10 Ways to Pursue Happiness

Bhutan is among the happiest countries in the world. Nobody knows exactly why, but if their 2002 soccer team is any indication, it's acceptance. Here, they smile after defeating Montserrat in the game for world's worst team.
Bhutan is among the happiest countries in the world. Nobody knows exactly why, but if their 2002 soccer team is any indication, it's acceptance. Here, they smile after defeating Montserrat in the game for world's worst team.
AP Photo/Kike del Olmo

What is happiness? That depends on who you're asking.

A list of the happiest people on Earth varies depending on who puts the list together, what factors are considered and even from year to year. One thing doesn't change: The countries at the top of the happiest list are also some of the richest in the world. Coincidence? Not likely, according to Forbes Magazine. People living in rich countries seem to be more satisfied with their overall lifestyle. For example, in a survey conducted by Gallup World Poll, 82 percent of people from Denmark (which places first in most lists) described their lives as thriving [source: Forbes/Gallup]. Compare this to the last place on the list, the African nation of Togo, where only 1 percent of the people interviewed consider their life as thriving. Experts believe that countries that rank high in the scale, such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, all offer their citizens complete coverage of their basic needs, including free education and health care.

One country that obviously seems out of place in the lists is Bhutan. This tiny Asian nation ranks eight in Business Week's list of the happiest places on Earth, despite having an illiteracy rate of 53 percent and a very low GPD per capita [source: Business Week]. So what makes Bhutan different? For one, it's largely unexploited, thanks to carefully controlled tourism and immigration. Bhutan is also highly spiritual, with the roots of Buddhism deeply embedded into the country's culture and everyday life.

Aside from moving to Bhutan, what can you do to ensure your own contentment? Read on to learn more ideas about how to pursue happiness in your life.

Quit Obsessing About the Way You Look

Beauty is subjective everywhere except in Hollywood. For most people, the idea of beauty comes from what they see on screen: thin, fit people who always look gorgeous, with glowing skin and bouncy hair. What Hollywood fails to tell you is that for actors and actresses, looking good is part of their job. They are paid to be beautiful and have cooks, maids, personal trainers and hairdressers following them around. For them, looking bad would require effort.

Although seeing a beautiful face in a mirror can make you smile, it doesn't hold the key to long-term happiness. Striving for perfection can increase stress, which in turn robs you of sleep, which accentuates wrinkles and ages your skin. So the key to looking your best is to stop obsessing about it. Instead of focusing on a number on the scale, focus on being healthy, taking care of yourself and losing weight for your health, not beauty's sake. Stop looking for imperfections and instead concentrate on your best features. Can you name five things about your body that you like? If the answer is no, start working on a list.

Do What You Like For a Living

Hate your job? So do millions of others. According to NBC News, less than 40 percent of workers are happy doing what they do for a living [source: NBC News]. And a survey by CareerBuilder.com shows that only one of five people actually have their dream job [source: NBC Dream]. The most surprising aspect of the survey, however, was that most people interviewed did not name salary as an important factor in whether they're happy at work. The largest majority cited "having fun" as essential to job happiness.

If you hate your job, it might be time for a change. More and more people are changing careers after age 40 (or even 50), and many of those people are going back to school to start a new career path. There's no reason why you should stay at a job you hate. And in today's economy, more people than ever are changing careers simply out of necessity. So you might find a field you enjoy more and that offers better job security. Maybe you've been in office jobs all your life and realize you're really the blue collar type. Although you might not be able to quit your current job tomorrow, spend a couple of hours a week researching and applying for a different position. You'll be working toward something better without losing job security, and working toward a goal is bound to make you happier.

