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How To Live a Happy Life No Matter How Old You Are

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.
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We’re all familiar with the term “the pursuit of happiness.” The question is:

How, exactly, do you pursue a happy life? Especially on a daily basis? What is happiness in the first place?

We all have those moments of sudden revelation when the world grows a little bit brighter, but how do you integrate those into your daily grind?

A good place to start is by defining what the term “happiness” means for you. There are many, and we’re talking many, different definitions of the word. It can come from actions, from what you think, from gratitude, and so on. If you break it down scientifically, you might find some interesting revelations. For instance, did you know that married people are 10 percent happier than unmarried people? What about the fact that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees Fahrenheit?

Perhaps the simplest definition of them all is the fact that happiness, at its root, is a choice. It’s actionable. It’s something we can pursue because we choose it. This naturally implies that happiness is something that lies in our own power. It’s not something that happens to us. We must seize it, carpe diem style. And that’s why we’re here, right?

Let’s break down some key ways that we can actively pursue happiness, from following our passions to letting go of expectations and everything in between. In other words, choose that happiness.

Definition of a Happy Life

In order to understand what a happy life is, it’s better to break down what happiness is. There are many definitions of happiness available but modern psychology would be the more practical one to define happiness.

Psychology breaks it down into two parts

  • The first is that happiness is an emotion.
  • The second is that happiness is a life satisfaction.

Happiness Is an Emotion

Happiness is an emotion that suggests that someone is experiencing positive emotions such as pleasure, excitement, and joy. We’re all very familiar with this in many forms.

Think about the times where you had good food, new clothes, walks on the beach, being around your friends. These sorts of things are what cause us to experience those emotions.


Happiness Is a Life Satisfaction

The second part – on life satisfaction – isn’t as familiar to us. It’s not as direct as stuffing your mouth full of good food, getting massages, or being on the beach.

Instead, it involves a deliberate process where we are discovering ourselves and cultivating the right mental attitudes to be living a happy life.

This is powerful because those attitudes being developed remain in place despite our emotions and our lives being emotional roller coasters.

Why Happiness Matters

Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being – Matthieu Ricard

When asked about whether happiness matters, people will react in surprisingly different ways to it. For some, they’ll say there are more important things to worry about; while others will see it as an essential cornerstone of their lives.


The feeling of happiness also matters in ensuring we make the most of the good times. However, it’s also useful to cope effectively when bad times roll around.

Besides that, happiness has also been proven to offer a wide range of benefits in performance, health, relationships and more. [1]

For one, the emotions that we experience – both positive and negative – serve a purpose.

Negative Emotions

Negative emotions – like fear and anger – help us to protect ourselves and to avoid danger. Negative emotions actually aren’t bad for us. Find out why in Why Negative Emotions Aren’t That Bad (And How to Handle Them).

Positive Emotions

Positive emotions though help us to connect with other people and build our capacity to cope.

Some other reasons for why happiness matters are that studies shows:

  • Happiness is linked to improved health and longer lives.[2]
  • Happy people are likely to follow safety precautions (like wearing seatbelts) and being involved in fewer accidents.[3]
  • Happier people have more financial responsibility and tend to save more and control their spending.[4]
  • And they are all-around better people for the communities they’re in as they strive to make a positive contribution to society.[5]

How to Live a Happy And Fuller Life

Here are 12 ways to lead a happier life. They work for all ages, and you’ll find that some are outwardly focused while others are more about improving ourselves.

However, regardless of the specific “happiness hack” you opt to try, remember that all of these only work if you’re open to them working in the first place.


1. Use the Power of Community

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: Someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” – Tom Bodett

The concept of community as it relates to happiness is as old as time. Humans have always found comfort in the company of others.

But the deep-down truth about communal happiness is that it’s not about what we’re getting out of community; it’s about what we’re putting into it.

Community is a concept that only works when the whole is taken into account, rather than each individual in isolation. For example, one study of metropolitan areas in the U.S. during the recent economic crisis showed that areas with the most civilian-focused social capital tended to yield the highest rates of happiness.

In other words, areas with the most functioning and connected communities were the most content during hard times.

What does this mean for our day-to-day happiness, though? It means we need to share our long term pursuit of happiness with others. It’s critical that we find areas in our community where we can plug in and get involved.

