How to Make Yourself Happy

A woman looking happy and relaxed by herself.

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How can you make yourself happy? This question lies at the heart of many goals that people pursue. Happiness, often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction, can indeed be cultivated in several ways. In addition to adding happiness-inducing elements to your lifestyle, you can also work on your habitual thought patterns to foster a more optimistic outlook.

In order to make yourself happy, you should explore the current state of your life, assess your level of happiness, and find a direction to work toward that will likely bring greater joy and contentment. Keep in mind, however, that happiness means different things to different people.

Identify What Makes You Happy

The first step to making yourself happy is to figure out what things in life bring you joy and contentment. This means assessing the things that actually bring you joy and not what societal expectations tell you about joy.

Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the idea of what you think will make you happy rather than what actually does. People strive for that perfect relationship, the perfect house, the beautiful body, the approval of others, all in an attempt to be happy.

Sometimes these things make us happy; other times, we stress over not having reached our goals, or we reach them and find that we’re still not happy. Other times, we focus so intensely on one goal that’s thought to bring happiness that we don’t have time for other things in our life that will make us truly happy.

Factors That Boost Happiness

Positive psychology experts—those who study human happiness and the factors that contribute to it—have identified several key areas of life that seem to be more related to personal happiness. Some factors include:

Being dissatisfied with some of these areas is not necessarily a recipe for unhappiness and being satisfied in most of these areas is no guarantee for a life of bliss. However, if you’re more satisfied with these areas of your life, you tend to be happier in general.

Focusing on some of these key areas may help increase your levels of happiness in your daily life. Look for ways that you can make changes, even if they are just small changes at first, that will help you feel more content. Making healthy choices, getting involved in things you are passionate about, and developing a strong social support network may help.

How Your Attitude Affects Happiness

Lifestyle, however, is only part of the happiness equation. Your attitude about life and the things that happen to you each day can also greatly impact your overall level of happiness and life satisfaction.

It’s probably no secret that optimists tend to be happier people, but you may not realize that there’s more to optimism than "putting on a happy face" or "looking on the bright side." There are specific traits that bring optimists more success, greater health, and increased life satisfaction.

Cultivating the mind of an optimist can not only mean cultivating happiness, regardless of your circumstance, but it can actually bring more things into your life to be happy about.

In addition to optimism, happy people tend to have an internal locus of control. Simply put, they tend to believe that they are the masters of their fate rather than the victims of circumstance.

When you view the stressors of your life as a challenge rather than a threat, you tend to come up with more effective solutions. You also feel more exhilarated (rather than drained) as you tackle these circumstances.

Finding Balance

Many people pursue goals that they expect will make them happy, but happiness isn’t always the end result. We all know people who have put everything they have into their careers—at the expense of their personal lives—only to wonder why they’re successful and still unhappy.

It’s also all too common for people to be surrounded by a beautiful home, expensive cars, designer clothes (and sometimes mounds of debt) and still have less personal satisfaction with life than they had without all the “stuff.” So how can you know which goals will garner personal happiness and which won’t?

In order to make yourself happy, you need to find balance. A good job and financial stability can be important for happiness, but you must also balance those things with other factors that promote happiness including your health, your relationships, and other meaningful pursuits.

There's no happiness quick fix. It's a balancing act, so don't devote the lion’s share of energy to pursuing a single goal to the exclusion of other important lifestyle factors.

As you set your goals, remember all of the areas of life that are important to you. Map out a detailed description of how you would like your whole life to look, or set goals and develop healthy habits for a different area of your life each month.

Work Toward Your Goals

Whether setting goals as New Year’s resolutions or as part of a quest for an improved life, many people sabotage themselves from the beginning by expecting too much and setting themselves up to fail.

For example, many people expect to immediately change their habits out of sheer willpower; any slip-ups are experienced as "failures" and too often contribute to an abandonment of the goal and feelings of defeat.

If you’re trying to make positive changes in your life, it’s important to set yourself up to succeed:

  1. First, set small, attainable goals. Work your way into a new habit with baby steps, and you’ll feel more successful every step of the way, and be less likely to give up.
  2. Next, reward your progress. For each small goal you reach, allow yourself to feel pride, and perhaps give yourself a small reward.
  3. Don’t forget to enlist social support. Tell the supportive people in your life what you’re attempting to achieve, and tell them about your successes. This will give you added strength, and will make it less appealing to give up (and have to explain yourself to those close to you).

Like everything else, making yourself happier is a process, so give yourself time to make the changes and see the changes.

Daily Happiness Habits

While it is important to pursue long-term solutions to promote your happiness, there are also small things you can do that can make you happier in the present moment. Some of these include:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Research suggests that feeling a greater sense of gratitude may also promote more feelings of happiness. In one study, participants wrote a daily gratitude list for 14 days and later showed higher levels of positive feeling, greater subjective happiness, and an increase life satisfaction.
  • Go for a walk. Research has shown that walking can be a great way to boost mood. Exercise itself can have a positive impact on mood and mental well-being, but you can maximize the impact by going for a stroll outdoors if possible. Physical movement, spending time in nature, and getting some exposure to sunlight can all be great ways to boost your feelings of happiness in the present moment.
  • Seek wonder. Studies have found that people who experience a sense of awe tend to have lower stress and greater feelings of satisfaction. You can increase your chances of having awe-inspiring peak experiences by staying curious about the world around you. Work on learning new things, pay attention to your environment, and focus on living in the moment.

If you are struggling to find happiness and coping with feelings of low mood, consider talking to your doctor or mental health professional. Feelings of unhappiness may be a symptom of depression. Talking to a professional can help you get the treatment you need to feel better, which may involve psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.

A Word From Verywell

Finding ways to make yourself happy often starts with small steps that help you work toward long-term goals. So spend some time thinking about the things that will help you feel happy and satisfied in your life and consider some of the ways that you can work toward some of those goals. 

Just remember that happiness isn't a destination. It is a process of creating a life that brings you joy, purpose, and fulfillment. You don't need to wait to become happy; there are steps you can take each day to feel better and more content.

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