Ways to Make Happiness Your No. 1 Goal

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It is not always easy to be happy — even though we live in a world where we are often told the contrary.

Life has many pressures that affect our mood and, at the same time, many of us are managing mental health diagnoses that make achieving happiness more challenging. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults in the United States, or about 46.6 million of us, experience some type of mental illness in a given year.

Since May is Mental Health Month (#fitness4mind4body), let’s make happiness our No. 1 goal to work toward.

Since the beginning of time the cause or reason for happiness has been debated. The discussion started with the Greek philosophers and is now being led by both biologists and psychologists. Still, the question remains: Do we choose happiness or does happiness choose us?

Scientists believe that happiness is partly inherited. Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh and Queensland Institute for Medical Research in Australia have found that, alongside your situation in life, happiness is partly determined by personality traits that are largely hereditary. These genes, according to scientists, don’t necessarily guarantee happiness but may make the difference when life situation is controlled for.

The difference lies in external factors, according to researchers at the University of Illinois. They found that the happiest people have strong friendships, health and careers.

Another school of thought called positive psychology, which was founded by Martin Seligman and influenced by Abraham Maslow, found that the most satisfied and happy people were those who used their “signature strengths,” including humanity, temperance and persistence. Seligman believes that happiness is divided into three aspects of life: the pleasant life, the good life and the meaningful life.

The pleasant life occurs when we appreciate companionship, the natural environment and recognize our basic needs.

The good life occurs when we recognize our unique virtues and strengths and use them creatively to make our lives better. The good life involves strengthening our self-esteem.

The meaningful life involves finding a purpose greater than ourselves. This could be pursued through volunteer work.

Seligman also believes that to achieve happiness an individual should concentrate on their past, present and future life. He believes that we need to deal with the past, find happiness in the present and be optimistic about the future to achieve positivity in our lives.

Here are some additional tips on working toward happiness in your life:

  1. Challenge your negative statements and replace them with positive thoughts.
  2. Make positive affirmations daily, either verbally or by writing them in a journal.
  3. Practice smiling. Relax your body, turn your mouth upward in a smile and take a deep breath. Do this throughout the day. Smile your way to happiness.
  4. Choose mindfulness as part of your daily practice. This can shift brain activity associated with depression and anxiety.
  5. Incorporate gratitude into your life. Write thank-you notes, thank others for what they do to make your life special and give back by helping others.
  6. Say three positive things about yourself daily.
  7. Accept that you can’t be happy all the time.
  8. Surround yourself with positive people and people who believe in you.
  9. Avoid unnecessary negative interactions.
  10. Don’t let the small stuff bother you.
  11. Avoid jumping to negative conclusions.
  12. Do good things for yourself.

When people tell you, “don’t worry, be happy,” realize that it’s OK if it isn’t that easy. But know that happiness is an achievable goal that you can accomplish one step at a time.

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.

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