It’s pretty safe to assume that you want to be happy, because…well, who doesn’t? But how to actually make that happen is a little more elusive. BuzzFeed Life talked to a bunch of experts to get their best tips.
Of course, everyone brings their own set of experiences to the table and some people might be living with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety that make things more complicated. But hopefully you might be able to find a few pieces of advice here that can help life feel a little easier.
Heads up: Responses were edited for length.
1. Realize that happiness doesn’t mean having everything you want and being problem-free all the time.
“We cannot control everything that happens to us in life, but we can choose how we respond. When we respond with an attitude of ‘Why is the happening to me?’ and adopt a victim mentality, we suffer. When we choose to respond with an attitude of ‘Why is this happening for me and what can I learn?’ then we feel a lot more empowered which impacts our mental state positively.
The biggest misconception about happiness is that we can outsource it — that something external is going to make us happy. Happiness is NOT a constant state. As humans we experience and grow through a variety of emotions. The expectation that we should be happy all the time will leave anyone with an expectation hangover. What we can be is grateful.”
—Christine Hassler, empowerment coach and author of Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life
2. Cut “should” from your vocabulary, because it basically guarantees whatever you think “should” happen, won’t.
“When we use the word ‘should,’ it’s like this big, judgmental finger wagging at yourself. ‘I should work out more, I should be happier, I should be more grateful.’ It causes us to feel guilt and shame. It depletes our happiness. It causes us to engage in behavior that are completely against what we want.
Instead, replace ‘should’ with ‘I would like.’ For example, ‘I’d like to lose weight, because I want to have more energy and be a role model.’ That is more motivational, it’s more based on passion rather than the fear and judgment of ourselves that prevents us from being the people that we want to be.”
—Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love
3. Remember that your negative thoughts are not true. They’re just thoughts.
“Sadly, many people make the mistake of believing the negative things that their ‘inner voice’ tells them, often without even being aware of their right to question whether these things are accurate! When it comes to mental health care, many people still think you will need to spend years exploring your childhood or past in order to get better. That’s simply not the case nowadays. Catch, challenge, and change negative thoughts.”
—Simon Rego, Psy.D., Director of Psychology Training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY
4. Start your day by reminding yourself one positive thing about your life.
“This can be a small observation like enjoying beautiful weather or something more profound like recognizing you have achieved one step towards a life goal (working in the industry you always dreamt of, have a best friend who you are grateful for, etc). We tend to hold onto negatives a lot stronger than positives so this can be a small way to give yourself a moment to check in with the ‘happier’ thoughts and realities.”
—Jess Allen, LMSW, ACT, NYC-based cognitive behavioral therapist
5. Anyone can benefit from therapy, so consider making an appointment for a checkup.
“There is a stereotype that many people have about the unique person who chooses to see a therapist. ‘They must be an emotional wreck,’ or ‘they can’t take care of their own problems,’ or ‘they must be crazy’ That last one is probably the most popular and worst misconception of them all!
It takes a lot of insight and emotional awareness to realize that you want to enlist the services of a trained mental health therapist to get the right help you need. Yes, there are some clients who seek therapy when they are at the absolute lowest emotional point in their lives, but there are also just as many who simply want to become emotionally healthier people to enhance their work and intimate relationships. No problem is too small or large when you come to see one of us. It’s all welcomed because our job is to meet you where you are at in life, not where we or anyone else thinks you should be.”
—Gabriela Parra, LCSW, California-based counselor
6. Don’t think about your work responsibilities at home, and vice versa.
“Be present when present, which requires dropping the guilt. Guilt has no benefits for anyone. When you are at work, stay focused, when you are home, give [it] your undivided attention. Doing your best in each place will keep you sane and feeling good about your output.”
—Samantha Ettus, work-life balance expert
7. Stop checking your smartphone randomly. Instead, give yourself specific times to catch up on social media and email.
“Most people would be happier (and less stressed) if they checked their phone less.A study of college students at Kent State University found that people who check their phones frequently tend to experience higher levels of distress during their leisure time (when they intend to relax!).
