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The Science of Happiness & How to Be Happy

I spoke with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, bestselling author and lecturer, about positive psychology and happiness in one of my latest podcasts. We talked about how our concept of happiness differs from what truly makes us happy; temporary happiness vs. sustained happiness; how to experience more happiness in life, even during challenging times; why failure and resistance is so important; the arrival fallacy; how to actually choose happiness; how to manage negative self talk; and the physical benefits of happiness. Since we’re all seeking to find true happiness, I wanted to summarize the science behind happiness, and how we can each find more happiness in our lives.

External things will not lead to happiness

Happiness is a multifaceted variable comprising of five elements: spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational and emotional wellbeing. The mainstream idea of happiness often defines external things such as professional or financial success as happiness. In our culture, it’s often believed that you need to arrive somewhere or attain something in order to be happy. However, research finds that these things don’t actually lead to happiness. They might give us the illusion of happiness, but will eventually leave us feeling unfulfilled and wanting more. Have you ever thought to yourself, once I lose the weight or once I earn this much money, then I’ll be happy? Well, what happens after you achieve that goal? Most likely, you’ll make new goals for yourself because true happiness isn’t found in external things. This is called the arrival fallacy; once you’ve arrived at a destination like professional success, you might be happy for a short period of time, but that ultimately won’t lead to long-term happiness.

So, what can we do to find long-term happiness? Here are a few concepts that Dr. Ben-Shahar says are the key to finding true happiness:

Be present and mindful

Worrying about the future really means you’re suffering now for something that hasn’t happened yet. It takes all the joy out of the present moment. We worry all the time about things that will most likely never occur, or if they do, we learn they aren’t really as bad as we thought. So, be mindful of your thoughts and live in the present moment. Otherwise, you’re stealing from the present opportunity to be happy.

Have goals as a means, not an end

It’s only natural for us to set goals and think about the future, and living in the present doesn’t mean we can’t have goals. However, think of goals as a means, rather than an end. Haven’t you ever heard the journey is better than the destination? If you can learn to be happy while you’re achieving a certain goal, then you’ll learn to be independently happy, rather than reliant on the arrival.

Look at struggles as an opportunity to grow

If you ask someone to describe an experience that has taught them the most, they’ll often tell you about a time they failed or struggled. Challenges give us the opportunity to learn and grow, so if you look at hardships as an opportunity, rather than a setback, then you’ll learn to find appreciation for even the toughest of times.

Observe your thoughts

You are not your thoughts. It’s natural for us to have negative thoughts, but if we learn to take a step back and observe them, then we can think about them more logically. If we’re observing our thoughts, then when we have a negative one, we can let it go or choose a better course of action. This will prevent our negative thoughts from consuming us.

Practice gratitude

We have the choice to be grateful for the good things in our life, or we can take them for granted. It’s easy to get caught up in our everyday lives, but it’s important to remember all the wonderful things we have to be grateful for. Whether it’s a family member, or having nutritious food, being able to exercise; these are all things we can easily take for granted. Having reminders to practice gratitude everyday will help us find happiness in even the simplest of things.

If we appreciate the small things, then our gratitude for larger things will only intensify. You have the choice to look at everything as a miracle, or nothing as a miracle, but the choice is up to you; the same goes for your happiness.