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Chasing Happiness (Minus the Jonas Brothers)

We are all chasing it. Some consider it their life’s greatest pursuit and the ultimate achievement of human existence. Many question how to find it, where it comes from, and most importantly, how to hold onto it forever. Happiness.

Happiness is scientifically labeled as hedonia, the coveted experience of only positive emotions and the absence of those that are considered negative or painful. As we currently have the most knowledge of psychology research that the world has ever possessed, our understanding of the factors that contribute to our well-being are constantly being explored. Researchers are tirelessly trying to decode the mysterious calculation of ultimate happiness.

So, how can you make this your happiest year yet? Scientists in the field of psychology state that there are five major factors that influence our happiness the most. These factors include optimism, gratitude, volunteering, social connection, and finding purpose. It is not necessarily that these findings are innovative, as we have been recommending these activities to improve mental well-being for decades. However, we are truly starting to understand the urgency of taking action to implement them into our daily lives. Knowledge is not enough, we must be conscious and active participants of these factors in order to benefit from their value.

1. Optimism

Half of the world labels themselves as optimists, the other half pessimists. So, if you are reading this, there is a good chance you are walking through life as a Negative Nancy. This means you are constantly worried, assume the worst in people and situations, and view the world as a frightening, harmful place. If you are considered an optimist, you believe the world is good and find more pleasure in your experiences and relationships. This positive outlook is linked to longer lifespan, greater health throughout that long life, and report higher rates of happiness in general. It doesn’t matter what you think you are or how you currently label yourself, everyone has the ability to be an optimist. 75% of a positive outlook on life is learned.

2. Gratitude

We understand that when life is difficult and you are experiencing pain, it can be tough to profess how thankful you are for nearly anything. But no matter your situation, it is impossible to state that you have absolutely nothing to be grateful for. If you are alive and able to take a breath, you have something tremendous to be grateful for. Start small. Focus on the simplest of things, such as the safety of a home or food in the fridge. If you don’t have those, be thankful for the opportunity to live another day and work toward having those things, for the possibilities that come with simply being alive. The more you focus on the things you don’t have or what is wrong with your life, the less happiness you will possess. You can’t be anxious or depressed if you are focusing on all the blessings that surround you.

3. Volunteering

Helping others and altruism instantly reduces depression and again, aides in your ability to live a longer life. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have much to give financially or materialistically. You can always donate kindness, empathy, or show someone that they are cared about. Websites like help match the needs and strengths of individuals with opportunities to volunteer. But remember, it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture in order to gain happiness. Even small random acts of kindness, like holding the door and smiling, can have the same impact on your well-being as donating large amounts of money.

4. Social Connection

Whether you are introverted or extroverted, you are a social creature simply because you are human. You cannot escape the fact that in order for you to experience a fulfilling, mentally and physically healthy life, you must have human connection outside of yourself. People who report rich social lives experience greater health, less anxiety and depression, and longer lifespan than those who are more isolated. One particular study from Harvard followed participants over the span of 75 years! The findings: you will be happier the more you connect with others. So the next time you are experiencing depression or anxiety, place yourself in the presence of others. Even if it simply to stand in the middle of an open street and witness others walking past, the mere fact that you are physically in the presence of other humans can make you feel less isolated.

5. Finding Purpose

Holocaust survivor and world-renowned psychologist, Viktor Frankl, was one of the first to discuss the life-saving idea of purpose. He discovered that even in the darkest and most hopeless of situations, people can find meaning and ultimately some form of happiness if they define that they are living for. It is stated that purpose comes from living for something greater than yourself. It can be a spiritual belief or social cause, but the tendency to focus outside of yourself gives you a greater reason for living. For example, Frankl noted that though he was a prisoner in a concentration camp and facing a horrifying reality, he still found meaning in practicing as a doctor and helping the other prisoners. It gave him the ability to continue to fight for his life when most would have given up hope.

To make this year better than the last, take these aspects of happiness to heart. Find at least one way to incorporate optimism, gratitude, altruism, connection, or purpose into your life and take action. Knowledge of the richest sources of happiness is an opportunity to live better than before, don’t waste it.

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