With all that’s going on in the world, researchers are seeing the lowest levels of joy since the 1950s. The truth is, real happiness is less likely to be a state of perpetual bliss and more likely to look like a continual quest to find instances of meaning and beauty in the world — despite all of life’s hardships. Luckily, we can help you on that quest: from our experts, here are six simple, lasting ways to successfully boost your bliss.
Acknowledge all feelings
One of the biggest misconceptions about happiness is that we should feel it all the time, says Laurie Santos, PhD, cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University. “But a happy life is about pursuing purpose — and that often means feeling negative emotions, like sadness and frustration, because they help us learn.” Simply accepting that bliss isn’t a steady state — nor should it be — allows you to step back a bit. “Listening to our negative emotions, instead of pretending they don’t exist, is what opens us up to greater joy.”
Outsmart “if only”
The tendency to believe we’ll finally be content once we reach a certain goal is called the “arrival fallacy,” reveals Santos. “But research shows that for most of us, happiness doesn’t come from a change in our circumstances.” So what does lift us up? “Studies show being ‘other oriented,’ by helping people in small ways, makes us happier than we expected.”
Go on treasure hunts
Things that once made us happy often lose their luster over time because we get used to them, says expert Loretta Breuning, PhD, author of Habits of a Happy Brain and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute. “That’s why we have to keep exploring,” she urges. “For example, I love going on ‘treasure hunts’ by taking walks in new neighborhoods — just discovering a tree I’ve never seen before gives me a lift. Simply letting yourself wander without a plan exposes you to unexpected new joys.”
Put a twist on gratitude
“Unlike a gratitude practice, where I keep the ‘gratitudes’ to myself, I decided to text my husband my ‘best moments’ at the end of each day,” says Michelle Gielan, who is the author of Broadcasting Happiness and a researcher at the Institute of Applied Positive Research. “The goal is three highlights, and they’re always small, like something delicious we ate or the fact that I got to catch up with a friend.” The lists are like a road map to joy, she says. “At the end of the year, I’m going to collect the entries and make a book of ‘Best Moments of 2022.’” Sharing your list will lift your heart and another’s.
Sprinkle in rewards
Remember your last vacation? Looking forward to it was probably just as great as the trip itself. “That’s because ‘happy’ brain chemicals are released when we anticipate a reward,” says Breuning. “Sprinkle your day with small joys. For example, I’ll watch 10 minutes of a movie, then return to a chore; just thinking about getting back to the movie gives me a boost.”
Enjoy deeper bonds
Arguably the thing that makes us happiest is connecting with others. “But don’t just talk about the weather — ask someone what they’re most grateful for or what they would miss most if they had to move,” says Santos. “While we tend to think conversations like this will be awkward, they actually bring us closer.” When we see others — and feel seen ourselves — we’re happier over the long-term.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.