Help in your church. Find a local food bank or animal shelter. Volunteer as a crossing guard at a school. Coach a sports team. There are so many ways to volunteer within the greater fabric of our societies.

However, you go about it, plugging into the world around you and helping wherever you can is one of the absolute most powerful ways to stoke the fires of happiness and contentment within a person.


2. Practice Gratefulness

The truth is, gratefulness is hard to come by without a little effort. And that shouldn’t be surprising. Isn’t it always that way with the things that matter?

But the fight for gratitude is well worth the effort.

Studies have shown a “robust association” between being grateful and a person’s well-being (e.g. their happiness).

The simple act of having a grateful attitude can help combat nasty things like:

  • Stress and depression;
  • help us appreciate the relationships that we often don’t cherish enough;
  • and even give little hidden gifts like a better sleep.[6]

So, how do we go about garnering gratitude?

One of the easiest ways to practice gratitude is to take time to write down things you’re grateful for.

If you’re looking for real change, challenge yourself to sit down once a day and hand-write a list of three to five things that you’re grateful for. Handwriting is much more personal and can help us dwell a bit longer on each subject rather than simply typing them out.

Don’t worry if it’s hard to get started. When we’re struggling to be grateful, it can be hard to see all of the reasons we should be happy. Chances are, though, once you get things rolling, you’ll be writing more than five things per day.

Here’re 60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life to get you started.

3. Volunteer

It’s easy to roll our eyes when we hear about volunteering. After all, isn’t it just sucking away more of our valuable time?

The answer is a resounding no.

Not only does volunteering fulfill that community calling that we already touched on, but it also opens doors for us to learn new skills. This is often quite as powerful motivation as a paycheck and can have longer benefits to our lives and feeling good about ourselves. This is on top of it opening new doors and allowing us to network with other like-minded individuals. [7]


Try to find a nonprofit effort nearby that directly aligns with your own passions, giving you the chance to pour yourself into something that you genuinely care about.

If you can’t do that, look for something that will challenge you, helping round out your personality and skill set in the process.

4. Spend Time with Friends and Family

“If you want to be happy, do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.” – Roy T. Bennett

Never, ever underestimate the power of friends and family. These are the people that you can count on to be by your side through thick and thin, in the highs and the lows, in the sad moments and the happy ones.

A friend represents a relationship that is worthy of attention and which, if tended, can yield genuine happiness in our lives. Family takes that same concept of friendship and cranks it up to eleven. The bond between family members is a powerful one. When strained or broken, it can be a huge cause of distress and depression in our lives.

Take the time to reach out to your loved ones in meaningful ways. It’s as simple as that. You don’t need to buy them things or go above and beyond a normal, loving gesture. A simple hug, kiss, phone call, text, note, or other acknowledgment. Those things can do wonders in bringing family and friends together, fostering the happiness that we all share in the process.

5. Unplug

Study after study shows that happiness isn’t something you can purchase or find online. In fact, our constant attention to our devices and our “online lifestyles” induces anything but happiness. [8]

It’s important that we take the time to turn off those devices, sign out of those social media accounts, and focus on the loved ones that are right in front of us.


If you’re anything like so many of us who struggle to balance tech in our lives, it might be a good idea to have a “rest” day when you don’t use any screens. You may even establish hours of the morning and night that you refuse to touch your devices.

That’s only half the battle, though. Once the tech is off, that’s precisely when you can start to make meaningful efforts to connect and bond with our friends and family, volunteer, and so on.

You may want to try these 5 Simple Ways to Unplug and Be More Mindful In Your Life.

6. Let Go of Expectations

Whether we’re aware of it or not, a ridiculous number of our actions are done with set expectations in mind. Nothing slows down happiness and growth faster than the relentless pursuit of perfection. It stops you in your tracks, frozen with the endless edits, tinkers, and changes to create your idea of perfection.

If we put any amount of blood, sweat, or tears into something, we typically expect to see fairly specific results from the effort. Detaching from these expectations without detaching from the person or event completely is a difficult process to master. But it’s not impossible.

In fact, some teach that the idea of “detachment” is often quite misunderstood. Rather than disconnecting or letting go, we must bring ourselves to love more completely. This can be done, as Thich Nhat Hanh said, by intentionally loving others by:[9]


“looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy.”

This intentional love is meant to find what others need, not what we want to give them.

