It is sometimes said that you cannot achieve happiness by pursuing it, but this is only true if you pursue it in the wrong way. Sit at home staring at the TV and happiness is unlikely to come knocking at your door.
Be a part of something bigger than yourself
The more time you spend locked up inside your little ego, the less happy you will be. The happiest people tend to be those who care more for something, or somebody else, than they do for themselves. For example, parents often experience a profound liberation in the love they feel for their child. Others find this sort of liberation by devoting themselves to some noble cause, like raising funds to build an orphanage in Africa, or volunteering to help distribute food and blankets to the homeless.
In fact, a growing body of research shows that “paying it forward” really does improve mood and well-being; a recent literature review by neurosurgeon John Gorecki MD indicates that there’s a direct correlation between the duration of altruistic activity and its psychological impact. So the question isn’t so much “How can I help others help themselves?” as it is “How can I help others help me?”
Consider your physical health
The most profound and insightful self-help book in circulation is going to be of little use if you barely sleep or exercise and live on a diet of fast food and fizzy drinks. Your diet can make a huge difference to your day to day mood. For example, too much sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, leads to a sudden rise in blood sugar. The body then attempts to control this by releasing insulin and glucagon to break it down. This is sometimes known as a “sugar crash,” and it can leave you feeling tired and low.
A poor diet also places considerable strain on the liver, even overloading its detoxification system. If the liver becomes sluggish, toxins will find their way into the bloodstream. This, in turn, affects the brain, causing mood swings, impaired concentration and mild depression. Reduce the amount of junk and processed food you consume and replace it with fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and lots of oily fish. Exercise can also raise your spirits. Get outside and exercise regularly in natural light. An improved diet and exercise regime will in turn improve your sleep patterns, crucial for both health and happiness.
Cultivate a passion
The happiest people usually have a passion in life that they enjoy for its own sake. Take an interest in as wide a range of things as possible. Take up as many new hobbies as time allows. Don’t self sabotage with thoughts like “Oh, I’m too old for this” or “I’m going to make a fool of myself.” What do you have to lose? If you find learning Karate or Russian too difficult or boring, try something else. Take up gardening or pottery instead. The most satisfying passions tend to be the most creative. Try poetry writing classes or take up watercolor painting. You may surprise yourself and discover a talent you didn’t know you had.
Seek out a purpose in life
We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. If you feel your life ultimately has no direction or purpose, you may find yourself slipping into depression. People who were stranded in life-threatening circumstances after a plane crash, or who survived a war, will often claim that it was some simple ambition or goal that kept them going. For example, they may say “I was determined to survive so as to get home and complete the restoration of my classic car” or “I was determined to survive because I had always wanted to visit Paris.”
Keep your expectations of life realistic
Many people grow indignant at this step and reply that they have no intention of abandoning their dreams or “aiming low.” Of course, it is important to have ambitions and dreams. The problems come when people adopt unrealistic ambitions and dreams. If your happiness depends upon writing an international bestseller, or owning a yacht and villa in Italy, you will most probably live your life in a state of frustration. Excessive, unrealistic ambition also takes people away from the only place happiness can really be found – the here and now. Overambitious people spend their lives plotting and planning for a future that never comes. Take pleasure in the small things of life: a hot bath, a tasty sandwich, a walk in the snow, a favorite TV show. Make a point of cherishing and savoring these little joys.