Happiness can sometimes feel difficult to find and even harder to cement in your life consistently. Ups and downs are part of what it means to be human and is part of our own growth. Happiness isn’t just psychological – it can help us improve our immune system, heart health, and the way our body filters chemicals (Kaliterna‑Lipovčan & Prizmić‑Larsen, 2016). There are several traits that can help lead us to happiness. Some are within our control, like using humor and eating well, and others are not, like being an extrovert or having health issues (Doyle & Youn, 2000). Just because you aren’t an extrovert or are dealing with injuries or health problems doesn’t mean you can’t be happy though. Research has simply shown that those that are healthy and extroverted tend to be happier overall. So what can we control and how do we embark on our journey to place happiness in our lives on a regular basis? It all starts with knowing the secrets of happiness and studying the most effective habits of healthy people.
Searching for happiness has gone back ages and even Aristotle focused much of his philosophizing on what it meant to be happy. He defined happiness as a state that resulted from having lived a full and virtuous life – a supreme good of our existence (Doyle & Youn, 2000). While more recent thinkers have defined happiness as the quality or life or a pleasant emotional experience, we can all agree that we want more of it (Doyle & Youn, 2000).
So let’s get to it. Many studies have found that happiness is enhanced when people are extraverted, have high self-esteem (for working on self-esteem, check out our social media blog post), a sense of control over their life, and are optimistic (Doyle & Youn, 2000 and Ford, Lappi, & Holden, 2016). In these studies, extraversion is used as a way to describe stereotypical extraverted traits – like optimism, sociability, and how outgoing someone is (Doyle & Youn, 2000). But have no fear, you can still be an introvert and have all these qualities or work to strengthen them. In addition to extroverted qualities, these studies found that being tenderminded was integral to happiness. Being tenderminded is being agreeable, loving, forgiving, compassionate, helpful, and trusting (Doyle & Youn, 2000). As you might expect, if you hold onto grudges, are skeptical of people, and are argumentative, you are less likely to be happy (Doyle & Youn, 2000). This is illustrative of how happy people and unhappy people respond and interact in very different ways to life’s events (Choi & Choi, 2017).
One study has even found that the type of humor you use impacts your tendency to be happy (Ford, Lappi, & Holden, 2016). It was shown that happiness is positively linked to using positive and self-enhancing humor styles versus humor that is self-defeating or aggressive (Ford, Lappi, & Holden, 2016). It’s important to ask, though, are happy people more likely to use positive humor or is it that positive humor can help make us happy? Research showed that most likely, positive humor is a subconscious strategy that happy people use to frame their emotions and the world in a positive way (Ford, Lappi, & Holden, 2016). It is a way to reframe stressful situations in a positive and self-affirming view (Ford, Lappi, & Holden, 2016). So, positive humor can be a step that we all take to help make ourselves happier! All of this isn’t to say that we have to shut out the bad and frame everything positively though. It’s key to remain rooted in our emotions and recognize the negative with the positive. We don’t want to become overly obsessed with denying any possible dissatisfaction or negativity and we also don’t want to be obsessive or overly analytical while dwelling on the negative. Happiness comes with balance.
We’ve talked a lot about what traits happy people have. Now let’s start talking about concrete ways that we can start applying them to help find more consistent happiness in our own lives. Happy people routinely savor the small things (Choi & Choi, 2017). They also remember and interpret life events in a more optimistic light (Choi & Choi, 2017). In contrast, unhappy people tend to strive for really intense experiences that happen very rarely instead of the small pockets of happiness throughout the day (Choi & Choi, 2017). It appears that some old clichés may have some truth to them. Stopping and smelling the roses gives us an opportunity to savor the small things. Focusing on the journey and not the end result can help us frame our experiences more positively regardless of the outcome. Did we grow? Did we learn? Did we make new connections? These are the things we should focus on during our lives to help us keep a healthy and happy perspective.
It is also about encountering more of these pockets of happiness and finding ways to bring them into our lives more consistently. Happy people tended to be engaged in more hobbies or leisure activities, volunteered more, and were more active in community life (Kaliterna‑Lipovčan & Prizmić‑Larsen, 2016). Engaging socially and participating in causes that are important to you enable you to more easily become attuned to kindness and become more likely to be kind to others (Kaliterna‑Lipovčan & Prizmić‑Larsen, 2016). This kindness attunement is one of the most important qualities to becoming happier. It trickles into all aspects of your life and