So, the next time you go to help someone you love, don’t do so by giving them what you think they need. Look for the genuine needs of others and try to meet them. The happiness that this produces is well worth the effort.

7. Play Like a Kid Again

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” – Anne Frank

It’s a fallacy that fun ends in our childhood. It’s true, however, that adults of all ages have a plethora of responsibilities, cares, and concerns that must be attended to.

But there’s a difference between taking care of our responsibilities and letting those responsibilities hamstring our ability to have fun. The simple innocence of a child at play is magical. From matchbox cars and shadow puppets to dancing like you’ve never danced before.

Plain, unadulterated fun can be an incredible source of happiness right from our first years out of the womb through our teenage years.[10] Challenge yourself to find one childlike activity to participate in. Try to release your inhibitions and get into it. Let yourself have fun. Chances are, you’ll find yourself smiling in no time.

8. Make It a Game

Everyone and their mother knows that exercise is good for fending off depression, which naturally also makes it a good way to help promote happiness. But, honestly, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to get up off the couch and go for a walk.

One way that we can help turn the whole exercising and health part of our daily routines into something more attention-grabbing is to turn it into a game.


Did you know that, according to App Developer Economics 2016, there were a whopping 259,000 health and lifestyle apps available in that year — which were collectively downloaded over three billion times?[11]

So what? The point is there are a ton of different ways to track your progress, set yourself challenges, and see what others are doing to get moving.

From a seven-minute workout app to a calorie or carb counter (and thousands of other options), pick an app today and start making a plan.

9. Never Stop Learning

To live a happier life, it means you can’t stay in your comfort zone. Fear and happiness may seem like opposites, but they aren’t. Fear is just the step to help you up to the cookie jar that is happiness. To get there, you must be brave enough to get on the step and keep learning.

Pursuing a hobby is an excellent option that enables us to learn new things and get out of the comfort zone at the same time.

Some hobbies, like rock climbing, mountain biking, and yoga, can even deal with two birds with one stone, providing a learning experience and helping you get fit at the same time.[12]


Of course, there are countless other options as well, depending on your own personal interests. Take some time right now to list off things that you like.

Not hobbies themselves, mind you, but actual things that pique your interest — especially ones that you’ve never been able to pursue.

Now take that list and see what hobbies line up with your interests. Once you’ve got a match, dive in and start challenging yourself to learn something new!

10. Take Personal Responsibility

It’s time to take action and take personal responsibility for your life.

Bad things happen to people every day, and you have to stop blaming other people and situations for your bad experiences. This is a simple but vital mindset shift because it takes control back. If you are responsible for everything that happens to you and you do, then you can change it.

Take responsibility for each thing that happens to you, and use the knowledge you gain to prevent the same mistakes in the future. However (and this is key), don’t use it to blame and torture yourself about how bad a person you are. Use it to learn and apply to the future, without self-shaming. None!

11. Align Your Values with Your Life

Who are you? What do you believe in? If you want to learn how to live a happier life, start with working out who you really are, what you truly believe in, and what your values are. Once you know who you are, what you value, and who you want to be, live your life in this way, despite what others may think of your choices.

Prioritize your time and energy to do what you value and what matters to you. This is how you can find balance in life and be happy.


Learn how to find your values in How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them.

12. Seek Professional Help (Whenever Necessary)

Sometimes happiness really can be elusive, no matter what methods we apply.

If you’re genuinely finding it hard to shake your sluggish, unhappy mindset, you may be dealing with something more serious. There’s nothing unusual about this.

It’s estimated that over one out of every four adults in the United States suffers from depression, not to mention other mental health struggles. [13] If this is the case for you, it may be a good idea to seek professional help.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t an admission of defeat, but rather a wise move aimed at finding true happiness in the long run. Reaching out for professional help can be an important first step in finding true happiness.

Afraid to ask for help? Change your outlook to aim high!

Happiness Is Up To Us

Remember, happiness is a choice and it’s up to us to pursue it and experience it. Learning how to live a fuller happier life is completely in your control. It is all about attitude, mindset, and actions taken to create the life you want.

It’s important that we don’t just skim over lists like these and move on without putting something into action.

If you’re ready to pursue happiness in your own life, do it now. Pick one or two elements off of the list and start to apply them today. As you master each thing, come back and find something else to apply. Before you know it, you’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

Featured photo credit: Jamie Brown via unsplash.com


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