What does it mean to be happy, really? It’s an age-old question—and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Happiness is deeply personal, and everyone’s journey is different— it’s really all about figuring out what you need to find your bliss. And, to be clear upfront, getting that dream job, finding love, or winning the lottery isn’t the answer to happiness. While those things might bring temporary happiness, evidence suggests that finding joy is deeper than just getting what you want in a given moment. Happiness comes from within, not from what happens to us.
“There are many factors that contribute to happiness,” explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness. “Happiness really is more internal than external, so it’s how you feel about yourself, other people, and the world around you. It’s how you think, how you behave on a daily basis that influences happiness the most.”
To Find True Happiness Within Yourself, You Need to Make the Effort
Ready to reach for joy? Get started today, and take your happiness to new levels in just two weeks! We’ve split this article into two parts to keep it short and sweet, Are you ready to give it a try?
Day 1: Practice Self Care
Self-care is a broad term, and sometimes people confuse self-care with self-indulgence or an act of selfishness. But self-care really is about nourishing bodies and minds so that we can be the best version of ourselves in all areas of life: “When we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re more likely to feel fatigued and get physical symptoms, like stress-related headaches or pain,” says Helen L. Coons, a psychologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “The biggest thing is being intentional of how we take care of ourselves. When we’re not last on the task list, we have more energy to do what’s important to us.”
To start on a path toward better self-care and create a self-care routine, try looking at the things that make you feel revitalized and add more of those things to your weekly schedule. Everybody has a different version of self-care, but we can all agree that neglecting yourself can detract from happiness, Lyubomirsky explains. Acts of self-care can be anything that makes you feel happy, healthy, and rejuvenated. Try these ideas that might work for you:
✔️ Rest and relaxation: engage in some “me time” with a luxurious bath complete with scented candles and Epsom salt. Go the extra mile with a do-it-yourself manicure and pedicure, hair mask, or face mask (or all three, we’re not judging).
✔️ Get moving: try an impromptu, stress-busting dance party to revive your body and mind. Add in your favorite tunes and let loose whenever and wherever the mood strikes you.
✔️ Be kind: a random act of kindness can put things in perspective and help you see goodness and positivity in the world. “Helping others actually helps people feel happier,” Lyubomirsky says. So try offering up compliments, or holding doors for others, for a true mood-boosting activity.
Day 2: Find Serenity in Solitude
Connecting with yourself is a key way to find your version of happiness. Privacy away from the external world to be alone with your thoughts and find a sense of calm is a great way to disconnect from distractions and look inward. We’re wired for connecting with others, so finding solitude might seem difficult at first. But it is absolutely necessary—a study by the University of California, Santa Cruz revealed that solitude is a “biological need; that solitude supports identity development as well as intimacy with others; and that solitude promotes happiness.” Try looking at solitude as a way to recharge your mind and reconnect with your values to allow better connection with others.
Try to develop a daily practice by spending some time alone every day, noticing your thoughts, and directing them toward “the greatest ideal of yourself,” says Joe Dispenza, a personal- transformation teacher featured in the movie What the BLEEP Do We Know!?
Day 3: Build Better Boundaries
Healthy boundaries are rooted in self-love and have a significant impact on our overall happiness. If you feel exhausted, over-extended, or as if you’re doing too much for others at the expense of yourself, it might be time to reconsider your habits.“Boundaries establish healthy relationships and a sense of identity,” says Brian Wind. “They boost your self-esteem and reduce resentment and anger.” “The first step is identifying that you’re doing too much,” Simply realize that you might be doing a lot for others, but not enough for yourself to feel healthy and happy. You can then look at the individual factors of your life that might be contributing to those feelings.
“Learning to say no is a valuable key in boundary setting,” says Dr. Bristow. “It doesn’t have to be confrontational, it can be as simple as admitting you’re having a hard time with something, or you’re not available.” Say no to the things you can’t commit to, and notice how it makes you feel. With practice, the people in your life will understand and you will become a better friend, family member, or employee by protecting your energy.
Day 4: Nourish Your Connections
While taking time to be with yourself is important to well-being, happy people find a balance between self-connection and connecting with others. There’s a reason why we feel so good while grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend, or after chatting on the phone with a family member. Our social connections often feel like necessary components of our lives—because they are: In fact, a qualitative study on happiness at the end of life revealed that patients receiving palliative care held a common message for younger people, which was to prioritize “social connection and engagement with the natural world.”
