- The most fragile forms of happiness are based on sensory or material goods; when they disappear, so does the happiness.
- Lifestyle, discipline, and attitude problems promote unhealthy habits that make sustainable happiness unattainable.
- The keys to sustainable happiness include cultivating gratitude, practicing self-care, and engaging in acts of service.
Like most people, you want to be happy. Yet, you probably discovered that sustainable happiness is a real challenge. Sooner or later, old anxieties and insecurities flare up, and you find yourself back on that “mood rollercoaster”—happy one minute, despairing the next.
Is there a way to make happiness less erratic and more sustainable? Is there a form of happiness that endures even in the face of suffering?
Fragile Forms of Happiness
A problematic approach is viewing happiness as a destination, a phantom city on the horizon that promises to meet all your needs—a new job, a new relationship, or more money, all with the assurance of long-term happiness. But when you acquire them, you soon discover that the good times don't last forever.
That’s the problem with happiness based on phantom cities: When they vanish, you find yourself right back where you started—searching for happiness again. This makes certain forms of happiness—for example, happiness based on sensory and material goods—the most fragile; when they disappear, so does your pleasure.
The Happiness Club
Another precarious view of happiness is thinking of happiness as an exclusive club. You’re a member or not; you’re either born to be happy or locked outside the gates.
In the age of social media and wealth worshiping, the happiness club mentality misleads you into believing that some people are always happy. Scroll through all those shiny, cheerful images on social media, and you start to feel that other people's lives are endless parties. They get sunshine and rainbows while you’re stuck in traffic or overpaying for bad coffee.
Unhealthy Habits That Derail Sustainable Happiness
Establishing sustainable happiness requires self-mastery—the ability to take a hard look at yourself and target self-inflicted forms of suffering that breed unhappiness.
First, target unhealthy habits that make sustainable happiness unattainable. The top three are these:
- Lifestyle problems: Dependency on substances, fame, or superficial romance are among the most common self-inflicted forms of suffering that promote unhappiness. (See "3 Signs You Need a Lifestyle Change.")
- Discipline problems: Lack of motivation leads to undisciplined finances; poor eating, sleeping, or exercise habits; too few tension outlets; and too few creative activities.
- Attitude problems: A chronically negative outlook triggers complaining, blaming, and feeling like a victim. Life is a bore—and so are you.
Acknowledging Life’s Universal Sufferings
Life serves all kinds of suffering: Illness, loss, financial crisis, etc. No one is exempt, no matter your bank account, the car you drive, or where you live. The idea that you should be personally immune to suffering succeeds in one way: It worsens suffering.
If you recognize that universal sufferings are inevitable, you cultivate enduring resilience; painful experiences, such as grief, illness, aging, or injury, when seen as a natural part of life, may strengthen and fortify you rather than doom you to unhappiness. They can even induce greater compassion and empathy, and awaken a sense of mission.
5 Keys to Sustainable Happiness
If you’re serious about your happiness, then consider cultivating the following warrior traits:
- Gratitude: Take time to appreciate the good things in your life; start a gratitude journal, call a friend and express your love, or list the things you’re grateful for. (See "Reversing Negative Thinking Through Gratitude.")
- Acts of service: Get out of your head; stop isolating. Help someone in need, volunteer in a neighborhood community program or animal shelter—people who perform acts of kindness score higher on happiness scales than those who are self-obsessed.
- Self-care: Self-neglect is often the beating heart of unhappiness. Find ways to care for yourself. Join a support group, find a gym buddy, improve your diet, take a class, etc.
- Healthy relationships: Healthy relationships are the cornerstone of happiness. If you surround yourself with unhealthy people, sustainable happiness will remain unachievable. Friendships should lift you up, not hold you down. Lose the friends that make you feel bad about yourself, then go out and find better ones.
- Community: Isolation fosters loneliness and despair. Find a community that shares a common interest with you. Join a club, attend meet-ups, go to a lecture, or start a spiritual practice. Being part of something bigger than yourself can trigger a healthy dose of hope—and a better shot at sustainable happiness.
Still unhappy? See "5 Steps to Finding Purpose and Feeling Happier."