Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Happiness matters! Scientific studies show that happiness brings improvements in life domains such as marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health. It is so basic a human need that, in America, we consider the pursuit of happiness to be an inalienable human right. So if you are not happy, it is important to understand why and what you can do about it. So, let us explore 5 big reasons why you might not be happy and get to work.
“Material things or other people aren't going to make you happy. Only you can do that and there is some effort involved.”
You're Being Told You Shouldn't Be Happy
The average American now spend more than 11 hours a day either in front of a screen or listening to the radio. It can be an enlightening experience to sit back and take notice of the messages you receive, during that time, from social media, the news and advertising. They aren't there to make you happy. They are designed to make you think that you need to buy something in order to be happy.
You are constantly reminded that you don't have the ideal body type. You can't get that perfect selfie that celebrities share because you just aren't attractive enough. Your car isn't cool enough. You don't have the newest flat-screen hanging on your wall. You don't even wear the right clothes. It is no wonder you're not happy - you have no right to be because you aren't good enough.
The good news is that there is a powerful antidote for this cause of unhappiness. It's called the 'off' switch.
The first major step toward being happy is to listen to your inner-self. But you can't do that if your attention is always distracted by external messages. You need to build in time to break from phones, tablets, computers and media.
Here's a cool life hack for improving your happiness. Put down the phone and turn off the radio or TV. Now make a mental list of the top 5 things you think are really pretty cool about yourself. Then every once in a while turn off the external negative messages and review those things to remind yourself about why you like you!
You Think 'Things' Will Make You Happy
Is there any truth to those messages? Can you buy your way into happiness. It may even be true that the moment you first purchase something and the first few times you use it, you experience joy. But, in the long run, you understand that things don't really bring happiness. If they did, you wouldn't be reading this article.
I recently took a trip to Phuket, Thailand that was part vacation and part research. They consider themselves to be 'the land of Buddha'. There is huge stone Buddha on top of a hill that overlooks much of the Phuket peninsula. From the towns and beaches, you can look up and see the Buddha watching over you.
The Buddha was all about happiness and the Thai people take his teachings seriously. One of the things you quickly notice about them is how often they smile. By western standards, they have very little in the way of material things. Yet they are happy because the Buddha reminds them to be. In fact, the Buddha preached that once we let go of attachments, including the desire for more material things, we can be happy.
Upon my return to suburban Massachusetts, I was shocked to see how few people smiled. Here I was in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the world and nobody was smiling. With everything telling us that material things make you happy, these people should be the happiest on the planet. So why do they look so miserable?
Are you ready for the secret of happiness? It doesn't come from things, it comes from experiences. Studies show that pleasurable experiences contribute more to our happiness than material things. You can experience happiness by spending time with a friend or taking a walk in nature. Of course, you have to turn off your cell phone and be present or you won't get the benefits of the experience.
Take 5 minutes, right now, to close your eyes and think about an experience that made you happy. Notice if it makes you happy to think about it again. This article will be right here when you open your eyes.
You Aren't Grateful for What You Have
Hey, I'm not judging. I'm just relaying a little know fact about gratitude. Not only does happiness foster gratitude, but gratitude leads to happiness. Here again, science has shown that people who actively express gratitude have a more positive outlook on life and more positive expectations about the near future.
The Buddha's quote below makes perfect sense. If you aren't grateful for the good things in life you already have, what makes you think you will ever be happy. Happiness and gratitude go hand and hand.
“Happiness will never come to those that fail to appreciate what they already have.” - Buddha
What should you be grateful for? How about loved ones, pets, health, the fact that you are able to work, the fact that you live where you do, or even the fact that you can actually read this blog article (some people can't).
Here is an easy way to actively incorporate gratitude in your life. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and then, under your breath, list the things for which you are grateful. Say, 'I am grateful for...' before each thing you mention. Gratitude is the fastest path to happiness!
You Don't Smile Enough
Here is an interesting question for you. Which statement fits better with your view of how happiness works:
If I am happy, then I will smile; or
If I smile, then I will be happy.
For those who answered 1, you'd likely be surprised to learn that recent research shows that 2) is also correct. Smiling can actually make you happy! It improves your mood, improves your immune system and lowers stress.
Here's something else you probably didn't know. Smiling is infectious. So is happiness. If you see someone smile at you it makes you smile. OK, if you are in a bad mood it might not - but it does make you think 'I probably should smile back', right?
Maybe that is why everyone in Thailand smiles, it is a very Buddhist thing to do. I've made it a practice to walk around Boston's metro west area smiling. People may think I am crazy but do you know what? It makes me happy and actually wears off on some people.
Here is a quick life hack to make you happier - smile.
You are Waiting for Something to Make You Happy
Do you ever tell yourself, "I'll be happy when..."? When we say that, we make our happiness dependent on something external. Maybe it is 'when I lose 10 pounds' or 'when I get that raise'.
By now, you understand the theme of this blog. Happiness is not something that comes from without, it comes from within. We make ourselves happy. BTW, if you're not happy, nothing is going to make you happy.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't a 'just be happy with whatever you have' message. You can certainly strive for self-improvement, success, better relationships, better health or anything else you really want in life. But wouldn't it be more fun to be happy while you strive?
A number of studies have proven that actively practicing mindfulness makes you happier, more productive and healthier. They even show that mindfulness improves relationships.
There is no need to wait!
This blog has given you some things you can do to make yourself happier. Be sure to check out more in the Resources section of the illuumin8 website.