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Published on March 28, 2019

10 Secrets to Living a Happy Life No Matter How Old You Are

10 Secrets to Living a Happy Life No Matter How Old You Are

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 in 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.

Here are 10 secrets to actively pursuing happiness in your 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.

In other words, choose that happiness.

1. Use the Power of Community

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 really 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. [1]

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What does this mean for our day-to-day happiness, though?

It means we need to share our 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. Be Grateful

Before you skip ahead to the next hack, hear us out.

This isn’t a command. It’s encouragement.

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 trust us, the fight for gratitude is well worth the effort.

Studies have shown a “robust association” between being gratefulness 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.[2]

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.

Now, we’re not talking about a one-off list here. 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?

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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 much longer benefits to our lives and happiness, opening new doors and allowing us to network with other like-minded individuals.[3]

While we already discussed the importance of plugging into our communities, when it comes to volunteering, seriously consider where you try to join in the fun.

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

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 that you’re thinking of them can do wonders in bringing family and friends together, fostering the happiness that we all share in the process.

5. Unplug

We’ve talked quite a bit thus far about “plugging in,” but in this case, we’re looking at the opposite side of the equation.

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.[4]

On the contrary, 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.

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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. 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 “looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy.”[5]

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 (something that often comes with a hefty dose of set expectations). 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

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.[6]

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?[7]

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.

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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

Pursuing a hobby is an excellent option that enables us to pursue our passions and learn new things 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.[8]

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. 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 suffer from depression, not to mention other mental health struggles.[9]

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!

Dive In Today

Remember, happiness is a choice.

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.

More Articles to Make You Happier

Featured photo credit: Jamie Brown via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

Why Happiness is a Choice (And a Smart One to Make) 15 Ways to Stop Overthinking and Worrying About Everything How to Identify Your Limiting Beliefs and Get Over Them 15 Ways to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included) How to Start a New Life Without Sacrificing Everything You Have

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

How to Use the 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness

How to Use the 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness

I was 10 and it was a white Lisa Frank journal with a red bubble gum dispenser on the front. It also came with a heart-shaped lock and key which was a must considering I had an older brother living under the same roof who was always looking for new and inventive ways to humiliate me.

That one little journal (okay…I called it a diary back then) unlocked a world of potential to me which quite literally became my saving grace, my happy place, for the rest of my life.

Over the years, the aesthetics of my journal evolved, as did my writing subjects and style thankfully. But the one thing that’s been constant is that, no matter how sad I am or how bad things have seemed before I started writing, somehow the world and my place in it always becomes clearer and less noisy after just 5 minutes of “writing it out.”

In this article, we will take a look at how investing a few minutes a day in the 5 minute journal can lead you to happiness.

The Benefits of the 5 Minute Journal

For most of my life, I never really knew or cared why writing for even 5 minutes made me happier, I just knew it worked.

If I was feeling lost or unhappy, I’d eventually realize I hadn’t written in a while (duh!). So I’d meet myself back at the blank page and word by word, start feeling more like me again.

To be completely honest, I did (and still do) this forgetting-to-journal dance way more often than I’d like to admit. For the life of me, I don’t know why I don’t keep doing the thing I know makes me happy every day instead of waiting until I’m unhappy to do the thing. Can you relate?

I’m pretty certain it’s not just a me thing: it’s a human thing. We know we’ll be happier if we eat better, exercise, disconnect from technology, get more sleep, etc. but often times, it takes us feeling unhappy in order to put in the effort to be more happy.

A couple of months ago, I found myself in that place:

I’d hit a wall of resistance around my business and a downturn in my health that caused me to doubt what I was capable of accomplishing. I was completely confused and indecisive about the direction of my business and where I should be focusing my limited energy, so I hired a coach to help me sort through my noisy brain.

As I laid out all of my decisions and endless to-do lists in front of her, she asked me an important question:

What’s one thing you can start doing everyday that will have a positive impact on all of these things?