Instead of willing ourselves to just check less often, we can configure our devices and work time so that we are tempted less often. The goal is to check email, social media, and messages on your phone just a few times a day — intentionally, not impulsively. Our devices are thus returned to their status as tools we use strategically — not slot machines that randomly demand our energy and attention.”
—Christine Carter, Ph.D., happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work
8. Make keeping up with your friendships a priority.
“People think that when work or school or family responsibilities get busy, then hanging out with your friends becomes a luxury that has to be cut. It’s often the first thing to go, even if people are still going to the gym or binge-watching whatever’s new on Netflix. In reality, making sure to spend time with your friends has enormous mental health benefits, and keeps your stress level in check. It’s a great coping mechanism and a necessity for your health that should not be cut when things get tough — on the contrary, you need it more then than ever.”
—Andrea Bonior, Ph.D, clinical psychologist
9. Actually take the time to plan shorterm pleasure AND longterm goals — AKA actively make your life what you want it to be.
“A lot of people rush around without devoting a few minutes each week to reflecting and strategizing. We may all recognize we’ve periodically contemplated signing up to volunteer at big brother big sister, then totally forget. Or we mean to switch jobs and then procrastinate, [then] we’re facing our second year in a position we planned to quickly exit.
As Greg McKeown notes in his book, Essentialism, ‘When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and times, other people — our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families — will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.’
Spend time each week planning ahead — plan activities you may enjoy in the moment and also think bigger, considering what you want longterm.”
—Jennifer Taitz, Psy.D., clinical psychologist
10. Treat yourself with compassion and lots of love.
“People believe that self-care is selfish, so they avoid doing things that are actually necessities. Self-love, self-care, and self-fulfillment. It’s a lot of self, because happiness starts from within. Self-love includes eliminating negative self talk and accepting yourself, flaws and all. Self-care means setting boundaries and taking time to refill your energy. Self-fulfillment is all about living your values and having authentic relationships.”
—Rachel DeAlto, communications and relationship expert
11. Don’t forget that your physical health has an impact on your mental health, too.
“Some physical things you can do to create a habit of happiness:
—Honor your circadian rhythm by waking shortly after sunrise and going to sleep a few hours after sunset. Not only do we need 7-9 hours of sleep in order to be happy, but our brain functions better by sharing the rhythm of the sun.
—Incorporate play into your life: some easy ways to this are when you exercise, do something that makes you laugh like a dance class, jumping on a trampoline, or play a group sport.
—Meditate. This can be as simple as an app [like] Headspace.”
—Jennifer Jones, Ph.D., clinical psychologist
12. Several times throughout your day, take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is OK. Eventually, your brain will get the memo.
“The bills may be piling up with you having no idea of how they are going to get paid. Your mother may have Alzheimer’s and dealing with that is wearing you out. You may be starting to wonder if there really is someone out there for you. BUT in this moment, your heart is beating, you’re breathing, and you have food in your tummy and a roof over your head. Underneath all the circumstances, desires, and wants, you’re OK. While fixing dinner, walking through the grocery store, driving to work, or reading emails, come into the present moment and remind your brain, ‘I’m all right, right now.’
Over time with repetition, learning to come into the present and calming your brain and body will actually change the neural pathways in your brain — a scientific truth called neuroplasticity — so that this becomes the norm for you.”
—Debbie Hampton, founder of The Best Brain Possible and author of Beat Depression And Anxiety By Changing Your Brain
13. Make a conscious effort to take care of your mental health the same way you would your physical health.
“Too many people neglect to make their mental health a priority! And so it gets forgotten about and put in the ‘too-hard’ or ‘too-busy.’ But just like physical health, mental health really should be considered non-negotiable because without it, we have nothing else.
If I had to limit the key ingredients to happiness and good mental health to just a few I’d say good quality relationships and connectedness, good physical health and wellbeing, living a life with meaning and purpose, loving oneself and others, and having a sense of hope and optimism for the future.”