Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/22/2022
If you’ve made your way to this page, you’re on a mission right now: to find the answer to one of life’s greatest questions. It’s a common concern among humankind: the search for joy or simply how to be happy.
Happiness is a lot of things to people. Some songs say you’ll find it in others and within yourself. Some say there’s a relationship between happiness and money, some say there’s a relationship between happiness and your gut biome.
Doctors say it’s the absence of symptoms from an overwhelming mental illness. None of them are entirely correct — happiness is far more complicated than that.
If you’re struggling to find happiness or simply trying to increase your happiness frequency day-to-day, week-to-week or year-to-year, we may not be able to give you the secret code to unlock unlimited happiness.
What we can do is help define your strategy for working towards a happier life. We can offer some tips on how to be happy, too. But before we do that, we should probably establish what happiness is.
What even is happiness? There’s no one definition of happiness that works for everyone. Happiness is considered a state of thriving and pleasure, but it can also be defined as a collection of positive emotions that represent something meaningful in our lives.
Many things can contribute to happiness: friends and family, time in the sun, exercise, a sense of security, safety, financial stability, personal achievement and accomplishment, gratitude, compassion for others and simply enjoying your hobbies.
Happiness is a sort of ever-changing state of these things (and others), and we can each define it a little differently, and our definition of happiness can change over time.
Finding happiness is about seeking it out — in the forms of the things that you consider meaningful and fulfilling, and whether they fit into one of the categories we mentioned (or several of them).
But part of the search for happiness is about determining what actually makes you happy in the first place. People who don’t know that may find it more difficult to be happy.
Moods are ever-changing conditions. Even people with depression aren’t constantly in a state of hopelessness or despair all the time. Instead, our moods fluctuate.
If you’ve ever seen an infant cry, only to completely change moods once a shiny object is presented for their attention, you’ve seen this at work firsthand.
Sure, you can make yourself happy, but not by force of will. People who say things like “cheer up” or “keep your head up” may mean well, but happiness isn’t really a “try harder” sort of concept.
The key isn’t to work harder at happiness: it’s to work smarter. You can’t force happiness, but you can seek it out. Here are some tips for pursuing personal happiness once you’ve determined what makes you happy (and even before).
Okay, it may sound like just the sort of bad advice we called out before, but thinking positively and reframing your negative thoughts can have a profound effect on your happiness overall — it’s actually the basis of a technique called cognitive behavioral therapy, where people learn to observe and redirect those negative thoughts and emotions to be more useful.
Happy people living a fulfilling daily life are able to see the silver lining in a bad day. The key to happiness isn't one thing in particular, so much as one mindset in particular. And being a happier person requires positive thinking, even when it's about negative things.
Depression can be a very isolating condition, and even if you’re not depressed, the tendency to isolate when you’re down is something that you might need to resist.
Your friends, family and community as a whole are typically great sources of happiness and opportunities for happiness. If you haven’t checked in recently, it may be a good time to do so.
Anxieties and other external emotional triggers can rob us of our joys.
If you’re worried about tomorrow’s flight home, you’ll miss the last day of vacation. Practice living in the moment instead.
Enjoy the drinks with friends, stop checking your emails while you’re watching your favorite show and don’t worry about social media as part of your favorite hobbies — they’re for you, not Instagram.
How do you know what happiness looks like? You imagine it.
Maybe it’s seeing your craft project completed or fitting into that outfit you love again. Maybe it’s getting that promotion or quitting your job altogether to follow a new path in life. Maybe it’s something as simple as reading through that stack of books that keeps piling up.
The path to happiness doesn’t really have a destination, per se, but it does have direction. You have to pick yours to know where you’re going.
Not feeling in control? Overwhelmed by negative emotions? Unsure of where to start? Talk to someone about it. Getting help with your happiness quest is normal, and everyone should do it — especially if you’re having a hard time. Friends and family are a great place to start, but there are bigger guns you can call in if the fight for happiness seems a little more serious this time.
If you never feel happy or can’t remember the last time you felt happy, you may be struggling with something deeper than a lack of happiness — you may be struggling with a mood disorder like depression.
Mental health is important to your overall health. This isn’t just about the number of smiles you have in a day. Happiness has a lot of health benefits, and if you’re unhappy, it can have a negative impact on your health over time too.
Depression is well known for its happiness-killing abilities, but many people may not understand that depression isn’t all sadness or suicidal thoughts — it can actually be a sort of emptiness, a state of emotional vacuum or melancholy.
The symptoms of depression can cause your quality of life to diminish, and it can make finding happiness difficult. It can also make it difficult for you to find joy in the things that used to give you that joy.
It’s a rough condition, basically, and if you value your happiness, you’ll need to get it treated.
Treating depression may take one of many forms, and while embracing your loved ones and your hobbies again may help you on that path, treatments like therapy and medication may also play a useful role in defeating a depressive disorder and restoring your ability to seek happiness.
We all crave happiness, and from an early age we’re encouraged to find it and talk about it. It’s a frustrating structure of society because we’re not given the same space and encouragement to share the other side of our emotions. For some people, that can mean learning at a young age that we shouldn’t talk about feeling sad or unhappy, and that can ultimately lead to not getting the support we need.
If you’re feeling sad, unhappy or like you’re searching for a way to feel good again, talk to someone. Friends, family, and other trusted members of your community can be great assets, but when things are dire or feel beyond your control, it may be time to talk to a professional.
If you’re ready to discuss mental health with a professional, consider using our mental health resources to do it today. Our online therapy offerings are available to you now so you can get started on the road to finding your happiness immediately.