All of us want to be happy. In fact, happiness is rated as more desirable than anything else in life, as attested from all corners of the world. All of us want to be happy so much more than we want a new car, a new house, a fancy vacation (more money), a new body or a better looking spouse (vanity), or even fame.
Research shows, though, that there is a whole lot more to “happiness” than feeling good all day long.
True happiness lasts longer than a burst of dopamine, however, so it’s important to think of it as something more than just emotion. Your sense of happiness also includes cognitive reflections, such as when you give a mental thumbs-up or thumbs-down to your best friend’s sense of humor, the shape of your nose, or the quality of your marriage. Only a bit of this sense has to do with how you feel; the rest is the product of mental arithmetic, when you compute your expectations, your ideals, your acceptance of what you can’t change—and countless other factors. That is, happiness is a state of mind, and as such, can be intentional and strategic.
Regardless of your emotional set point, your everyday habits and choices—from the way you operate in a friendship to how you reflect on your life decisions—can push the needle on your well-being. Recent scholarship documenting the unique habits of those who are happiest in life even provides something of an instruction manual for emulating them. It turns out that activities that lead us to feel uncertainty, discomfort, and even a dash of guilt are associated with some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of people’s lives. Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counterintuitive habits that seem, well, downrightunhappy.
Explore, at the cost of momentary happiness.
Overlook a few things.
Be honest with yourself.
Focus on things other than being happy.
Oh, and move to either Panama or Paraguay.