16 Ways to Cultivate Real Happiness in Your Life

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While there’s more to happiness than just the absence of stress, there are relationships between stress-relieving activities and happiness. Positive psychology pioneer Martin Seligman has researched and written extensively about "authentic happiness," which is facilitated and enhanced by all of those things you may instinctively know are good for the soul: strong relationships, challenging work, and meaning in life. 

Dr. Michael Frisch, a Baylor University professor and another pioneer in the field of positive psychology, has found 16 different areas of life that contribute to a person’s happiness, and measuring satisfaction in these areas can help measure a person’s overall level of happiness and life satisfaction.

Many of the things that bring happiness are also things that relieve stress, such as exercise, expressing creativity, maintaining supportive friendships, keeping an organized home, and enjoying your work.

When you’re overwhelmed with stress, often just relieving the imminent pressures is foremost on your mind; however, following a stress relief program that also incorporates activities known to increase overall happiness can give you short-term stress relief, and the lasting gains of a happy life. And when you incorporate into your life a general state of happiness and make habit the lifestyle features that promote it, you’ll be better able to weather future stress in your life.

How to Create More Happiness in Your Life

The following is a list of the 16 different features that promote happiness, with resources from this site and others that can help you incorporate these features into your life, relieving stress at the same time!

  • Health: When you maintain your physical and mental health and manage any chronic illnesses, you're maintaining your happiness. Chronic health issues can bring additional stress and can make it difficult for you to do some of the things that bring you happiness and stress relief.
  • Self-Esteem: Feeling good about who you are isn't just a touchy-feely thing we worry about for our kids; it's important for you to like the person you are right now. Low self-esteem seems to affect many areas of your life.
  • Goals, Values, and Spiritual Life: These are three different things, but they make up an important category that involves an internal, positive focus on something that's greater than who you are right now. These are all things that bring meaning to your life, and this is closely tied to your happiness.
  • Money: It's true that, beyond a certain point, more money doesn't bring significantly more happiness. It's also true, however, that too little money can bring stress and challenges to your happiness. Having enough money to live comfortably is important. 
  • Work: Having a job that fulfills you is ideal. A job that doesn't make you miserable is a must.
  • Play: Leisure time, having fun, letting loose--they're all important for your happiness and stress levels. You don't need to play all of the time, but you really need some time for fun in your life.
  • Learning: Taking on new skills and growing as a person involves gratifications, and can provide you with greater resources in your life--both great for stress and happiness.
  • Creativity: The same is true for expressing your creativity. In fact, art activities that exercise creativity have been shown to be good for the health and happiness of those who consider themselves to be non-creative types as well.
  • Helping: It turns out that we as humans really love to be helpful to others, to one degree or another. Finding ways to exercise your altruism can keep you happy and less stressed.
  • Love: This is a bit of a no-brainer, but having love in your life is great for keeping yourself feeling joy.
  • Friends: Maintaining a supportive circle, even if that circle is small, can help you to feel happier in virtually every area of life and can provide an excellent buffer against stress.
  • Children: Kids bring meaning into our lives, as well as many smiles and belly laughs.
  • Relatives: Unless you come from a heavily drama-prone family, staying close to relatives can keep your life fun, supportive, and meaningful. Finding low-stress ways to communicate with your family is important for keeping things drama-free, however.
  • Home: Maintaining a home that acts as a haven from stress is important at the end of the day.
  • Neighborhood: Living in a neighborhood that's close and supportive, or at least one that doesn't involve feuds or danger, can contribute to happiness and decrease stress by offering support and connection.
  • Community: Being part of a community, whether it's a physical community like the area where you live or a community of friends based on shared spiritual views, life goals, or things in common.​

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares a way to boost your mood when you're feeling down.

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By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.