When it comes to personal happiness, new research shows that winning the lottery or obtaining that promotion doesn’t necessarily cut it. According to a growing number of experts, those exhilarating moments in our lives don’t permanently raise the dials on our day-to-day ‘HAPPY-ometer”. In fact, life coach and sociologist Martha Beck says that “We live in a culture that tells us we’re supposed to be euphoric all the time, but that feeling is just not sustainable. Happiness – and I mean real happiness – is quieter and calmer, but that sense of peace is deeply satisfying and can sustain you through life’s challenges.” Personal joy comes from doing more of what you value and noticing those small pleasures that are already built into your everyday routine. Bliss and happiness are readily available, you just need to know where to look.
PURSUE MEANING, NOT HAPPINESS.
Although it sounds un-American, study after study has revealed a surprising truth about the pursuit of happiness: None of the stuff we think will lift our spirits, such as new cars, promotions and winning the lottery, do the trick in the long run. “People who have happiness as the end goal tend to be less happy.” In 2012, researchers reported on two case studies that showed those wanting to be happy were actually lonelier than those who allowed happiness to bubble up naturally. To avoid falling into this trap, pursue activities that coincide with your values. “Having a strong sense of what matters to you and letting your values guide your actions can lead to greater happiness”, says clinical psychologist Susan David.
MAKE YOUR BRAIN A SUNNIER PLACE
When we get hit with big spurts of happiness from events such as buying a new pair of shoes or eating a bowl of ice cream, our brain releases the reward dopamine, but like any other drug, you need more and more of those hits to get the same effect. On the other hand, stress reduces serotonin, the brain chemical that relates to our happiness. David states that “As a result, the constant seeking of pleasure, whether from shopping, hanging out with friends or a good meal, makes it harder and harder to feel happy.” Instead, as you go about your day, notice the little moments of joy when they arise and give them your full attention. When you incorporate tiny hits of joy or gratitude into your day, you are actually knitting together and strengthening the neural structure in your brain that is linked to joy and happiness. Eventually, those feelings will begin to occur naturally and effortlessly.
STAY ROOTED IN THE MOMENT
Anxiety and depression both share a common source: They are associated with allowing your mind to stray from the present. Depression brews from the past and anxiety stems from the future. As a result, learning to live in the moment can be one of the most powerful things you can do to be mentally healthy. Mindfulness and meditation sessions have been shown to increase gray matter in the parts of your brain that are related to well-being. Psychologists say that by teaching yourself to become a witness to your emotions, you will allow yourself to get off the roller coaster and move back onto solid ground.