According to Dr. Gwen Kesten, coordinator of Middlesex Hospital’s Employee Assistance Program, accepting painful emotions as part of being alive is a first step to being a happier person. By experiencing a full range of emotions, including anxiety, disappointment and envy, you more fully feel emotions like excitement, pride and joy.
To achieve happiness, finding a balance when it comes to the level of focus on positive and negative emotions is key. The person who is most fully able to experience happiness is someone who finds balance in devoting some energy to remembering and learning from the past, while also spending time mindfully enjoying the present and incorporating a sense of future purpose.
Once you’ve found this balance, what else can you do to increase your happiness?
Dr. Kesten suggests that you get involved in pleasurable activities and take time to appreciate the things you have and the things you experience. It might be worth setting aside a few minutes each day or week to recognize positive things in your world – both big and small. Focus on your life gifts and consider sharing your gratitude with others, she says. Positivity can be contagious.
Setting goals – of any size – is the most effective way to realize a sense of meaning, Dr. Kesten says, and she adds that the goals that are most strongly linked with happiness involve personal growth, interpersonal connection and contribution rather than money, beauty or popularity. Dr. Kesten says there is synergy between pleasure and meaning. Pleasure is intensified when you find a sense of purpose in your activities.
Another way to increase your level of happiness is to improve your relationships with others. Research shows that a key difference between “very happy people” and those who are less happy is the presence of rich and satisfying social relationships.
For intimacy of any kind to develop, Dr. Kesten says you must work to truly get to know the other person, including their flaws and imperfections. In turn, you must allow them to fully get to know you, which can lead to feelings of vulnerability. These deep connections develop over time.
Happiness involves both momentary and long-range gratification, Dr. Kesten says.
August is Happiness Happens Month – a month of celebrating what makes you happy. The Secret Society of Happy People started this celebration, and the idea is that happiness is unlimited and contagious. Sharing your happiness can bring joy to other people’s lives.
What makes you happy?
* Editor’s Note: Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar teaches positive psychology at Harvard University. His book, “Happier,” is a source for this story.