In other words: What if instead of having to worry about ALL THE THINGS to be happier, you could just do ONE thing and everything else would get better too?

I could start every day with a few minutes in my journal.

It’s both hilarious and embarrassing that as a coach and a writer (and a coach who works with writers), that I hadn’t thought of this myself. Alas, as the saying goes, doctors are the worst patients.

Of course, the answer was writing in my journal! Isn’t the answer almost always the most obvious thing?

But sometimes, the answer is so obvious, so simple, so free and convenient that we convince ourselves that it can’t possibly do that much to improve our situation. Somehow in the busy-ness of life, I’d convinced myself I just couldn’t spare that time to do something so…(cringe) arbitrary.

Yet, as I thought about my coach’s question and the ONE THING that could positively affect all the things, I realized that journaling for me has always been so much more than a random outlet for exploring my feelings.

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Sure, nothing actually happened but me sitting on my bed in my pajamas writing. Over the years, from breakups to big moves, my most life-changing moments–like my decision to pursue writing as a career, to uproot my entire life and move cross country, and my finally feeling ready to become a mother–happened in the quiet moments between me and the pages of my journals.

How to Be Happy with the 5 Minute Journal

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine about writing this article. I asked her how often she journals and if she thought it made her happier.

In general, she said, yes, journaling does seem to help her get things off her chest but she doesn’t always feel better afterward. And, in fact, sometimes if she’s already in a negative place, she can spiral even worse while journaling and go to an even darker place.

She told me that usually with time and perspective, she can see that just the act of writing and getting out of her head is therapeutic but, suggested that for people like her, prompts to help her not spiral into the negative abyss would be super helpful.

And so, in order to make sure you get the most out of your 5 minute journal, I’ve broken up each writing prompt based on how you’re feeling so you can let your emotions guide the best prompt for you that day to increase your happiness meter.

1. When you’re burnt out, talk to your inner hero (a.k.a the “real” you).

What’s the one thing everyone tells you about maintaining happy, healthy relationships?

You’ve gotta have great communication!

But what about your relationship with yourself? How do you connect with you? How do you continue being the hero in your story?

The same way that you have to make the time to connect with the people in your life who mean the most to you, you also have to make the time for you to hear your voice:

To remember what YOU sound like amidst all of the noise in the world. To listen to your inner hero.

For me, the only way I know how to do this, the only way I’ve ever known how to do this, is through journaling.

Our brains can go down negative spirals, especially when we’re tired and stressed.

In my last Lifehack article about finding motivation, I walk you through some questions you can ask yourself about whether you’re playing the role of victim or hero of your story. Definitely check it out if you’re really on the brink, or in the midst, of some serious burn out.

Essentially, if you’re burnt out, you’ve somehow let your circumstances take control of your life. In other words, you’ve started to act like the victim instead of the hero.

Luckily, just 5 minutes in your journal can help you find your inner hero (your true voice) and reclaim your right to live your happiest life.

Write down these questions in your journal and answer them one at a time–permission to be 100% honest granted:

  • What do I believe is the #1 reason I’m feeling burnt out?
  • Who or what did I blame in my last answer?
  • Taking 100% responsibility for my own life and decisions, and casting blame on no one (including myself), how can I improve this situation?
  • What decisions am I currently making to stay in these circumstances (how am I choosing them)?
  • What new decisions can I start making to get closer to where I want to be?
  • What do I need to let go of in order to get my energy back? What do I need to say “no” to?

When you start to own your role of hero, you start to realize how your current choices and limiting beliefs may be holding you back from living the happiest version of your life.

The great news is once you realize your past choices have brought you to your current circumstances, you also realize that you can make different choices to bring you to a happier place.

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2. When you’re doubting yourself, write off the gremlins.

Whenever I’m feeling down on myself, it usually has less to do with what’s happening on the outside, and more to do of what’s happening between my ears. In other words, how “I’m” talking to myself.

