When the chips are down, we often hear our friends and well-wishers telling us, “Don’t worry, be happy”. But is it really possible to stay happy all the time? The answer is a resounding yes.

The most important thing to remember is: you deserve to be happy like everybody else. Don’t feel embarrassed about making it a top priority. There is no secret mantra to follow. In fact, you are the best person to understand how you feel and what gives you pleasure. You can give complete freedom to yourself and chalk out how you want to be happy.

Genuine happiness comes from setting challenging goals and not by comparing yourself with others. A happy life is one you create yourself – it cannot be copied from somebody else.

Dr Chris Johnstone and Miriam Akhtar – two positive psychologists from the National Health Service (NHS) (1) in England developed the Happiness Training Plan, an audio programme of day-to-day methods for a happier life. They drew on positive psychology research and their own personal experiences of overcoming depression.

They found that one of the most heartening prospects of positive psychology is that it can actually increase our capacity for happiness. According to the research, nearly 40% is under voluntary control. So even a born pessimist can cultivate the habit of becoming more optimistic and gain contentment in life.

If you want to spend more time being happy than sad, here are the seven secrets to attain happiness.

1. Building relationships

“No man is an island”, so the saying goes. It is quite true when it comes to happiness. Research shows that the happiest people in the world form cordial and close relationships, and nurture them for long periods of time.

Buddhists regard qualities like generosity increase happiness. Fulfilment is to engage with others and find a purpose in looking outwards. They value relationship with family, friends and community as an essential element for being happy.

2. Evaluate your priorities

Achieving short-term goals like a nice work-out at the gym or spending quality time with your family might change how you perceive your life. Major changes like moving to a new home or starting a new career might also help in the long run. You could try jotting down your thoughts and hopes in a notebook. This not only helps you prioritise what you need to to, but also can make you feel more in control.

3. Don’t try to be a perfectionist

The pursuance of happiness is a luxury in the modern world. We need to reduce the number of expectations in our lives and be content with what we have. First step towards that is to stop being a perfectionist and instead try for being good enough. Don’t compare yourself with others, instead trust your values and follow them. It’s better to set three manageable goals everyday compared to setting laborious twenty goals.

Of course, by this we do not mean you should not strive to do the best you can in life, but do not beat yourself up in seeking to be perfect all the time. It can bring on unnecessary stress which can effect family life and general happiness as it starts to weigh the mind down. Yes it is sometimes true that some of the most successful people in any given profession have always sought perfection in what they do and put in extremely long hours, but its often come at a price. Being tied to work means less time with family and friends. However, for some individuals happiness comes in the way of wealth and luxury, and if it means sacrificing family life to achieve it, then so be it. For them happiness might be measured in monetary and material terms. But for most people a compromise should be sought. One can be successful at work and business without overburdening himself.

4. Be flexible

This is the most effective strategy. Flexibility gives you a sense of autonomy, which plays a vital role in attaining self-fulfilment. Especially at workplaces, employees have the right to ask for flexible working hours and employers need a strong reason to refuse the request.

Researchers at America’s Brigham Young University observed 24,000 IBM employees and found that those with flexible working patterns were able to contribute 57 hours weekly, but their personal life started to crumble. However, those who worked for 38 hours a week fared far better and were more content in striking a balance between work life and personal life.

British company AA based some of its call centre staff at home and this resulted in increased productivity by more than thirty percent.

5. Live to work

In the modern world, people seem to be living to work rather than the other way round. Your job may be costing you more than you can imagine, especially if you need frequent holidays or spending more time at the aromatherapy spa or if you are consuming expensive ready-made meals too frequently. It makes financial sense to go part time and live a simpler life. Although your income might dip, you’ll be living more of a life.

A recent report by the thinktank The New Economics Foundation recommends the working week to be cut down to 21 hours. Spending less time at work could improve the quality of life greatly.

6. Get back to nature

Half an hour of prodding soil will cut down office stress far more efficiently compared to a glass of wine. Studies from the University of Bristol indicate that by touching friendly bacteria in soil has a parallel effect to taking antidepressants. The mental health charity Mind (2) found that 94% of people who take part in green activities such as gardening felt it had reduced depression.

Do thirty minutes of exercise three times a week and your overall feeling of happiness will improve by 20 percent. You don’t have to do anything physically exerting. Gardening, amateur dance or even vacuuming counts as exercise.

7. Laugh out loud

Have a good laugh couple of times a day. Watch a comedy or a cartoon show (I love watching The Simpsons, which is always good for a few laughs and takes my mind off worldly things) or read a book that tickles your funny bone. Laughter increases the blood flow to the heart, eases the muscles and gives an internal massage for all the organs.

Last, but not the least, learn to smile. People will consider you to be more sincere and friendly. Even a fake smile will do, as smiling actually releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins.

Sources:
1) National Health Service (NHS)
2) Mind