Let me begin by acknowledging that the internet probably doesn’t need another post about how to be happier.
(If you do need one, here are 101 ways to cheer yourself up.)
You’re smart. I bet you already own this book. I bet you’ve read eleventy listicles about exercise and journaling and self-care. You’ve read all the happiness tips from The Well-Intentioned Internet People.
But, uh, what if you don’t actually know what makes you happy?
What if you’ve done all the things that seem to make other people happy and they just don’t do much for you?
Dude, welcome to the club.
Most of us have vague ideas of what makes us happy. Maybe we’re reasonably happy on a day-to-day basis but we’ve never really put much thought into where those feelings come from or what, specifically, about an experience is making us happy.
When you can pinpoint what makes you happy, you can add more of it to your life. Simple as that. Click To Tweet
Finding your happiness is an art, not a science but here are five things I’ve done to help me figure where my happiness is coming from.
1. Wipe your happiness slate clean
If you’re a human who is alive, the society you grew up in has Ideas about what happiness looks like. These Ideas have permeated our lives since the moment we could understand shapes and colors; they’ve wormed their way into our soft, sweet subconsciouses.
On some level, most of us believe we will be happier when:
- We are thinner than we are now
- We earn more money
- We live in a bigger, prettier, better-located home
- We have more friends
- We’re in a committed romantic relationship
And maybe some of those things really will make us happier! Supportive relationships and aerobic activity have been shown to reduce depression. I imagine moving into a space with more natural light and a shorter commute wouldn’t hurt anything, either.
But for the sake of this experiment let’s do our very, very best to let go of preconceived notions about what makes us happy. Let’s forget what our families and friends believe happiness looks like. Let’s view this as a grand experiment with totally unknown results. Who knows what we’ll discover!
P.S. Don’t get down on yourself for “buying into cultural expectations of happiness.” We all do it. We’re not robots. For pete’s sake, Oprah’s been trying to diet her way to happiness for two decades.
2. Start taking detailed notes when you feel really happy
You know those moments of “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is”? Those moments when you’d lift your face to the sky and grin (but you don’t because it feels awkward), make note of those moments. Open up the ‘notes’ app on your phone and type in what, exactly, you were doing.
Yes, I know this is dorky. And, yes, I know you’re thinking “I should do that!” And then you’re not going to, in fact, do it.
Do it. I think you’ll be really surprised by what actually makes you happy.
Here’s an actual screenshot of my list. You’ll note that it’s oddly specific because I’ve found that the devil (and happiness, apparently) is in the details.
- Reading fiction in the morning feels luxurious. Reading non-fiction in the morning feels like homework.
- Being in nature in a group feels noisy and vaguely annoying, like I need to keep everyone on the path and make sure no one brings ticks into the car. Being in nature alone feels holy.
- Having a good pedicure makes me feel fresh and clean, put together and happy. Having a fresh manicure feels like “meh.”
- Watching TV alone feels like I’m wasting time or confusing self-care with self-indulgence. Having a weekly, group TV-watching date feels like a fun, easy way to catch up with my friends and treat myself.
3. Lovingly dissect those happy moments so you can make more of ‘em
Let’s say I feel down-to-my-bones happy every time I find myself drinking Friday afternoon cocktails on a patio with my ladies. I could, of course, say “Okay! Cocktails every Friday with my friends for the rest of my liiiiiife!!!”
But I suspect there’s more to it than that.
Do I love these Friday afternoon drinks because …
It feels good to catch up with my friends?
I love doing things at a time of day/week/month when most people are at work?
Eating and drinking outside is The Actual Best?
Being able to buy a $13 cocktail makes me feel successful and accomplished?
All of the above?
If I need all those factors in place to feel truly thrilled, then yes! I should fill my Fridays with patio drinks! But if I realize that it’s the friendship and connection that’s filling me up, I can get those any day of the week, in any location as long as a buddy is present.
4. Remember what made you happy as a child
If you’re still not quite sure what floats your boat, think about the things you loved as a kid.
What made us happy before we were worried about what was cool? What did we like when we weren’t concerned about the expense or difficulty? What did we love before we worried about being ‘good enough’?
What did we enjoy that doesn’t even fit under the ‘hobby’ heading? Rolling down hills? Finger painting? Dressing the dog in outfits?
If it made you happy then, it’ll probably make you happy now. Why don’t you give it a try and find out?
5. Remind yourself “This makes me happy”
Many of the things that make me happy are, to be honest, a hassle (and by ‘hassle’ I mean “require me to put on real clothes, google something, and leave the house”). Intellectually, I know taking a day trip to Hudson, working in a new coffee shop, and then hanging out on the sandbar will make me really happy … but it is just SO MUCH EASIER to keep working at home in my yoga pants.
Here’s how I remember what makes me happy:
- I wrote a list of the things that make me happy – big and little, easy and difficult – and posted that list next to my computer. Whenever my mind wanders, whenever I’m feeling blue, I can look to the right of my computer screen and remember that reading a chapter of this book while cuddling the dog will make me happy.
- When I’m in the middle of doing something that makes me happy I actually say to myself, “This makes me happy.”
I’m eating chocolate mousse at a supper club in rural South Dakota? “This makes me happy.”
I’m hiking around a lake on a sunny Tuesday afternoon? “This makes me happy.”
I just bought an amazing chair on Craigslist for $50? “This makes me happy.”
Reciting this little phrase helps cement these happy-making habits in my brain and life. It helps me feel proud for taking steps to have the life I want. It reminds me that the hassle of happy – the planning, the boundary pushing, the saving and scheduling – is totally worth it.
Do you know what makes you happy? If you really think about it and dissect it, are you surprised by anything that lights you up?
P.S. 101 ways to cheer yourself up + Life has big plans for you.