Boost Happiness in Three Steps

Real life isn’t all rainbows and kittens, but real happiness is always available, even in tough times.

Amy Covington/Stocksy

1) Get real about happiness

Happiness isn’t about being upbeat all the time. Instead, think of it as a trait—one that helps you to recognize even the tiniest moments of joy, to fully embrace the good stuff in life without pause, and to know that even when things aren’t going well, this hard time, too, shall pass. It’s also something that can be cultivated. Why is this important? Science shows us that happiness is one of the best defenses against hardship. It creates resiliency, and it also allows us, by not getting stuck in a negative state, to see opportunities that might lead us back to a steadier, more contented outlook. The key to uncovering happiness is to be on the lookout for the sweet moments in life, big and small, and to really take them in. The friendly exchange with a stranger. The spring sun on your face after a long winter. The sense of uplift from a job well done. Start taking notice of these everyday moments, and bask in their glow for a beat or two. The more easily you can identify even the simplest of joys in life, the more of them you’ll discover, everywhere.

The key to uncovering happiness is to be on the lookout for the sweet moments in life, big and small, and to really take them in.

2) Find your purpose

Getting involved in something outside of your day-to-day routine has the power to infuse daily life with greater meaning. But we’re all pulled in so many directions, it can feel overwhelming to know where to put your attention. To cut through the din, each day ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What do I care about beyond myself?
  2. What small action can I take today that is in line with this belief?
  3. How will my actions affect the world in the long run?

Then take these values and turn them into verbs. If you value family time, for example, start putting smartphones aside during dinner, create a plan for a monthly family outing, or find ways to connect more often with your bicoastal siblings. If it’s the environment, consider volunteering your time or donating money to an organization that supports that cause, or both. If you feel compelled to create, commit to fueling your inspiration in whatever ways feel right—visiting a museum, browsing through art books—and set aside some time for your own creative process. Carve a bit of space into each day to think about and do one small thing toward the bigger picture you hold. Practice and repeat, and over time watch your sense of purpose grow.

3) Be generous: it’s contagious

There is no experience more uplifting than giving. At the base of generosity is compassion, which research finds has a direct impact on well-being. You know what’s even cooler? Generosity is generative: The more you practice, the better you feel, and the easier it becomes to be generous! Plus, it’s contagious. Your act of generosity very well might inspire someone else to act kindly toward another. And you can start right away, where you are. Tip the server 18% instead of your usual 15%. Give a bit more to charity this month, or dedicate more of your time to helping friends, family, and strangers than you normally do. Or get more connected: Try smiling at a stranger, tell a friend that you appreciate them, or tell a loved one how much they mean to you. It all adds up—and adds to your happiness quotient.