How to be happy

by Philip Brewer on 6 September 2007 10 comments

A lot of happiness (and unhappiness) comes from within. But there are other things that matter a lot: relationships, doing important work, living your life according to your values, having a spiritual aspect to your life.

Lynnae at BeingFrugal.net posted today on "What do you need to be happy?":

If I learn to find joy in family, friends, and my relationship with God, stuff doesn’t matter. Sure, nice things might add convenience or a momentary spender’s high to my life, but in the end they don’t really bring happiness. True happiness comes from within.  

She's hit the nail on the head as far as stuff goes. But there's a complex relationship between the happiness that comes from within and the joy that people find in family, friends, and their spiritual life.

Part of being happy is simply brain chemicals--the fact that antidepressants work proves that. (The book Listening to Prozac has a fascinating exploration of the implications.) Part of being happy is simply part of each individual's makeup--studies of people who have suffered a loss show that most people return to a baseline level of happiness, even after a blow as severe as a crippling injury or learning they have a terminal illness. But those other things that Lynnae mentioned are also important, and I'm not sure it's helpful to think of things like friendship or family as coming from within.

Having a strong network of relationships--friends and family--is probably the most important factor in determining how happy you are. Having some sort of spiritual aspect to your life helps as well--having a connection with something larger than yourself can give meaning to all aspects of your life. But even that's not the end of the story.

Another important part of being happy is living your life in accordance with your own values. Perhaps to Lynnae that's implicit in her relationship with God, but I'm not sure it's always so simple. Even people of great faith (perhaps especially people of great faith) struggle to live according to their values. It's hard to be happy when you know you're falling short. Whether or not your actions reflect your values is something that you know inside you, but the actions affect the world, and whenever that's true, the line between inside and outside becomes fuzzy.

Finally, I want to mention work. A lot of people work at something for which they lack passion--or even actively dislike. This is no good way to be happy. In fact, I'd say it was impossible to be fully happy unless your work:

  • uses your core talents,
  • either helps people or produces something of value, and
  • is respected by your peers.

Since it's also important to provide for your family, a lot of people try to balance these things by having a "day job" purely to earn a paycheck, and having something else that they think of as their true work. Everyone knows that's a tough balancing act to manage. I've done enough of that in my own life (and undertook to change only when I was virtually forced to), that I don't feel entirely comfortable counseling people to do otherwise. But if you go that route, do it with your eyes open. It's much better if your work and your day job can be one in the same.

Happiness comes from within, but those other things--relationships, important work, living your values, and a spiritual connection--connect what's within to what's without, and you can't be happy without them.

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Guest's picture

The most important part of my happiness that comes from within is my relationship with God. Just knowing that I am created for a purpose, and that even when I screw up, God is ready and willing to forgive me is a huge part of my happiness.

That's not to say that I'm giddy with joy 100% of the time, but having a purpose, even if I'm in a job that I don't like or when family relationships aren't going well, gives me an underlying peace that's important to my mental well-being.

Andrea Karim's picture

But it offers a lot in terms of peace of mind. I tend to fret over money a lot, and it's important to remember that the only thing it's ever really offered me is freedom from worry about how to pay for emergencies.

Guest's picture
Guest

you make it sound like making friends is simple.

Nora Dunn's picture

I'm one of those sickly positive people that will wish somebody a Happy Monday, just because. It usually catches them off-guard, but can often change their demeanour for the better, and at the very least I'll get a smile or chuckle out of them.

Monday or Friday, if it's not a happy day, if you truly can't find some reason why being alive isn't a good thing, then just stay in bed and spare us all!

I'm not always super-duper-stupid-happy myself. But if I can fake it until I make it, smiling and laughing seems to be a good way to get there.

Guest's picture
Nitin Shah

I totally agree with you Nora, I started doing it several years ago! I enjoy people's reactions on hearing :Happy Monday" thank you, Nitin.

Guest's picture
Guest

if you act happy, or do anything thinking you'll just do 10%, you can usually do the rest - be happy more - after you've got just a little bit done, and it builds from there.

i like those 3 points near the end. personally, as an INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs scale, most relationships - God or friends - don't matter that much for happiness, specifically. i'd say personality trumps chemical problems. but that's like saying which came first, chicken or egg?

Guest's picture

Happiness for me is primarily about contentment and creativity. I do believe it's an inside job most, if not all the time. I think our moods can be and are affected by outward things such as money problems, loss, etc, but that true happiness can only come from within. After many years of depression I learned on my own that getting to know and love (and forgive) oneself are the initial steps to happiness. From there I learned to be authentic...which can be pretty scary but, in the end definitely worth it. I think once you make that choice and have mastered authenticity and learned to base your life on your own values instead of other's values and opinions, happiness (or at least contentment) is inevitable. Getting to know oneself is key to finding what makes you happy. For me and many others life would hold far less joyful without a creative outlet. I think everyone has an innate need to be creative and I believe those who find their creative outlet in their work or can make it their work are far more likely to be happy. I also believe spirituality can play a very important role. That, too, I believe is an inside job. From my own experience, religion was always one of the things that contributed to my depression and feeling a lack of happiness. Trying to live up to everyone's standards (especially God's) was a formula for failure and guilt. Freedom from religion and living according to my own spiritual and moral standards set me free far more than Jesus or religion ever could or ever did.

Philip Brewer's picture

Thanks, everyone, for the thoughful comments.

Guest's picture
Guest

I read a comment earlier saying "you make it sound easy to make friends" I'm a consultant for Dale Carnegie Systems and work with people who struggle with human relations. From my experience I have come to an understanding that we create out ouw limitations. That if we can change ourselves, our communication, perception we TRULY change the world around us or a least our view of it. As we change our perception so does the actual world. I keep a blog about ideas of leadership, communication, and stress management if you are interested on learning mor check it out! http://sreupert.squarespace.com/

Guest's picture

I think that the more simply you live, the happier you are. We have so many choices in life these days, something I think there are too many. For instance, life would be a lot easier if there were only 5 brands to choose from in the cereal isle instead of 155!