by Maggie Hammond
It’s easy to view happiness as an achievement or a state of being. We believe that if we have a certain possession, a romantic relationship, a holiday, a better job or a lot of money, we’ll “be happy.” The truth, however, is that we don’t achieve happiness; a happy life is one that prioritizes the experiences and people which produce those happy feelings.
No one is continuously happy, but we can tip the balance in its favor. If we’re constantly looking for something new to fill a void, we neglect to appreciate the happiness we already have.
Here are 5 key ways to improve your well-being and happiness in the long-term.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
In the modern world, we are surrounded by the lives of others everywhere we go. From our own social media accounts to magazines, movies and TV shows, we’re continuously confronted by images of other people’s achievements, idealized physical appearances and supposed happiness. It’s important to remember that none of this is real; everything we see is filtered, selectively edited and airbrushed, so striving for these standards is pointless.
The same is true for comparing yourself to people in your real life; if you base your happiness on whether you’re superior to others, you will never feel content as you’ll be always focused on flaws rather than your talents. The more comfortable you are in yourself, the happier you’ll feel.
Looking for instant gratification through substances like drugs and alcohol is a temporary bandage, but it’s not true happiness. Alcohol can act as a sedative, but when this wears off, it is ultimately a depressant. Opioids stimulate our pleasure receptors in the brain creating an intense – but temporary – sensation of pleasure and excitement. Using substances in our pursuit of happiness is not only ineffective but can also lead to substance use disorders or addiction.
The Recovery Village is a network of rehabilitation centers helping people struggling with substance misuse disorders or addiction; the website explains why the use of opioids can lead to addiction: “The brain is naturally inclined to learn to want to repeat actions that stimulate the reward system or provoke feelings of pleasure. Of course, without opiates, the actions your brain wants to repeat are things like sex or eating. Once you’ve taken opiates, your brain starts to want to repeat that activity, and that’s how addiction develops.”
Instead of turning to potentially dangerous substances or risky behaviors, find an activity which makes you truly happy and do it as often as you can. It could be socializing with loved ones, a new hobby or a healthy lifestyle. Whatever it is, make it a priority in your life.
Take Responsibility for Your Own Happiness
It’s a natural impulse to want to find an external cause for feelings of unhappiness so we can try and change things for the better, but that’s not the same as blaming others for our problems. You usually have the power to change your circumstances or, at the very least, how you respond to those circumstances. Self-care, a sense of control and accountability are key to our sense of freedom and improved self-esteem.
Live in the Moment
Dwelling on negative past experiences or worrying about potential problems in the future is not helpful when it comes to our present state of mind. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with learning from past mistakes or forward-planning which enables us to achieve our goals, but neither should stop us from living in the moment. Find a new hobby and do more of what makes you lose yourself in the moment.
Try to Trust Others
Finally, learn to accept and trust others. Being more open with strangers and people from different backgrounds can open opportunities and give you a more positive outlook on life in general. Believe in the best in people and you’re more likely to witness it.
Author: Maggie Hammond is a retired nurse and freelance writer, exploring and writing in the U.S. in retirement. An advocate for public health and nursing qualifications, she feels passionate about raising awareness of the current strain on public health organisations.