How to Be Happy – Psychology Today

The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.
Verified by Psychology Today
Posted February 16, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
Recent years have seen a great deal of research about happiness. But what does any of it mean? Does it tell us how to be happy?
For individuals, some of the findings from happiness research are immediately useful. Others are less obviously helpful but can still contribute to our lives.
Turning to the helpful findings first, good health is important not just for physical well-being but also for mental health and happiness. This is one of the most important routes to happiness: Stay physically active.
Happiness research is clear that we need a level of income sufficient to cover our basic needs and live with dignity. Severe poverty makes happiness difficult, although not impossible.
At the same time, it is important to remember two other research findings about income: First, ever-increasing income has diminishing returns in terms of happiness, so there’s little point focussing solely on ever-greater wealth. Many millionaires are unhappy.
Second, we have a self-defeating tendency to compare our incomes with those of other people. A majority of us think it is more important to earn more than our neighbor than it is to increase the absolute amount that we earn: i.e., we would prefer to have less money ourselves if that somehow meant staying ahead of our neighbor.
This is entirely in keeping with human nature, but it does not help with happiness. It reflects a much broader point about the path to happiness, which, from a psychological perspective, can be summed up in seven words: We should stop comparing ourselves to others. This is possibly an impossible task, but it is important we try.
What else can we do? Happiness increases if we devote attention to maintaining a stable community, holding clear values (including religious values), linking with happy people (and being a happy element in our own networks), and supporting strong democratic values. Voting, participating in political debates, and staying actively involved in our community and social life all help.
Turning to research findings that are not obviously helpful in guiding us towards happiness, many of these findings still provide important material for reflection and—when needed—consolation.
Take age, for example. The happiness low point for many people is in midlife, during their late 40s. This is often a time when financial demands and family responsibilities are at their most pressing. The U-shape of the happiness curve across the lifespan provides real hope here: Later life holds the promise of an increase in happiness, no matter how bad your 40s are.
This finding emphasizes the importance of physical and mental health, ensuring that we are still alive by the time later life rolls around and in sufficiently good health to enjoy the unique opportunities it presents.
It is important to think about happiness in trans-generational terms, too. Research is clear that a low-conflict upbringing is associated with happiness in later life. While an adult cannot change the upbringing that they experienced as a child, adults can ensure that their children enjoy low-conflict upbringings and thus increased prospects of happiness.
Finally, many of the steps taken to increase happiness yield additional benefits along the way. Such activities include playing sports, attending public events, reading, listening to music, knitting, meditating, practicing mindfulness, composing poetry, or just sitting quietly (a favorite of mine). Becoming utterly absorbed in activities such as these is an important part of being a fully realized, happy human being.
Kelly B. Mental Health in Ireland: The Complete Guide for Patients, Families, Health Care Professionals and Everyone Who Wants to Be Well. Dublin: Liffey Press, 2017.
Kelly B. The Science of Happiness: The Six Principles of a Happy Life and the Seven Strategies for Achieving It. Dublin: Gill Books, 2021.
Brendan Kelly, M.D., Ph.D., is Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, Consultant Psychiatrist at Tallaght University Hospital, Dublin, and author of The Science of Happiness.
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Psychology Today © 2022 Sussex Publishers, LLC
The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.


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