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Timothy Sharp on the top ten practical keys to happiness

Timothy Sharp

-by Timothy Sharp

Happiness – how you can experience more even during a mid-life crisis?

For too many people in the "western world," success is defined primarily in material or financial terms. This is not totally inappropriate. As we all like a few nice possessions, financial stability is indubitably important. But an unhealthy or excessive focus on “stuff” and dollars to the exclusion of other life domains can be problematic, especially if it leads to imbalance (e.g., a life of work without health or good quality relationships).

Life is made up of several domains in which wealth and financial security should certainly be considered as being important, as long as they’re considered in context and in perspective. It’s when we lose perspective that we become susceptible to what might be referred to as the mid-life crisis. The good news, however, is that there is a solution and the solution lies at least in part in recognising that true happiness might include a degree of material success but that it also depends on a range of other vitally important factors.

So what are these other factors and how can you be really happy?

Below, I outline my top 10 practical strategies for creating more happiness in your life, even during mid-life. But before I get to this I thought it would be important to just quickly define what happiness actually is, and just as important what it isn't. If we don’t really understand what happiness is and where it really lies, it becomes very hard to find it!

Happiness, for me and my team at The Happiness Institute, is a term that covers a range of positive emotions. Ultimately it means different things to different people; it’s an entirely subjective experience. For some, the experience of happiness is one of predominately “high arousal” feelings such as joy and excitement; for others, it involves more “low arousal”, but equally important, emotions such as calm, contentment, peace and tranquillity.

Ideally, we should all try to experience and enjoy all these different forms of positive emotions, but the reality is that some people will tend more to the high arousal end of the spectrum (e.g. extroverts) while others (e.g. introverts) might be more likely to seek out low arousal forms of happiness.

It should also be noted, here, that at The Happiness Institute we don’t believe anyone will be 100% happy 100% of the time. True happiness involves recognising that as humans it’s perfectly normal to experience the full range of emotions including so called “negative” ones such as anger, sadness, anxiety, frustration and stress. The key, however, is responding to and managing these emotions so that they don’t unduly or excessively impact on functioning and that they don’t persist for too long. Where possible, it’s also important to try to learn from unpleasant and difficult circumstances as doing so can actually enhance happiness in the long term.

Finally, within this definitional section anyway, it’s worth reflecting on the thoughts of most of the great philosophers and more recently, most of the leaders in the exciting new science of positive psychology, and noting that real happiness is considered to require more than just the experience of pleasure. Fun and laughter is important, but the deeper and more meaningful forms of happiness also depend on living a life with purpose and life in which we’re connected with others. This, I believe, is vitally important for those facing mid-life challenges.

With this in mind, and as noted above, this article is primarily aimed at offering you some practical and proven strategies you can quickly and easily apply right now. So implement the following steps and you’ll find that no matter how good or bad it is at the moment, your life can be even better.

Step One: Make a conscious decision to be happy and start to believe that real happiness is a real possibility. Happiness is essentially a choice, but you need to believe it is achievable. It’s also crucial to realise that your happiness is entirely your responsibility, so if you want to enjoy and get more out of life then you need to start taking charge of things as soon as possible.

Step Two: Determine what happiness means to you. Work out what’s important in your life (which may very well be different to what was important 5 or 10 years ago) and what you need to do to get more of it in to your life. Research suggests that happy people tend to know where they’re going; they set specific and measurable goals and they make clear and practical plans to achieve these goals. Remember, if you don’t design your own life plan chances are you’ll fall in to someone else’s. And guess what they might have planned for you…not much!

Step Three: Think optimistically about achieving the life you want to achieve (and reassure yourself that no matter your age, it’s never too late to create a great life). Henry Ford once said “If you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”. Optimistic thinking is probably the factor that most significantly determines happiness. So while remaining realistic, be positive and stay focused on doing what you want and need to do for happiness.

Step Four: Don’t go alone. It might be a cliché but life is a journey and there’s no doubt that the journey will be far more enjoyable if you’re accompanied by people who are important to you and to whom you are important. Along with optimism, good quality relationships are significant determinants of happiness so do whatever you can on a regular basis to build and maintain positive relationships (by, for example, being kind and generous and forgiving); and if your life has changed for some reason then you might need to forge new relationships so see this as an exciting adventure!

Step Five: Get organised and make plans. Success and happiness, however they’re defined, require a certain degree of good management. Happy people tend to possess more effective and more active coping strategies, such as time management and problem solving skills. In a similar vein, it is important to learn to control what you control, accept what you can’t control and be wise enough to know the difference.

Step Six: Live a healthy life. Not everyone wants to run marathons or even to go to the gym on a regular basis. Regardless, happiness and success are more likely to be yours if you eat well, keep active, and ensure you get enough sleep and rest. Remember, it’s hard to be happy if you’re literally sick and tired all the time and there’s no good reason, regardless of age, for us to allow our health to deteriorate.

Step Seven: Have fun! Although it might sound obvious, one of the simplest paths to happiness is to engage in more activities you find pleasurable and enjoyable. Try new things, have a laugh, and further, appreciate and be grateful for what you already have in your life rather than focusing on what you don’t have (there’s a big difference between “wants” and “needs”).

Step Eight: Find a sense of spirituality (that works for you). This can take many forms and is hard to describe in such a short article but do what you can to develop, and then foster a sense of purpose and meaning (either through organised religion, good works or some other means).

Step Nine: Go with your strengths. Too many people spend too much time trying to fix all their weaknesses. Happy (and successful) people, on the other hand, are significantly more aware of, and better at utilising core strengths (qualities and attributes). So find out what you’re good at and find ways to apply these strengths as often and as much as possible. You’ll find that by doing so you’re not just more effective but also, you’ll enjoy yourself far more as well.

Step Ten: Persevere. Stick at it. Although there are a lucky few to whom happiness comes easily, for many people it will require some degree of diligence. Don’t be afraid to work hard at attaining happiness. Be realistic that it might take time to master some of the skills and make some of the changes necessary.

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