Becoming Happier: A Will and a Way
When we talk about mental health, we often talk about how to decrease problems. We focus on how to reduce anxiety and depression, lessen conflict in relationships or ease uncomfortable symptoms. But we often don't talk about becoming happy.
Happiness, of course, is important. If we're happy, then we're not stressed, anxious or depressed. If we're happy we're better able to cope with mental health problems. Happiness is a pursuit of people in America and, more and more, around the world.
Because of the tendency to focus on alleviating problems, rather than improving well-being, we know less about what actually contributes to happiness than we otherwise might. A study in the April issue of the journal Emotion explored some of the factors that contribute to happiness and well-being (Lyubomirsky et.al).
This article mentions several happiness increasing activities that have the potential to improve levels of happiness for significant periods of time.
- Committing to important goals,
- Acting kindly
- Thinking optimistically
- Visualizing one's best possible future self
- Expressing gratitude
If you've ever bought a new car and been elated for a week or two, only to have your happiness quickly wear off, you know that happiness from positive life events can be short lived. What was once shiny, new and exciting we soon adapt to as part of our life. It no longer seems quite so special.
The items listed above, though, don't seem vulnerable to this quick habituation. Potentially because they are intentional and volitional they are immune to habituation. If you want to improve happiness, it is helpful to understand under what conditions positive activities work best.
In the study mentioned, making an effort-having a specific goal and will-to improve happiness is key to greater improvements in happiness. People who engaged in happiness increasing activities, but were not explicitly trying to become happier had a weaker boost in happiness than those who were focused on improving happiness. Having the will to change, making an effort and being persistent are all conditions that lead to the greatest improvements in happiness.
To enhance happiness, it matters what you do and how you do it. Having the motivation and will to become happier is critical to the ability of positive activities to actually improve well-being.