Spend Time With the People You Love
Spending time with family and friends is a sure path to happiness. And being outdoors helps too, so this family is really on their way -- and it shows!
Spending time with family and friends is a sure path to happiness. And being outdoors helps too, so this family is really on their way -- and it shows!
Maria Teijeiro/Thinkstock

Happier people often have support systems in place. Some have strong family ties, and some a network of close friends. It's not about the number of people around you, but about having a few people you can rely on in challenging times. Author Richard Bach once said "The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof." So if you were not blessed enough to be given a family to support you, go out and create your own, gathering friends who make you feel good.

Once you have the right people in your life, nurture those relationships. Experts agree that it's a lot easier to lose a friend than it is to make one. Keep in touch with your loved ones, offer sympathy and encouragement and call them not only when you need something or are looking for support. Make time for your friends, even if it means scheduling it on your calendar.

Have a Spiritual Practice

Although many people find great comfort and happiness in their religion and involvement with their churches, synagogues, mosques, and other affiliations, you don't have to be religious to be spiritual. Spirituality is all about what's inside you. Having a core system of beliefs can make it easier to get through life's trials and challenges. This inner world connects you not only to others who share those same beliefs, but also to yourself and your own energy and feeling of purpose. There's no right or wrong way to achieve this connection. You can pray to the god you believe in, you can meditate or you can spend a few minutes each day in silent contemplation. Or you can try keeping a journal of your feelings and observations. Avoid making the journal about what you did today and instead focus on what brought you moments of peace or happiness and how you felt during times of stress or anxiety.

Communing with nature is another way to be spiritual. A quiet walk in the woods or a few minutes on the beach at sunset can help you reconnect with nature and make you feel part of something larger than you. If you crave a more specific "space" for your inner time, try walking into a temple. It doesn't matter whether it's a Buddhist pagoda or a Christian church. Just spend a few minutes inside to reconnect with yourself and absorb the silence around you.

Help Others
Volunteering to help others can be as simple as walking someone's dog. Helping others with your time and money can bring you lots of satisfaction and happiness.
Volunteering to help others can be as simple as walking someone's dog. Helping others with your time and money can bring you lots of satisfaction and happiness.

Giving to others can give you a feeling of purpose and enrich your life. Whether you donate time, money or services, it's not as important as the fact that you're helping others have a better life. A study from the University of British Columbia showed that spending money on others usually makes people happier than spending that money on themselves [source: BBC News]. Helping others doesn't have to be about big, life-changing events either. Walking the dog for a sick friend, visiting an elderly neighbor or helping a friend quit smoking can all increase your sense of well-being.

Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches a course on happiness at Harvard, always asks his students to do five small acts of kindness a day and record how they feel afterward. Invariably, students report they're happier the day after, and that happiness sometimes lasts longer than 24 hours [source: NPR]. So open the door for an elderly person, give change to the homeless, say please and thank you and feed a stray dog. Small acts of kindness don't take much time or effort but can make a world of difference for both you and the recipients.

Get a Pet

Getting a pet will not only make you happier -- it will also make you healthier. According to medical experts, regular interaction with a pet can lower blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, boost your mood and improve your social skills. A study at City Hospital New York showed that pet owners have a better chance of survival after a heart attack than non-pet owners [source: Happiness]. The chances for survival are higher from owning a pet than from having a spouse or friends around.

Dogs and cats offer the largest benefits, but even fish can help you battle stress and relieve loneliness. Pets can improve your relationships with the humans around you by teaching you a few things about nonverbal communication. Pets are so effective at reducing stress thatanimal-assisted therapy has been used to treat psychotic patients in cases where not even medication seemed to be working.

Want some good karma to bring you even more happiness? Adopt a pet from a shelter instead of buying one.

Learn From Kids
Take a lesson from the kids around you. They may not always know better, but is that all bad? They do know how to have fun, how to forgive and forget and how to say no.
Take a lesson from the kids around you. They may not always know better, but is that all bad? They do know how to have fun, how to forgive and forget and how to say no.

