Among the countless revelations Will Smith’s character, Christopher Gardner, makes in the Oscar Winning picture “The Pursuit of Happyness,” one quote in particular instantly sends chills down the spine:
“It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it.”
But, what is a life without happiness? Better yet, is it even possible to live every day without even a little laughter or a smile?
Sadly, people surely aren’t born completely happy, just as humans aren’t inherently born with envy, depression, or resentment. However, it’s important to realize that all individuals are capable of achieving happiness every day. For some, feeling happy is simple- relaxing with a warm cup of tea and a great book or completing a difficult workout at the gym can both be very satisfying for many.
Yet everyone has different needs and incidentally what makes one person happy may not necessarily make someone else feel wonderful.
Therefore, research psychologist and University of California professor of psychology, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. advocates 12 simple ways to enhance happiness in life. These tips are found in her new book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.
Now, if you’re thinking to yourself- Ugh, another useless book about happiness? - while shaking your head in disbelief- think again. Based on research acquired from first-hand experiences, Lyubomirsky’s provides basic, practical, and fundamental strategies to help you better “understand our innate potential for joy and happiness as well as our ability to sustain it in our lives”…or in other words, to live a happier life.
Below are Lyubomirsky’s 12 very helpful strategies, along with my own commentary. These tips will help you achieve the joyful life in which we all deserve:
1. Counting your blessings: Expressing gratitude for what you have (either privately-through contemplation or journaling- or to a close other) or conveying your appreciation to one or more individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked. Send a small ‘thank-you’ letter to your mail carrier or give an extra tip to your pizza delivery man. Surprise your child’s bus driver with a Dunkin Donuts’ gift card or write a ‘thank-you’ note to your favorite teacher. Even the smallest actions of gratitude are rewarding.
2. Cultivating optimism: Keeping a journal in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself, or practicing to look at the bright side of every situation. Life’s too short to consume ourselves with sorrow. Besides, it’s much more fun to visualize even our most extravagant dreams and aspirations. It makes walking the red carpet in Hollywood; sky-diving; or buying your dream convertible even that more realistic and attainable.
3. Avoiding over-thinking and social comparison: Using strategies (such as distraction) to cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself to others. There’s a reason why envy is considered by many to be one of the deadliest sins. It has become human nature to instantly measure ourselves with each other, leading to unnecessary competition and bitterness. One strategy to stop social comparison: accept and love yourself.
4. Practicing acts of kindness: Doing good things for others, whether friends or strangers, either directly or anonymously, either spontaneously or planned. Volunteering at food shelters for the homeless or surprising a friend with coffee will not only bring joy to someone’s day, but make you feel better as well.
5. Nurturing relationships: Picking a relationship in need of strengthening, and investing time and energy in healing, cultivating, affirming, and enjoying it. Reconnecting with a friend you haven’t spoken to in months or even years can enhance your life tremendously. After all, there was a reason why you were friends in the first place- don’t let distance, past grudges, or life changes deteriorate relationships.
6. Doing more activities that truly engage you: Increasing the number of experiences at home and work in which you “lose” yourself, which are challenging and absorbing. First decide what you’re passionate about and then immerse yourself entirely in that interest. And of course, going outside of your comfort zone can be extremely self-fulfilling. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.
7. Replaying and savoring life’s joys: Paying close attention, taking delight, and going over life’s momentary pleasures and wonders- through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another. While it’s never productive to dwell on your past, reminiscing about happier times is always a good reminder of the joys in life.
8. Committing to your goals: Picking one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devoting time and effort to pursuing them. It’s one thing to write down all your dreams- it’s another to actually chase those aspirations. Put action to your words and actively strive for your goals.
9. Developing strategies for coping: Practicing ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship, or trauma. Breathe. Even the most basic and simple human action can make you feel relaxed and energized.
10. Learning to forgive: Keeping a journal or writing a letter in which you work on letting go of anger and resentment towards one or more individuals who have hurt or wronged you. Resentment isn’t healthy for anyone and while it may be extremely difficult to let go of certain grudges, you’ll find your anger will only pollute other areas in your life.
11. Practicing religion and spirituality: Becoming more involved in your church, temple, or mosque, or reading and pondering spirituality-themed books. First, believe in something. With faith comes not only spirituality, but also a community of support.
12. Taking care of your body: Engaging in physical activity, meditation, and smiling and laughing. Take a Zumba class; join a running club; become part of the town’s basketball league. Regardless of what you decide, there are endless ways to staying fit and enjoying physical activity without grueling workouts.
And if you have yet to see, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” invite some friends over and make some delicious popcorn. You’ll not only be inspired by the movie’s compelling story, but you'll also enjoy time with loved ones.