthrough results personally and professionally. Ultimately to get out of their own way and harness their full potential. As an authentic, and inspirational coach and speaker, she partners with professionals, business owners and their teams to create transformations and lasting results.
Are looking to discover more about your amazing mind and how you can harness its powers to be more consistent? Then grab a copy of my free PDF guide Your Winning Mindset