It’s relatively easy to become happier for the short duration, just as it’s a piece of cake to quit smoking for a day or to temporarily keep a tidy desk. The challenge lies in sustaining (able to be upheld or kept up) the new level of happiness. You know this intimately if you’ve tried to turn your life around before (perhaps numerous times) but have found that “nothing works.” This module explains that long-term increases in your level of happiness can be attained, but only if you abide by the five hows (or keys) behind sustainable well-being.
Frequent positive emotions-feelings of joy, delight, contentment, serenity, curiosity, interest, vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, thrill, and pride-are the very hallmark of happiness. No happiness-enhancing strategy would be capable of successfully sustaining happiness if it made a person feel happy only once and only briefly.
Activities like practicing gratitude, focusing on the best person you can possibly be, being generous, and spending quietly time with loved ones-all are designed to accomplish exactly what is needed to ward off depressions: Increase positive emotions, foster positive thoughts, and fuel positive experiences.
First, we have already seen that happiness activities boost positive emotions, but researchers have also shown that positive feelings can foil the effects of negative feelings. A second benefit of happiness activities is that they boost positive thinking. Happiness activities can counteract the negative bias by helping us to unlearn our patterns of negative thinking. Third, happiness activities encourage positive experiences.
An avalanche of studies has shown that happy moods, no matter the source, lead people to be more productive, more likable, more active, more healthy, more friendly, more helpful, more resilient, and more creative. This means that positive emotions actually help us achieve our goals (reinforcing the feeling that we are working toward something important) as well as help us strive for meaning and purpose in life. One of the chief reasons for the durability of happiness activities is that unlike the guilty pleasures, they are hard won. You have devoted time and effort to meditating or avoiding overthinking or committing acts of kindness. When the source of positive emotion is yourself (as opposed to television games, cigarettes, or chocolate ice cream), it can continue to yield pleasure and make you happy. When the source of positive emotion is yourself, it is renewable.
Timing is Important
The bottom line is that for happiness activities, as for humor, timing is important. You should strive to discover the optimal timing for each activity-that is, a frequency of engagement that allows each activity to remain fresh, meaningful, and positive. How do you accomplish this? Through self-experimentation.
Variety, the Spice of Life
Regard finding happiness as an adventure, full of enterprise, developments, and detours. Work on several happiness activities at once, so if one is not going so well, you can relish another. So sprinkle a little of this and a little of that, revivify your happiness strategies on a regular basis, surprise yourself sometimes.
Any change in behavior that requires effort and dedication will be made easier if your spouse, children, friends, parents, siblings, and coworkers are supportive. They can motivate you and remind you to continue to practice your happiness activities, a necessary boost when you start to lose your momentum. Think of social support as essentially a force that works with the behavioral change.
Another vital key to a successful happiness-increasing program, as you already well know, is committed and dedicated effort.
Motivation, or the drive and inspiration to accomplish something, plays a necessary role in all four steps of resolving, learning, effort making, and committing. The more motivated you are to do something, the more likely you’ll invest effort into it. Without effort, without trying, without striving, without tenacity, without constancy of purpose, there is only failure, hesitation, “a faint heart and a lame endeavor.” The importance of practicing the life-changing program you have undertaken, whether that program involves your becoming a happier person, quitting smoking, or treating an illness. Effort and commitment are king. Renew your commitment every day. Not only the strategy but the very act of recommitment will become easier and more automatic over time.
The more often you initiate a positive activity-for example, savoring meals with family or appreciating your life during bad moments-the stronger the connection becomes between that activity (savoring or appreciating) and the cues around them (family dinner or hassles). As you might expect, habits take time to form and endure. There is no scientific evidence to how long it takes to form a habit. 21 days? Some think it is closer to 66 days. Your aim should be to create the habit of instigating a happiness activity: Go ahead and forgive, savor, thrive, look on the bright side, and count your blessings. Aim to do it unconsciously and automatically. This kind of habit helps you get over the hump of implementing a happiness activity on a regular basis.