12 Ways to Be Happier in 2020
Get your New Year off to a happier start.
Posted Dec 26, 2019
Even historians of happiness like myself freely admit that we still know relatively little about the subject, especially regarding how to generate more of it in our everyday lives. Some of the most brilliant minds since antiquity have struggled with understanding the nature of happiness. (Even the term itself remains nebulous.) Happiness is an emotion, after all, and one of the more ambiguous ones, making it difficult if not impossible to realize it simply because one desires to.
Despite the major obstacles facing those wanting to be happier, many of us have pursued it with considerable vigor. The gap between the desire for greater happiness and the finding of it has caused much frustration and consternation over the years, a failure of sorts that continues to this day. The emergence of a happiness movement powered by “positive psychology” represents the most direct and grandest attempt to enable people to be happier, but I’m not convinced that any significant degree of any emotion can be concocted or conjured up by self-determination and/or discipline.
Still, findings from the abundance of research in the field lead us to some apparent core truths regarding happiness and its sources. Here, then, are what I propose to be 12 essential ingredients of happiness based on my deep dive into the subject. Listing a dozen pithy actions obviously does not do justice to the enormity of the subject, but is a worthwhile exercise, given how many of us are searching for greater happiness, especially as a new year and a new decade beckon.
- Stay positive. Optimism, accentuating the positive rather than the negative, has always been strongly correlated with high levels of happiness. Seeing the glass as half-full rather than as half-empty (to use another cliché) is vital to maintaining the most basic rule of life: that it is worth living.
- Find purpose. A good reason to get up in the morning goes a long way to being a happy person. Having a sense of direction, setting and reaching goals, and taking pride in accomplishments are all woven into the fabric of happiness.
- Reside in the present. Living as much as possible in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, is a guiding principle of happiness. Today is infinitely more valuable than yesterday or tomorrow, making those living in the now much more likely to be happy than those thinking about what might have been or what might be.
- Face reality. Regular reality checks help one manage one’s expectations and keep the ups and downs of life in perspective, all things happy people tend to do. In addition, accepting the truth that unhappiness is an essential part of life is, ironically enough, one of the keys to happiness.
- Appreciate what you have. Taking pleasure in and being grateful for what one has chases away common scourges of unhappiness like envy and disappointment. Comparing oneself (or one’s stuff or social media photos) to others is a road better not taken, as is attempting to “have it all,” as of course there is no all to have.
- Embrace humbleness. Being aware of your limitations is, oddly enough, a prime way to feel really good about yourself. The happiest people on Earth also seem to be the most modest, something a few world leaders might keep in mind.
- Emanate kindness. Adopting a philosophy of and approach to life simply around being kind is a powerful source of happiness for oneself and others. Buddhism is heavily steeped in the idea of compassion, most notably, and it is hard to argue with the kindness of the monks and the Dalai Lama.
- Be generous. Enabling the wellbeing of friends, family, and complete strangers is a winning formula for personal happiness. Giving can be a more rewarding experience than receiving, folk wisdom that is borne out by study after study.
- Strive for patience. An awareness of the vicissitudes of time and the imperfections within us all serve as a valuable tool in achieving happiness. Life is about the means rather than the ends, something we tend to forget while we’re scurrying around to get things done.
- Remain curious. Viewing life as an endless opportunity to learn and/or experience things is a wonderful path to happiness. Preserving at least a little of the child within is, to me, a very underrated thing to do.
- Keep faith. This can be in a higher power (although it doesn't have to be), but it's the view that there is some kind of grand design or order to the universe. This is integral, for many, to happiness. Some perfectly content people may see life as a random series of events, but for my money accepting the idea that there is something bigger than oneself adds a whole other level to our limited time here.
- Spread the love. I’m convinced that filling one’s life with as much love as possible is the ultimate avenue to happiness. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make, wise words indeed that should guide us into next year—and beyond.