When most of us think about what makes us happy, we tend to focus on the “things” in life that we crave or long to possess. These things may be concrete consumables or they may be intangible resources, such as “time,” “inner peace,” or “true love.”

It is easier for some of us to create a list of what we want the world to give us than it is to think in terms of what we can give back to the world.

We live in a world of instant feedback and conspicuous consumption. It may be experienced firsthand through the “Buy Now” button on Amazon’s website or Netflix bingeing or through an obsession with reading or creating online reviews of products, films, and life, in general. It seems a little odd that we trust strangers’ opinions when we already know how much we might disagree with our own BFFs about favorite products.

It is amazing how many “things” everyone seems to have in their lives – and how many more things we might desire because we believe that they can make us feel even better about ourselves in relation to how we think others feel about us.

It is perhaps the paradoxical desire to divest to have more that has created the hot new trend for “tiny houses” or longing to live “off the grid,” (ironic, isn’t it, that we hear about these folks’ experiences online?), or the movement to make do in life with 100 possessions or less. Actually, now that a single Smart phone can do just about anything that we need doing – from finding our potential mate to preparing dinner via online ordering from nearby delivery places or keeping us from getting lost – making do with less isn’t as big a sacrifice, it seems, than it once might have been.

“Down-sizing,” “right-sizing,” or “de-cluttering” all reflect the same realization that is gaining momentum – possessions simply won’t bring lasting happiness to our lives.

Happiness is a state of being, not a pile of stuff.

The secret to happiness is actually a set of four factors that can easily be mastered by any of us, anywhere. The four practices that can change your life for good are friendliness, cheerfulness, compassion, and gratitude.

Friendliness

Some people can be described as “the type of person who’s never met a stranger.” These are people who meet the world with a pleasant temperament and an openness to new people and new experiences – regardless of who may be placed in their path on any given day.

Friendliness is about offering warmth and good humor to those around you.

It is about being willing to make the first move socially while recognizing that others may be a little slower to warm up. It’s about knowing that the reward for friendliness is not always immediately apparent.

Human beings are social creatures and being kind is a lot more likely to help you build your “tribe” than showing indifference or disinterest to the people that you might someday need for support or assistance.

Cheerfulness

There are plenty of old songs that encourage you to “put on a happy face” or “smile when your heart is breaking,” and, much more recently, Pharrell’s iconic  “Happy,” where I first heard the awesome simile about happiness feeling “like a room without a roof.”

My former yoga instructor always encouraged us to smile during the most difficult poses. She would then ask the question, “Are you smiling because you are happy or are you happy because you are smiling?” She was on to something significant.

Many of us may feel a little confused about why we are always encouraging people to “lie” to themselves and pretend to feel something they don’t. It is because researchers have found that being able to offer the world a sunny disposition, regardless of your inner mood state, actually encourages you to feel better physically!

Smiles are contagious, too, and if you can find the energy to offer your own smile to the people around you, even if you feel like your inner world is falling apart, you are going to feel magically better when our smile is returned.

In fact, being on the receiving end of someone else’s genuine smile has been proven to be emotionally and psychologically healing. Did you know that simply imagining that you are being smiled at by someone you love is just as powerfully healing as having that person present?

If you need one more reason to be cheerful, how about this...

Research has shown that when patients grimace or frown during medical treatments or procedures, they actually feel MORE PAIN than those who do not.  Gritting your teeth and bearing it is not the best option. Letting yourself smile in the midst of struggle is what brings a change in perception and increases your ability to cope.

Be empathetic to those who are seeking assistance from you and offer them extra support by way of an encouraging smile. When you use your warm presence to help them get through difficult times, the pay-off can be huge! For both of you.

Compassion

Offering compassion to others is another charitable act that positively influences the giver. When we accept others’ shortcomings or cut others slack for their own wrongs or missteps, we are actually valuing humanity over someone else’s personal flaws.

Most of us are truly doing the best we can at any given moment. Sure, some days our “best” is far from “enough,” and there are days when we know that we are guilty of giving less where we probably should have tried harder to give more. No one is at 100 percent of their game every day. However, if you accept the shortfall of another, the windfall for you is a happier life. 

For those of you who believe that you always give 100 percent, I challenge you to prove this to yourself by giving others a little compassion when they don’t measure up to your own high standards. That’s what someone who truly gives 100 percent would do, no doubt.

Bring a sense of gratitude to your life

Whatever you have in life and wherever you are, you can always find some reason to be grateful. For instance, today you may be feeling a little anxious, but you showed up – that’s something we all are grateful for.

Acknowledging your own good fortune – no matter how seemingly slight or minimal at the moment – can actually enhance your overall wellbeing.

Researchers have found that being truly grateful for what you have in life can yield some pretty important physical benefits:

  • You sleep better and enjoy better relationships! Those are pretty important benefits for graduate students, for sure. And for adults, in general, I expect.
  • Not only that, but researchers have also found that a person’s level of gratitude is inversely proportional to their level of depressed feelings or sadness.
  • So, the more grateful you are in life, the better the chances are that you will actually enjoy what you have!

Why Bother Being Happy?

If you’re hanging around waiting for the world to make you happy, it simply isn’t going to happen.

However, choosing to engage in health-promoting behaviors will positively influence your own satisfaction with life – as well as of the lives of those around you!

  • Happy people enjoy less stressful lives.
  • Happy people actually live longer, too.
  • Happy people are protected against some forms of chronic illnesses.

Plus, you are a lot more fun to be around if you’re feeling good about life! And your family and friends can certainly appreciate that!

You don’t have to win the lottery, earn a 4.0 GPA, find true love, beat Bowser to save Peach, or live a perfect life to find happiness.

You just need to do 4 things:

  1. Meet the world with a positive attitude
  2. Smile at and befriend others
  3. Cut us all a little slack, and
  4. Be consciously grateful for all that you do have rather than worrying about why you do not.

I can pretty much guarantee that instilling these 4 practices into your daily life can leave you feeling happy – maybe even like a room without a roof!

# # #

How strong is your social support network? Do your friends and family help keep you healthy?

If you would like to take part in a new research study designed to explore the relationship between social support and overall well-being, please follow this link: https://niu.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9Y2egoTAuVhT7bn

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