We all have little shame gremlins (I call mine “Mean Girls”) who live inside of our heads and tell us we’re dumb and ugly and worthless. The only way to combat those noisy buggers is to expose them for the liars they are.

Writing down these lies makes them powerless. Once they’re out of your head and on paper, you realize how ridiculous they truly are (even though they were completely owning you just moments before).

I like to write out all the nasties and put them in their place (which is on the page and out of my head, pronto). Then I can go back to living my happy truth.

Here are some powerful questions to ask your inner gremlins (perhaps better known as you being a real jerk to yourself). Write down each question and answer them in your journal.

Ask your gremlins:

  • What are you saying about me? (Don’t hold back. Really write down all of the terrible thoughts you’re having about yourself)

Then ask:

  • Is anything true about each of the things I just wrote?
  • Repeat this same exercise for each of the nasty things your gremlins are saying about you and expose them in their lies once and for all.

When you’re done, answer these powerful questions:

  • Knowing what I know now, what’s one thing I can do to improve each of these areas of my life?
  • Knowing that the voices of the gremlins are strong, what are 3 new beliefs or positive affirmations I can say daily about myself to drown out their negativity?

For example, let’s use a fictional character of a guy named Sam. Sam’s gremlins are telling him “you’re a lousy parent, a terrible spouse, and mediocre at work.”

If Sam asks himself, “Am I really a lousy parent?” Maybe his answer is “No, I love my kids and I’m doing the best I can. I just wish I could be more attentive when I’m with them instead of so distracted by work.”

So maybe Sam decides to not bring his work computer home with him anymore and really unplug once he leaves the office so he can give his kids his full attention.

Sam decides that his new daily affirmation is: “I’m a loving father and am fully present for my kids. I save the best of me for my family.”

Imagine how much better you’ll feel when you start to take back control over your self talk and program in the messages that empower you and get you closer to the person you strive to be.

3. When you’re indecisive or afraid, talk to your fear.

Those same shame gremlins or mean girls inside of our heads feed off of fear. It’s like a good piece of gossip they can’t help but spread and exaggerate.

Luckily, when we write out how we’re feeling and what negative thoughts are spiraling, we can generally recognize when it’s actually just our fears talking.

You’re probably wondering how to tell if it’s fear talking or your intuition, right? This is where exploring your feelings comes into play.

Are you feeling powerless? Are you feeling anxious or sad? Everyone’s response to fear is different but it’s never a positive feeling.

If you’re at peace and calm but feel nudged that something isn’t right, that’s most-likely your intuition talking. But if you’re in a glass cage of negative emotions, you can bet fear is the culprit.

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Don’t hate on fear too much though. Our fears are just trying to protect us from something–the rub is they also usually keep us from something even better in the process.

I like to use journaling as a way to have a little talk with my fear, understand where it’s coming from and then decide if it’s worth listening to.

Here’s your journaling prompt for hashing it out with your fear:

Again, write down these questions in your journal one at a time and answer each one:

Ask your fear:

  • What are you trying to protect me from?

Once you answer that, ask:

  • What are you preventing me from having if I listen to you?

If the thing you really want is on the other side of your fear, then you know what you have to do next (luckily journals are a great place to make to-do lists as well)!

My last and favorite questions to ask fear is:

  • What’s the absolute worst-case scenario?

For example, let’s say you’re terrified of breaking ties with a client who is making your professional life miserable. You may answer this question with something like “My client blacklists me and smears ugly rumors about me all around town and not only do I lose one client but my entire business goes down.”

Eeesh. That does sound scary. Now ask yourself:

  • What are some steps I can take to ensure the worst case scenario doesn’t happen?

And then:

  • How likely is it that the worst-case scenario will actually happen (especially if I use the plan above)?

Maybe, when you think about it, the client is actually preventing you from bringing in new business because they’re taking up so much of your time.

And maybe that client doesn’t even have the best reputation so the chances of them being able to bring you down are pretty small.

What if you spent one hour a week for the next 3 weeks working on bringing in new business to replace the the income you make from that client, and figure out a way to end the contract in a very respectful, classy way to hopefully make the odds of them making a stink minimal?

