Want to be happier? Here’s how to make it happen

By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Psychologists are taught to help people make and reach personal goals by ensuring the goal they set is “SMART”, which is an acronym for:

Making sure goals are SMART is fine for areas like weight loss or exercise, but not really useful for more ‘wishy washy’ areas like happiness and contentment. (Google ‘making SMART goals’ if your particular resolution relates to something straightforward and you’d like a bit of extra help … there’s heaps of info available.)

It’s much harder to set and measure goals around happiness, kindness or positivity, so I decided to give it a go. We’re using happiness as an example, mainly because there are a lot of quite useful websites around at the moment about it!

The first step is to think about what you mean by the word happiness. Some definitions I have heard are: “Feeling good”; “Not being sad”; “Feeling content” and, “That state when I don’t let things bother me”.

How would you define happiness for you?

The next step is to think about what happiness feels like? How does your body feel when you are happy? In my experience, kids find this question a lot easier to answer than adults. An eight-year-old once told me that being happy feels like “you are all light and floppy and sort of full of bubbles”. Can you relate to that?

How does being happy feel for you?

The third step in this exercise is to think about what you do when you are happy. How do you act? Would other people be able to tell you are happy from what you do, and if so, how? What would they see? This is a bit of a funny one, because if you think about it you will see that ‘happy’ actions actually contribute to the feeling of happiness, and so it goes around in a cycle. One example offered by a client is listening to music – when they are happy they listen to uplifting music and this in turn contributes to them feeling happy. When they are not happy they don’t put any music on, and so they don’t get the enjoyment from music that can lead to feeling happy. It sounds simple, but it is true for so many things: exercise, hobbies, seeing friends, even smiling. In fact, one of the websites listed below actually recommends that you make a point of smiling at people even if you are not feeling particularly happy, because smiling is likely to make you feel happier (partly because people tend to be friendlier and more helpful to smiling people – it’s just in our nature). I’m not talking here about crazy over-the-top fake smiling, just making a conscious effort to arrange your face more on the side of a smile than a frown whenever you think of it (and this includes when you are alone).

Other ideas about how to encourage happiness are:

If you would like some 'homework' from this column, here it is:

By the end of the week you will probably notice that you feel pretty good!

*Please note that occasionally feeling ‘unhappy’ is not the same as being depressed (see my column on depression for related symptoms). One of the most notable symptoms of depression is ‘not enjoying things that you usually would’ so if you are experiencing depression you might find the above exercise tricky, frustrating or even depressing! If that’s the case, please have a look at www.beyondblue.org.au for further information and help.

And for further information on happiness, please have a look at the following websites:

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