Happiness: it seems like there’s never enough of it, and it feels like there’s a constant, considerable amount of pressure to find it. There are countless books on the subject, entire television programs dedicated to it, and the pursuit of it is written into the US Constitution. But while most of us are inundated with information that states the importance of happiness (and the aforementioned pursuit of it,) exactly why is it so important, and how can we get a bit more of it into our lives?
The answer is simple: happiness is important for overall health and well-being. It means different things for different people, and it doesn’t have to mean the pursuit of a constant state of near-euphoric high. But it does have positive side effects that range from the minute to the major. Consider this item from a 2014 Guardian UK article on the subject:
“(Happiness) doesn’t just help us function better: happiness also brings substantial benefits for society as a whole. For example, a review of more than 160 studies found “clear and compelling evidence” that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. They are around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Happier people are also less likely to engage in risky behavior – for example, they are more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to be involved in road accidents. Happier people are even more financially responsible, tending to save more and have more control over their expenditures.” The article also mentions that inevitably happy people are more likely to make positive contributions to society, like volunteer work, public activities, and working for the greater good of their community.
But what happens if you don’t feel happy? If you’re grappling with depression or a rough time in your life right now, how do you move toward happiness?
Inevitably, it’s a choice. For those of us who live with mental health conditions, it requires us to start where we are right this minute and to care for ourselves every day. We must put our own well-being first, ensuring that we eat enough, move our bodies, take our medications, follow doctor’s orders, and get enough sleep. But beyond that, science has shown that simply making the decision to be happy is one of the greatest movements toward that state of being. No matter what your current circumstances may be, choosing to look to the positive can change the very chemistry of your body and your brain. Keeping happiness at the top of your priorities influences the decisions you make every single day, and as you avoid or minimize situations or choices that would cause unhappiness, you can move toward a more constant state of happiness. It starts every morning when you wake up, adopting an attitude of gratitude for what you already have, and then making the choice to stay in that mindset. It’s nearly impossible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. Try it. You might find yourself creating a little joy without even really trying.
In the end, it’s not about how your life looks to the outside world when it comes to happiness. That word means many different things to all of us, and we all have the right to define it as we see fit. It’s the vision we hold in our minds and the actions we take toward those dreams every single day that create the happiness we seek. We get there every day with right action, humility, humor, a lot of hope, and just a touch of grace.