The pursuit of happiness is inherent in the human soul. It’s easy to understand why: being happy is a way to make life meaningful and, above all, beautiful and worth living.
We can then discuss what happiness is: personally, I prefer to talk about serenity, which may sound like a depowered happiness but which I believe is a more conscious happiness. So what does it mean to be happy? Being ecstatic and smiling all day, all year round? I don’t think so. Living like this resembles more a deadly boring experience. Being serene, on the other hand, means being able to cope even with the inevitable difficulties of life. Not everything goes smoothly in a race, so it is more important to know how to deal with setbacks than to hope that you will not have to deal with a single one (secret: in a race, as in life, you definitely get things not turning out well).
Our serenity can depend on both external factors (work, family, life) and internal factors (character, in short). On the former you have no power but on the latter you do. Some people are temperamentally inclined to be more positive, and it is from these that we need to learn. Why do some people succeed, even though their lives may not be any easier? It depends on how they manage their life and the things that happen. In short, if a good part of our serenity is related to external factors, a significant part depends only on us, and that is how we handle failure, grief, accidents.
How to (try to) succeed
The part that depends on us (on you) can be trained. According to science, treating these aspects can give you a great deal of help in finding more peace of mind. Let’s see which ones
One of the main factors that help achieve a good internal balance (and, according to some studies, also have positive repercussions on health status) is to have healthy and solid relationships, both in family and among friends and, broadening the scope, in society. Mankind after all is a social species and needs to live in groups.
In short, having good relationships, hanging out with people who make us feel good is a great way to be peaceful. I add this (personal opinion) for two good reasons: because it makes us feel part of something we perceive as bigger than ourselves and positive, and because it makes us feel useful and important to someone we care about.
Therefore, nurturing relationships does not mean going out for a beer with a friend once in a while or talking sometimes to your family members. Rather, it means investing time and effort in human relationships, taking an interest in loved ones, devoting time to them.
(Source: Harvard Study of Adult Development)
2. Be kind
Being kind makes one feel happy. Give thanks, likewise. At least according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at UC Riverside.
What’s interesting is that even acts of kindness as small as thanking the person who stops at the stop sign or the barista who makes you coffee, or the shipper who brings you the package you’ve been anxiously waiting for make you feel good. Why? Because they activate brain processes that give you a feeling of well-being.
3. Express gratitude
A study authored by Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania supports the usefulness of writing down at the end of each day three things for which we are grateful.
What is the purpose of doing this? To direct the mind to positive things and not to let it get distracted with those that inevitably did not go well and give you anguish or sadness.
Practicing mindfulness, breathing and relaxation exercises or, at a higher level, meditating have one thing in common: they help you focus on the present. “But what if my present is horrible?” I know you are asking. No matter: “focus on the present” means to do so on the exact present moment, not on the facts that are happening to you right now. In short, there is a difference between the present outsideyou and the present inside you. Meditation, aided by the other methods, brings you right into the present moment, not the future or the past. Most importantly, it teaches how to experience emotions, observe them and not judge them, letting them pass by.
5. Practice self-compassion
This is the most difficult part, perhaps because our culture can lead us to be very hard on ourselves. Being self-compassioned, however, is perhaps the most important of the attitudes to have to be happy because it involves everything we have seen so far. In fact, to be happy you must know how to live in the present moment (meditation), not judge, be kind and know how to forgive yourself. And if you think you are inflexible with others, you most likely don’t realize how inflexible you are with yourself.
As said before, it all depends on you, and this method targets a very specific subject: you.