Fortune Well August 11, 2023
In her 1994 song, Mary J. Blige sings, “All I really want is to be happy.” It’s a sentiment that’s widely shared. After all, when you search the phrase “how to be happy,” more than 8 billion results pop up. But true happiness requires more than a 43-second Google search. For many, it’s a lifelong pursuit. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, this guide offers expert advice on how to be happier in certain areas of your life.
There’s an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” and the same could be applied to happiness. In an ongoing study of more than 2,000 people, researchers found that the key to happiness wasn’t good health, but rather good relationships.
Strong relationships most accurately predicted people’s happiness throughout their lives. They are “intrinsic to everything we do and everything we are,” The Good Life coauthors Dr. Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz wrote. Learn more about how to create and nurture these relationships in your life.
Some people say that happiness is fleeting while joy is more constant. If you want to live a happier life, try shifting your focus to joy instead by participating in your own Big Joy Project, which consists of doing seven days of seven micro-acts of joy.
As the saying goes, you are what you eat, and there are foods that have been proven to boost your mood over time. Some examples include turmeric, kombucha, cinnamon, and salmon. Even almonds have been linked to lower rates of depression and improved mood.
According to a recent survey, 50% of employees say that work stress is impacting their personal lives and their relationships with their family members and friends, as well as their relationships with themselves. But there is hope.
While we place a lot of attention on our personal relationships (think romantic, family, and friends), fostering positive relationships with our colleagues is a top indicator of job satisfaction. Consider joining a volunteer project, attending a work-related happy hour, or looking for employee resource groups. If those don’t exist, try launching one yourself. And support a colleague if you can, as helping others can also boost happiness (and creativity).
Experts also recommend focusing on the present and what you can control to “regain a sense of confidence, awareness, and personal power” at work. Taking several microbreaks throughout the day to take a walk or call a friend can help inject more joy into your workday as well. Read more here.
While we may dream of living happily ever after, the truth is all relationships, especially marriage, require ongoing work. To help put the happiness back in your marriage, experts recommend prioritizing quality time with your significant other. Whether it’s weekly date nights or monthly getaways for a long weekend, it’s important for couples to invest in regularly scheduled time together that’s just for the two of them.
“The notion of perfect, problem-free, and everlasting happiness in marriage is unrealistic. Every relationship faces challenges, conflicts, and ups and downs,” Courtney Cope, licensed marriage and family therapist and principal clinical operations manager at BetterHelp, an online mental health platform, previously told Fortune. “The expectation of a perpetual state of bliss can lead to disappointment and frustration. Recognizing that a fulfilling marriage requires ongoing effort and adaptation can help manage expectations.”
Additionally, expressing verbal affirmations and gratitude for your partner is also important, as well as prioritizing emotional and physical intimacy. Mutual support for each other’s growth and personal development is also key.
While some people may dread getting older, research has shown that people get happier as they age. Just check out Laura Carstensen’s TED talk “Older People Are Happier.”
“As we age, our time horizons grow shorter and our goals change. When we recognize that we don’t have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly,” says the professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “We take less notice of trivial matters. We savor life. We’re more appreciative, and more open to reconciliation. We invest in more emotionally important parts of life, and life gets better, so we’re happier day-to-day.”
As we get older, our friendships become more important than our family relationships, so it’s wise to invest in a “bouquet of friends,” according to experts—“some older, some younger, some the same age,” Katharine Esty, Ph.D., a former psychotherapist and author of Eightysomethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness, previously told Fortune. “There’s pleasure in sharing memories and music you liked with people your own age, but there’s also joy in learning and experiences with older and younger friends.”
But relationships are nothing without vulnerability, as this is the foundation of genuine connections.
“Relationships don’t keep us happy all day, every day because nobody’s happy all day, every day,” Waldinger previously told Fortune. “What they do is they build a bedrock of well-being. They build a safety net. They build a sense that I got people in my life when I need them.”
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