We all want to live happy and fulfilling lives and we want the people we love to be happy too. So happiness matters to all of us.
Happiness is about our lives as a whole: it includes the fluctuating feelings we experience everyday but also our overall satisfaction with life. It is influenced by our genes, upbringing and our external circumstances – such as our health, our work and our financial situation.
A growing body of research, from the UK, Europe and America, shows that happiness tends to increase with age. Researchers have found that older people tend to be happier, but that happiness is not something they have experienced throughout their lives. People generally report increased levels of happiness from the age of 50, until (perhaps not surprisingly) the very last couple of years of life. So, although there may be declines in physical health, mental wellbeing improves with age.
Science has yet to prove why this might be, but suggestions are that people adjust their expectations about life as they grow older, or that we develop better copying strategies.
What we do know is that happiness is also heavily influenced by our choices – our inner attitudes, how we approach our relationships, our personal values and our sense of purpose.
Want to be happier?
Happy people do certain things that unhappy people don’t. Here is a list of things that researchers have associated with being happy. Which ones are you doing, and which ones could you do more of?
Stay socially active
Connecting with friends gives us a sense of belonging, and as we grow older there are many reasons why this might be more difficult. But there are many more ways to stay socially connected nowadays. Although texting and social media can’t replace face-to-face contact, it can help create a sense of connection with others. A recent study showed that symptoms of depression were lowered by 30% for those who used the internet for social networking. Joining a regular class or activity that interests you is a great way to meet new people and start a conversation.
Surround yourself with positive people
One habit of happy people is they do not hang around with people who are negative or pessimistic. Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems instead of focusing on solutions. There’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into a downward emotional spiral. Choose to spend your time instead with people who are upbeat, optimistic, encouraging and fun to be around.
Count your blessings
Happy people don’t take things for granted. They’re grateful that they have their health, a secure home, their loved ones, family and friends, and they remind themselves of this on a regular basis.
Enjoy the small things in life
Live in the moment and enjoy the little pleasures that everyday life has to offer – a lovely sunset, a waggy-tail dog, an occasional glass of wine, a funny anecdote, birdsong, the scent of a plant as you walk past, the last Rolo. This can be a good way to get pleasure out of being alone as well.
Seek opportunities for giving, as well as receiving
This can be a small thing such as opening the door for someone, or something bigger, like making a regular commitment to volunteer. Volunteering is associated with better physical and mental health, and research has even found that spending money on other people has a more direct impact on happiness than spending money on oneself.
Do things that bring you joy
Happy people do hobbies and activities that they have a passion for and make them feel happier. It may be baking a cake, going for a walk, singing in a choir, gardening, painting, taking part in a quiz.
Choose to be happy
Many people in life who have faced a great deal of adversity. However, when you meet those people you don’t know it because they’ve simply made the effort to be happy. When people choose to be happy, they are deciding to be in control of their own lives, and this in itself can boost emotional wellbeing.
Look on the bright side
Being optimistic is shown to have health benefits, including less stress, a better tolerance for pain, better life expectancy for those with heart disease. In an experiment, individuals with a positive outlook were less likely to get flu when exposed to the virus.
Take care of yourself, go outside, exercise, laugh, get enough sleep, connect with other people, try something new, plan ahead so you have things to look forward to.