It’s common to hear people say that fame only brings unhappiness. Not true! As these wise words from modern and historical celebrities (and a group of happiness scientists) show, they’ve figured out the secrets of happy people and a happy life. Let’s hear it in their own words, shall we?
1. Happiness is who you are
“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition”
– Martha Washington
Genuinely happy people have an almost magical ability to stay in good spirits even when there isn’t a great deal to be cheerful about. When happiness is a core aspect of your personality, nothing can force you to be unhappy.
2. Happiness is a choice you make
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be.”
– Groucho Marx
The next time you find yourself in a difficult situation, ask yourself this: would you rather have a difficult and unhappy time, or stay happy through the tough times? Your choice.
3. Happiness comes from self-consistency
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
As any psychologist will tell you, it’s human nature to want your thoughts, words and deeds to be consistent—but you’ll often find yourself trying to fit the mould of what you think other people want instead of being fully and consistently yourself. That leads to conflict in your mind, which leads to a less happy life.
4. Happiness is your responsibility
“Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself.”
– Alice Walker
There’s nothing more depressing than waiting for the happiness delivery guy. Why? Because he doesn’t exist. Decide to deliver your own happiness, and you can free yourself from a very long wait.
5. Happiness is best served in moderation
“We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.”
– Thomas Merton
Guess what? Spending all your time wishing you were happier will only make you more depressed. Aim for a comfortable day-to-day background level of happiness, rather than a huge blast of ecstatic joy that leaves you feeling wiped out.
6. Happiness is not in your memories
“The first recipe for happiness is: avoid too lengthy meditation on the past.”
– Andre Maurois
Reminiscing about good memories can leave you feeling happy for a while, it’s true, but the source of happiness is now. Dwelling on past happiness doesn’t change today, so stay in the present to make this your happy day. And if you find yourself dwelling on unhappy memories instead, let them go—all they do is keep you from achieving happiness today.
7. Happiness is not in your ambitions
“Future: That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.”
– Ambrose Bierce
The author of The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce knew exactly how to be happy: simply avoid pinning your hopes on the unpredictable future. (He also knew a lot about sarcasm.) Hopes and ambitions for the future are nice, but being happy in the moment is better.
8. Happiness is contagious
“Whoever is happy will make others happy too.”
– Anne Frank
It’s a fact: smiling at somebody tends to make them feel happier. Laughing has an even stronger effect. So wherever you go, share your happiness with the people you meet, and surround yourself with happy people if you can.
9. Happiness is destroyed by envy
“The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have.”
– Woody Allen
Nobody who spends their life wishing they had more than they’ve got is ever going to achieve lasting happiness. But if you dial down your sense of envy and entitlement, you’ll be happy more often than not.
10. Happiness can’t be bought
“Money won’t make you happy… but everyone wants to find out for themselves.”
– Zig Ziglar
As a cliche, “you can’t buy happiness” is right up there with classics like “no use crying over spilt milk” or “crime doesn’t pay”, but the reason those cliches are so popular is that they’ve got a big hunk of truth in them, so don’t expect to get happier by spending more money!
11. Happiness can’t be compared
“The man with a toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Before you make yourself unhappy by fretting that everybody else is happier than you, realise that they’ve all got problems; that’s… well, that’s life, folks. Instead of comparing your happiness to somebody else’s, try comparing it to your saddest moments. Suddenly, things don’t seem so bad after all.
12. Happiness is not on Facebook
“The more they used Facebook… the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.”
– Ethan Kross et al., in a research paper published by PLOS One
Seriously, did you think all those party photos and excitable status updates meant that everyone’s having a ball? Nope, it just means they post on Facebook when they’re happy because they want to share that happiness (and maybe brag about it just a tiny bit). See happiness secret #11!
13. Happiness is making every day matter
“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
Inaction rarely makes people happy. We need to feel that our existence has meaning and purpose in order to be happy, so spend each day doing the things that are most important to you.
14. Happiness means knowing what you love
“It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.”
– Lucille Ball
Let’s face it—if you don’t know what makes you happy it’s about time you started to figure it out. What makes you smile? What leaves you feeling great? Keep on with those things and your happiness will always have fuel.
15. Happiness is a gift. Accept it.
“I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Are you cheating yourself out of happiness because you don’t feel you’ve earned it? Breaking news: you don’t have to earn happiness. It’s a gift—from your friends, from strangers, from the universe, from yourself. Give it and accept it freely so there’s always plenty in circulation.
16. Happiness is one side of life’s coin
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
– Carl Jung
Nobody can be happy all of the time. If you were, you wouldn’t be able to recognise your happiness because you’d have nothing to compare it to!
17. Happiness is loving (and being loved in return)
“If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
For most of us, a great deal of life’s happiness comes from being around the people we love, and knowing that they love us right back.
18. Happiness comes when you stop looking for it
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
– Albert Camus
The quest for happiness is easily confused with the desire for things that we believe might make us happy. On closer inspection, though, some of the happiest people in the world are those who’ve stopped hunting for a magical happiness guarantee, and are simply happy to exist.