3 Ways to Up Your 'Pursuit of Happiness' Game
May 22, 2018
As far as goals go, happiness is a pretty good one. Increasing happiness contributes to all sorts of other benefits—everything from more enjoyment of life, to greater career success, to improved physical health.
But we don’t just stumble into happiness—we have to pursue it.
Pursuing happiness, like any other goal, involves three steps:
●︎ Goal setting
●︎ Taking actions to achieve the goal
●︎ Monitoring progress
Seems simple, right? But there’s a catch: If we don’t tackle these steps with the right mindset and approach, we can end up hurting our happiness instead of helping it.
Here, the best way to make moves as you pursue your unique style of joy:
1. Set Realistic Happiness Goals
We often set our standards for happiness too high. We expect to achieve a kind of fairytale version of happiness, one where we’re immensely happy 24/7. The truth: That’s not realistic, at least in the short term.
Happiness, just like any other goal, can be hard, take time, and result in an experience of happiness that is different than you expect. When we set high happiness expectations, we can end up disappointed and frustrated, impeding our successful pursuit of happiness.
Happiness, just like any other goal, can be hard, take time, and result in an experience of happiness that is different than you expect.
The fix: Instead of expecting that you’ll be happy all the time—regardless of whether you’re arguing with a loved one or working on a challenging project—set realistic expectations about when it’s reasonable to feel happiness.
Start small. For example: Savor a positive moment in your day—maybe a co-worker’s hilarious story or your dog’s morning snuggles—to help those happy feelings linger a bit longer. Then, work up to feeling happier in otherwise boring scenarios—like smelling the flowers on the way to work.
With time and effort, you’ll be able to build on these goals and slowly attain greater levels of happiness.
2. Find What Makes You Happy—and Know It’s OK If It’s Not the Norm
Even though we chase happiness, we are notoriously bad at guessing what will make us happy. And because we don’t know what will make us happy, we often pursue happiness by engaging in activities that are actually counterproductive to our goal.
To overcome this obstacle, it’s important to remember that you—and only you—can discover which happiness-boosting strategies you enjoy. Your go-to happy habits might be different from everyone else—and that’s more than OK.
Your go-to happy habits might be different from everyone else—and that’s more than OK.
Try a bunch of different activities (ex. baking for friends, learning the art of coffee making, playing dodgeball) and choose a few activities that you want to keep engaging in, regardless of whether or not they seem to directly increase your happiness. Paradoxically, these are the strategies that are most likely to increase your happiness. Think of it like this: Doing things you enjoy will slowly but surely add new deposits to your happiness bank.
3. Focus More on Doing Happiness—Less Obsessing About It
It turns out that obsessively monitoring our happiness can undermine our happiness experience.
The more we think about why we do things or how we feel, the less enjoyable these experiences can become. Some suggest that this monitoring of happiness interrupts our ability to be present in the moment. For some of us, monitoring our happiness can send us into a full on downward spiral: Why am I not happy? It must be because there is something wrong with me. I’ll never be happy… and so on.
The more we think about why we do things or how we feel, the less enjoyable these experiences can become.
Instead of monitoring our happiness with meticulous notes and charts, try instead automating the actions that increase happiness.
For example, I schedule regular times to meet up with friends, keep sticky notes on my computer reminding me to practice gratitude, and set an auto-reminder each week to do something kind for someone else.
By finding ways to pursue happiness without having to think about it so much, you increase your chances of attaining it.