When we talk about mental health, we often talk about problems. We focus on how to reduce anxiety and depression, lessen conflict in relationships or ease uncomfortable symptoms for good reason. But we often overlook the importance of creating happiness. We might even assume that happiness just comes if we decrease our problems.
We forget that happiness is something that we have control over. It’s something we can make a conscious effort to increase.
Happiness, of course, is great. And it goes hand in hand with decreasing problematic stress and other mental health problems. 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.
Because of the tendency to focus on alleviating problems rather than improving well-being, we know less about what actually makes us happy than we otherwise might. A study in 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
TV, the internet and every advertisement around us would lead us to believe that if we only had one particular item, we’d be happy. A specific perfume, a new purse, a car, watch or food are all sold by smiling models and actors. But, if you’ve ever bought something new and been elated for a week or two, only to have your happiness quickly wear off, you know that happiness from getting new things 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, are free and improve our lives as they become habit.
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.
You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.