10 Tips for Greater Happiness

6 min read
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Teenagers often come to see me in unhappy states of mind that have arisen because of the physical or mental health challenges they are facing. I explain to them that each of us creates our own reality within our brains. For instance:

  • When we see a color or hear a sound, our brain takes light or sound waves and turns them into our perceptions. Thus, we become aware of what our brain shows us, rather than what is “really” in the world around us. Because of evolution, our brain is programmed to show us the world in a way that can help us survive, rather than the world as it is.
  • If our brain showed us everything that might be perceived, we would become overwhelmed. Because of our limited ability to pay attention to everything, we tend to focus our attention on a relatively small number of inputs from our environment. As a result, we can end up with vastly different assessments and memories than other people who were present at the same events.
  • When we are faced with difficult circumstances in our lives, we can think about them in many ways, including those that can make us more anxious or depressed. Such thoughts may include that we will be unable to overcome our circumstances, things may become even worse, or even that life is too hard to live. These thoughts help shape a very negative perception of reality that can lead us to self-destructive behaviors.

The great news is that we can change the way our brains operate, and this can change our experiences of reality! In this blog we will discuss 10 ways of increasing the general happiness in our lives through changing our thought patterns and actions.

Gratitude/Count Your Blessings – By thinking of the good aspects of our lives we release feel-good hormones such as dopamine. For instance, you can feel grateful that you can make use of your senses, that you have access to food and shelter, or that you can interact with people you care about. By being grateful, we can shift our thoughts away from negative rumination.

Embrace Your Challenges – Rather than thinking of a challenge as insurmountable or an unfair disadvantage, think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow when you cope with it in a constructive way. Some challenges can be overcome, while others can enrich us when we learn to make peace with them.

Do Something You Love – Focusing your efforts on a healthy activity that gives you pleasure helps keep your mind away from thoughts that might bring you down. If you are fortunate enough to find an activity you love to which you can devote many hours a day, you can create on-going happiness.

Such activities can include jobs, creative arts, or athletic endeavors. Remember that as there can be too much of a good thing, it is important to balance doing what you love with other life responsibilities. For instance, teens need to ensure they allot sufficient time to complete their homework and chores.

Help Someone Else – As we are social creatures, helping other people feel better can bring us happiness. Our ability to be empathetic allows us to feel improvement in the feelings of others, perhaps through the release of oxytocin, which is sometimes thought of as the “love hormone.” When someone else expresses gratitude for our efforts, this helps us feel better as well.

Make a Friend – Again, because we are social creatures, we benefit greatly from interacting with others. That being said, it is important that our friends help create positive experiences in our lives and support us in improving ourselves.

Sleep, Exercise, Eat Well – Getting sufficient sleep (7-10 hours/day depending on your age), aerobic exercise (such as involving walking or running for 20-30 minutes on a near daily basis), and eating a well-balanced diet (including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in amounts that help us maintain a healthy weight) are the basis for long-term good physical and mental health, which can serve as a foundation for happiness.

Be Kind to Yourself – Many people are very hard on themselves as they focus on their perceived deficiencies. When I ask them how they would treat a friend with similar issues, they answer they would do so with kindness because this would help their friend improve.

I then suggest to them an inverse version of the Golden Rule: “Treat yourself as you would treat others.” Furthermore, I teach people how to use meditation or hypnosis as a kind way of achieving a calmer state.

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Practice Positive Self-Talk – How we talk to ourselves helps create our reality. If we tell ourselves, “I can’t overcome this obstacle,” our brains take this as a given, and do not make an effort to change an unfortunate situation. Worse yet, our brains may decide to take destructive actions based on the assumption that an obstacle cannot be overcome.

The positive talk version of facing an obstacle could be, “I want to overcome it.” By so saying, the brain is encouraged to think how the obstacle might be overcome that often leads to a solution, which may involve asking someone else for help. In turn, overcoming an obstacle often leads to increased confidence and a sense of achievement, which can lead to increased happiness.

Become more Spiritual – We can find meaning and purpose in our lives through developing a spiritual perspective. Happiness or satisfaction can increase when we successfully orient our lives in the direction of fulfilling our purpose.

Limit Exposure to Media – In this day and age we are bombarded with information from news media and social media that can impact us adversely. To mitigate this, one option is to reduce stress that arises from hearing bad news about world events by changing our source of information from the web or 24/7 news stations to a written summary in a news magazine. Similarly, reducing our exposure to social media minimizes its negative impact.


When I first lived in my college dorms I felt down because I was homesick, and had not yet made new close friends. A couple of weeks into the school year, I decided to go into town and to buy small gifts for the other 9 students in my dorm suite.

My happiness clearly increased as I worked on matching appropriate gifts for individuals in my dorm, and as I anticipated their positive reactions to the presents. Indeed, when I presented the gifts to my suite-mates I became even happier.

The thoughts and actions we choose to undertake dictate how we feel. Thus, as long as we reach for it, increased happiness can be within our grasp.

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