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The Ten Happiest Things You Can Do

Most mental-health professionals know there’s no one formula for happiness. People are just too different. However, there is surprising agreement on what factors contribute to happiness. Here are the top 10 things that happy people do to stay happy.

1. LOVE YOURSELF. According to Perry W. Buffington, an Atlanta psychologist, you can begin to love yourself by waging war on negativity. "Most people’s thoughts about themselves are negative," he says. "And people tend to accept the negative notions uncritically and act as though they were true. I get them to monitor what they’re thinking and ask themselves if it’s really true."

2. SEEK THE LOVING LIFE. While most people think of romantic love when they consider this emotion, almost any kind of loving relationship can contribute to our happiness. "When you focus attention on someone else, you feel better about yourself," says Buffington. "When I get patients who have no caring relationships, I usually recommend they get involved in some small group that has a definite purpose. Chances are, while they devote themselves to the group’s goal, they’ll get the attention they need and establish those necessary social bonds."

3. JOIN THE WORKADAY WORLD. Being productive is central to satisfaction. People often complain about their jobs, but most of us feel absolutely miserable when we have nothing to do for any length of time. Involve yourself in something and you’ll be more involved with life.

4. ENJOY THE POWER OF TOUCH. When you touch others you’re completing a circuit that sends off sparks of well-being. In touching others you confirm that you’re a part of—not apart from—the human race. Says James Hardison, Ph.D, a San Diego psychologist and the author of Let’s Touch, "It is through touching that we are able to fulfill a large share of our human needs and, in doing so, to attain happiness. By touching someone we can affirm our friendship or approval, communicate important messages, promote health an bring about love." Problem is, he says, people put up a lot of barriers to effective touching. "For one thing, our society tends to equate touching with either sex or violence. Consequently, many people avoid the simple acts of touching—pats on the back, heartfelt handshakes, cordial hugs—that affirm goodwill."

5. LIVE ONE DAY AT A TIME. Worrying about what was or fretting about what’s to come is a sure way to ruin a perfectly good day—every day. Stay in the here and now, and live it as fully as possible. You can do this by monitoring your thoughts. When you find yourself dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, put a brake on those thoughts. They’re unproductive and even may be an unhealthy habit.

6. TURN ON THE LAUGHTER. Laughing can soften the blows. As someone once said, humor is a free ride to happiness.

7. MOVE YOUR MUSCLES. Look over any of the dozens of studies on exercise and what it does for us. You’ll see that in one respect all those studies draw the same conclusion. Aside from its physical benefits, exercise is a tonic for the soul—it elevates self-confidence, dissipates anxiety, chases away the blues and gives us a healthy high.

8. SEARCH FOR MEANING. Why does one person have a zest for living while another—who’s in the same boat—just drags along? No mystery. The zestful one has things to believe in, which is what makes life worthwhile.

9. TAKE TIME TO WASTE TIME. Use your leisure time for fun and relaxation. If you squander it on work you’ll complain of never having enough. If you must have a goal, make it having fun.

10. GIVE TO OTHERS. Altruism is wonderful medicine—it lets you forget your own troubles and makes you feel good about yourself. It allows you to reach out to other people. As a bonus, you’ll get some of that sense of purpose so essential to happiness.

(From Emotional Health, by Myron Brenton and the Editors of Prevention Magazine, Pub.—Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1985, pp 8-9)

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