Now you have a plan! But there’s one more question to ask yourself:

  • If the worst case scenario happened, what would you do?

Maybe you realize that if you really needed to, you could always go back to your previous job; they loved you and beg you to all the time. Or you could get by for a couple of months until you were able to bring in some more clients, especially if you cut back on expenses.

Once you stare your fear in the face, it magically loses its power. Left inside of your head, it can destroy you; but taking a few minutes to look at it and use it as a friend who’s showing you where you may need to implement a plan in order to protect yourself, you can take back the reins of your happiness and realize that fear really isn’t all that scary at all.

At this point, it needs to be said that journaling isn’t only good for getting out the nasty feelings, it’s also super useful for recording the good stuff of life which leads me to the fourth writing prompt.

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4. When you’re in a funk, focus on gratitude.

Just about any happiness book or article you read will tell you that being in a state of gratitude dramatically increases your happiness. For me, having a place to get down to the truth of my life and what’s actually going really well and what I’m grateful for helps put everything into perspective, especially when I’ve got a case of the blues.

Here are some of my favorite gratitude prompts to help get me out of a funk and focusing on the sunnier side of life.

Write down these questions in your journal one at a time and answer each one:

  • What is something good that happened today?
  • What made me laugh or smile today?
  • Who am I grateful for today?
  • What am I grateful for today?
  • With my “gratitude glasses” on, how do my problems or the funk I’m in look in relation to all of the good things I have in my life?

Take a look at this article too to learn more about keeping a gratitude journal: How a Gratitude Journal and Positive Affirmations Can Change Your Life

Shifting out of a funk and into gratitude shifts your energy out of “woe is me” and into “yay for me” which means, based on the Law of Attraction, you’ll begin to attract more of the things you want and less of what you don’t. Seriously, yay for you!

5. When you’re uninspired or bored with the status quo, let it flow.

One of the best and easiest ways to tap into your inspiration and feel a little bit of creative magic in your life is through stream of consciousness writing.

I dare you to put your pen on a blank page for 5 minutes and do nothing but make sure the pen doesn’t stop moving.

No thinking. No judgements. The only thing you’re not allowed to do is overthink or judge your writing. It’s all good. Everything that comes out is good (even if it’s total crap).

When I was in grad school, I took this awesome class on creativity and in it read a book called From Where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler. The book is mostly about fiction writing but essentially, he says that the best time to tap into your subconscious (where your “flow” lives) is when you first wake up in the morning. Since you’re fresh from dreaming, your brain is still tuned to that frequency, so to speak, and not clouded by “reality” from your day-to-day life.

So my last and final 5-minute journal prompt for you, uninspired one, is to wake up and let yourself keep dreaming on paper.

Here are your instructions:

  1. Set the timer for 5 minutes.
  2. Open your journal.
  3. Pick up your pen.
  4. Keep your pen moving until your timer stops.

What I love about this is it requires releasing all expectations and giving yourself creative freedom to let whatever needs to come out come out.

Become Happier in 5 Minutes (or Even Less)

Giving yourself a safe space to not expect anything other than to just show up and be honest is incredibly liberating.

In a world where there are endless things we are supposed to be doing, and ways in which we’re supposed to be doing them, I love showing up to a blank page with no requirements other than to just let my hand move.

It’s free and requires nothing from me other than just showing up wherever I am–talk about an endless source of grace!

Plus it gets my myriad thoughts out of my head and allows me to release them from my body, which research at top universities has shown can dramatically reduce stress.[1]

You don’t need to change EVERYTHING in your life all at once (it doesn’t work anyway, trust me, I’ve tried).

Start with giving yourself the gift of reflection in your journal every day and see how your life starts to change. I guarantee you’ll feel more connected with yourself in the process and over time everything in your life will start to be a better reflection of you and what you value.

And that, my friends, is the key to lasting happiness.

More Journaling Ideas

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma

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