The relationships we have with others have an extreme impact on our emotional health and happiness, as well as our physical health, explains Brigham Young psychology and neuroscience professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D. “We need to take our social relationships as seriously as we take our diet, exercise, nutrition, and everything else that we know affects our health,” she says.
There are so many ways we can combat loneliness and nourish our social connections. Try reaching out to friends or family members, old and new. Video and phone calls are great alternatives to lunch or date if the distance is an issue between you and your loved ones. Making new connections is something we can all benefit from, too. Try volunteering at an animal shelter or food pantry, or taking classes and joining clubs where you’ll be likely to find people with similar interests by visiting local event listings or sites like Meetup, an online tool for finding events and clubs, or communities.
Day 5: Find Joy in Everything
It might seem like happier people are simply more grateful by nature, but it turns out experts say that gratitude actually increases happiness. “Gratitude basically is the antidote to negative emotions and taking things for granted,” says Lyubomirsky. This is because expressing gratitude to others makes you feel more positive about life in general. Practicing gratitude affirms the goodness in life, ourselves, and others which then paves the road for a happier mindset overall.
“It’s important for us not to keep our thanks silent,” says Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. “Gratitude requires action.” So how can you start being more grateful? There are so many ways to look for the love, kindness, and joy around us, but here are a few tips to get you started:
✔️ Gratitude letters: writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has shown you kindness or made a positive impact somehow is sure to boost both your happiness and the recipients. This activity will allow you to realize the power certain connections have in providing joy and making the people in your life feel appreciated.
✔️ Fall asleep happy: try focusing on three things you feel grateful for before going to sleep each night. These things can include people in your life who are important to you, something good that happened that day, or something you have to look forward to. Write them down, speak them out loud, or tell them to a family member or friend.
✔️ Focus on little things: sometimes it really is the little things in life that make us the happiest. We tend to get caught up in the major areas of life like work and relationships, but expressing thanks for sunshine after a rainy day or a kind person at the grocery store can easily restore a strong sense of gratitude.
Day 6: Quit Complaining
Do you ever wonder if you complain too much? We all complain to some extent, whether about the traffic on the way to work or a sink full of dishes. But did you know that if you quit complaining, you’ll likely find yourself happier? Complaining might feel good, and instinctual even, but it keeps the focus on the negative. “Sometimes complaining is valid,” Dr. Bristow explains. “It can be a way of saying something is wrong. Understanding if a complaint is valid, and if it is, further exploring and addressing the issue is necessary.” If you are complaining to communicate an issue try shifting the focus toward problem-solving rather than toward the negative emotions associated with the problem.
However, “we have such a tendency to get caught up in a cycle of complaining and catastrophizing,” says Robin Kowalski, author of Complaining, Teasing, and Other Annoying Behaviors. “Ask yourself, Does the evidence really support that things are as bad as I think?” If you are complaining, well just to complain, try taking a step back to look at the why in the situation.
Practice questioning yourself and those negative thoughts to form a better perspective. Kowalski advises to write down the things that are bothersome instead or simply pause for a moment. Gratitude exercises, like we practiced yesterday, can be helpful in countering the negative emotions associated with complaining too, Dr. Bristow adds. To end a habit of complaining, invite yourself to be more mindful and intentional with your thoughts and feelings. Make a commitment to linger in the positive to find a path toward fewer complaints, more gratitude, and more happiness.
Day 7: Live in Laughter
It turns out that laughter really is the best medicine. In fact, laughter is proven to increase happiness and self-esteem, as well as reduce anxiety, one study shows. “When we experience stress, our brain releases cortisol and adrenaline, which causes our blood pressure and heart rate to go up, muscles to tense, and the immune system to take a hit,” says Karyn Buxman, R.N., author of Lead With Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders.
“When we laugh, the brain releases happy hormones that lower inflammation in the body, boost cardiovascular health, relax your muscles, and enable you to concentrate and connect with others,” Buxman explains. Laughter, then, is truly an antidote to the negative effects of stress and is instrumental in promoting happiness as well as a general sense of well-being. So where can you find the prescription for laughter? Almost anywhere, really! Make a habit out of looking for laughter: You can take time to find videos of things you find funny, watch a favorite sitcom, or even keep a list on your phone of things you find funny throughout the day to share with someone later on. “When you force yourself to look for funny things, you start to see the humor in everything,” says Buxman.