Kids have two of the essential ingredients for happiness mastered -- they know how to enjoy the simple things in life and they know how to say no. True, kids don't have to worry about paying the bills on time, but there's no law that says you can't worry about the bills and enjoy the blue sky at the same time.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., head of the Positive Psychology Laboratory at the University of California, people who can appreciate the small stuff are happier [source: Good Housekeeping]. Keeping a gratitude journal may help. At the end of every day, write down three to five good things about your day. Once you start noticing a pattern of things that make you happy (a crispy bagel in the morning, playing Frisbee with your dog), you'll be more aware of them and more likely to enjoy them as they're happening.

Kids have no problem saying "No" either. You might think of that as a negative, but in reality it's a huge asset. How many times have you taken on more that you can handle just because you couldn't say no? Saying yes all the time, to everybody, can leave you stressed and feeling run-down. So don't be afraid to say no. Don't think of it as being selfish but as honoring your existing obligations. Take a deep breath, say "Sorry, I have another commitment" and then smile. You'll be surprised to see that the world doesn't end just because you said no.

Live Where You Want

Ever dreamed of living near the beach in Thailand? Or high in the mountains of Austria? Maybe you've always wanted to find a volunteer job helping lions in Africa? What's stopping you? Back in 2005 (the last time a survey was conducted), there were more than four million American expats living in countries throughout the world and the numbers were growing [source: Shelter Offshore]. Some of those people had relocated due to their jobs, but many others moved just because they fell in love with a different land (or somebody in that land). ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching has opened even more doors, as many countries don't require much of a prospective teacher except a university degree in any field and being a native speaker. Jump on a plane tomorrow and you can have a job in Japan, Korea or the Czech Republic in no time. Even better, you could secure the job through the Internet and then take off.

If you aren't looking to go that far, there are still 49 other states to try besides your own. Whether you like the big city or the open fields of rural America, there's a place out there for you. Sure, you might have to take a few exploratory trips, send out resumes, go house hunting and get through the stress of moving, but isn't it worth it if you can live in the city of your dreams?

Let Go of the Past

We've all been hurt or disappointed. Abandonment, betrayal and broken hearts are part of life. In most cases, you mourn the loss or the pain and then move on with your life. But what happens when the hurt is so deep that you can't let it go? Holding on to the past can not only keep you from being happy, it can also prevent you from having meaningful relationships with the people in your life.

To achieve happiness, you need to commit to letting go. In some cases, you might be able to connect with the person who hurt you and mend the problem. In other cases, this is a journey you'll have to take on your own. Focus on the present and try to remember that whatever happened that hurt you in the past is no longer happening. The only reason it still hurts is because you choose to remember it. Instead, focus on the here and now and in how you can make yourself happy from this moment on. When the past comes back to haunt you, take a deep breath, acknowledge the pain and then let it go.

Can't forgive? That's OK. Don't waste your time trying to force yourself to it. Put the focus back on you and on finding peace and moving on. Try to find something positive in what happened and take it with you as a lesson.

Choose to Be Happy
You can look at some people and just tell they're happy. Isn't it a choice to some degree, at least one worth the effort to pursue?
You can look at some people and just tell they're happy. Isn't it a choice to some degree, at least one worth the effort to pursue?
Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock

The truth is that in the end, nobody can make you happy but yourself. If you're waiting for the perfect job, the successful career or the prince in shining armor to appear before you can be happy, you're just wasting your life away. The key to being happy is to enjoy what you already have. Have a plan for the future but live in the present. Stop waiting for happiness to come along with the promotion or a trip to the Bahamas.

And stop worrying about things that may never happen. Most of the time, things don't work out to match your worst or best case scenario but end up somewhere in the middle. Experts agree that worrying might give you a feeling of false security, but in reality whatever is going to happen will happen whether you worry or not, so you might as well focus on something more positive.

If you find your mind slipping into dark mode again, remind yourself that it's your choice to be happy. You can't control other people's actions or what happens around you, but you can control how you react to what happens. By choosing to look at things as new roads, rather than roadblocks, you'll stay more positive and enjoy life more.

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